In late August, a federal district court in Louisiana granted a group of defendants’ motion to stay pending arbitration. Plaintiff alleged breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, and fraud in connection with a trust account set up for plaintiff’s benefit. Benjamin Geller, a sports agent and financial adviser to former football player Frank Warren, recommended Mr. Warren purchase a $1,000,000 life insurance policy. Upon Mr. Warren’s death, those benefits were paid to an irrevocable insurance trust held by one of the defendants, Morgan Keegan & Co., with Geller acting as trustee. Plaintiff alleged that Geller conspired with Morgan Keegan employees to deplete this trust. The motion to stay centered on an arbitration clause in the client agreement that established the trust account. Defendants argued the doctrines of equitable estoppel, third-party beneficiary, and agency theory in support of arbitration. Plaintiff asserted that as the client agreement was induced by fraudulent representations and “never consummated,” arbitration was therefore inappropriate.
The court looked first to whether a valid agreement to arbitrate existed and then to whether the dispute fell within that agreement. Because the plaintiff never challenged the arbitration agreement, instead questioning the validity of the client agreement, the question must be heard before an arbiter. Furthermore, as a third-party beneficiary of the client agreement, plaintiff was bound by the arbitration agreement even though he was a non-signatory. Finally, as plaintiff had accepted benefits under the client agreement from Morgan Keegan, plaintiff was also bound to those terms on equitable estoppels grounds. Warren v. Geller, No. 11-2282 (USDC E.D. La., Aug. 22, 2014).