In a recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Warrington v. Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, Inc., No. 22-12575, 2023 WL 1818920 (11th Cir. Feb. 8, 2023), the court provided valuable lessons for partners, shareholders, and small business owners who may find themselves in disputes. This case serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the importance of careful strategy and legal counsel when pursuing litigation or arbitration.
The dispute centered on Brad Warrington, a minority shareholder in Rocky Patel Premium Cigars, who wanted to divest from his holdings in the company. The buy-sell agreement between Warrington and Rakesh Patel, the majority shareholder, included an arbitration provision for any disputes arising out of the agreement. However, the case demonstrates how mistakes made during litigation can result in a waiver of the right to arbitration.
After years of disagreement over the value of Warrington’s shares and alleged improprieties by Patel, Warrington found a private buyer and notified Patel of his intention to sell. Patel refused to acknowledge the notice and subsequently sued Warrington in Florida state court, seeking a declaratory judgment and alleging breach of contract, among other claims.
While the state action was pending, Warrington sued Patel in federal court, bringing several counts, including breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Patel moved to dismiss, remand, or stay the federal action, but the district court denied his motion. It wasn’t until June 2022 that Patel moved to stay and compel arbitration under the agreement. However, the district court denied this motion, finding that Patel had waived his right to arbitrate by initially filing in state court and moving to dismiss or remand Warrington’s federal action. Continue reading ›