The District of Minnesota issued several opinions this summer in a dispute between two insurance companies, Federated Mutual Insurance Co. ("Federated Mutual") and Federated National Holding Co. ("Federated National"), regarding the similarities between the two companies' names. Federated Mutual owned the trademark rights to several iterations of the word "Federated" related to insurance. The parties resolved their trademark dispute in 2013 with a co-existence agreement under which Federated National agreed to stop using the term "Federated" in its name within 7 years and minimize industry confusion. By 2016 Federated Mutual initiated arbitration against Federated National because of the latter's failure to abide by the agreement. An arbitrator concluded that Federated National had indeed breached the agreement but denied a trademark infringement claim asserted by Federated Mutual. Federated Mutual moved to confirm the arbitral award and Federated National responded by moving to confirm the award related to the denial of the trademark infringement claim and to vacate the award otherwise. On June 22, 2018, the court issued a decision on Federated National's motion to dismiss the petition and Federated Mutual's petition to confirm.
First, the district court resolved a circuit split on the appropriate approach when courts assess subject matter jurisdiction in the context of FAA Section 9 petitions. Rejecting the approach that courts should consider the face of the petition alone, the court concluded it should "look through" the petition to the underlying arbitration to determine whether a federal question exists. Here, the court "looked through" the petition and because the underlying arbitration involved a federal trademark claim, federal question jurisdiction existed.
Second, the court held that even if federal question jurisdiction did not exist, the court had diversity jurisdiction over the dispute. Even though Federal Mutual primarily sought injunctive relief, the court decided the value of the "object of the litigation"—resolving the confusion surrounding the names in the insurance industry—satisfied the $75,000 jurisdictional minimum.
Third, the court determined it could not exercise general jurisdiction over Federated National but it could exercise specific jurisdiction based on the particular contacts with Minnesota regarding the co-existence agreement. While Federated National did not exercise sufficient control or domination over its subsidiaries with Minnesota contacts to warrant general jurisdiction, the court found specific jurisdiction because the co-existence agreement was governed by Minnesota law and contemplated performance that affected Federated Mutual's business in the state.
Fourth, the court found proper venue in Minnesota where Federated National was subject to personal jurisdiction there, and therefore deemed to reside in the state. Likewise, the court rejected Federated National's request to transfer the case to Illinois where it had filed a case to vacate the award.
Fifth, the court confirmed the arbitral award. It noted the limited circumstances under which a court can vacate an award pursuant to the FAA and that Federated National did not assert any of the applicable bases—instead, the court dismissed the argument as Federated National merely disagreeing with the arbitrator's analysis.
After the court issued its June 22, 2018 opinion, Federated National appealed and moved to stay the court's decision pending appeal. In a September 11, 2018 opinion, the District of Minnesota denied that motion. Federated National moved on the grounds that there were substantial questions of law regarding the "look through" basis for Federated Mutual question jurisdiction, doubt that the injunctive relief satisfies the amount in controversy requirement, and whether Federated National had sufficient Minnesota contacts. The court denied the motion largely because Federated National failed to make a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits. All of Federated National's arguments regarding "substantial questions of law" presented merely the possibility of success on the merits that fail to satisfy the high burden to warrant a stay pending appeal. Additionally, Federated National did not establish any irreparable injury absent a stay, a stay would further injure Federated Mutual by delaying resolution, and the public interest did not support a stay.
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