Meierhenry Sargent LLP, a South Dakota limited liability partnership Plaintiff - Appellee
Bradley Williams; Kerry Williams Defendants - Appellants
Submitted: November 13, 2018
from United States District Court for the District of South
Dakota - Sioux Falls
COLLOTON, SHEPHERD, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.
appeal presents a pair of issues arising out of a fee dispute
between a law firm, Meierhenry Sargent LLP, and two
dissatisfied clients, Bradley and Kerry Williams. After
removing the firm's lawsuit seeking to recover its unpaid
fees to federal court, the Williamses stayed the action to
allow the unpaid-fees claim to proceed in arbitration.
arbitration, the Williamses raised numerous counterclaims and
defenses. The firm asked the district court for "relief
from [the] stay" and a "declar[ation] [addressing]
the scope of the arbitration proceedings." In effect,
what the firm sought was a ruling that the Williamses had to
pursue most of their counterclaims in court, not in
district court largely agreed with the firm's request and
issued an order dividing the counterclaims into two
categories: those the Williamses could raise in arbitration
and those they could not. The Williamses ask us to reverse
the part of the order denying them the ability to arbitrate
some of their counterclaims. We vacate one threshold finding
that should have been left for the arbitrators to decide but
first question is whether we can hear this appeal at all. The
district court has not yet entered a final judgment,
see 28 U.S.C. § 1291, so the Williamses urge us
to conclude that this is an appeal from "an
interlocutory order granting . . . an injunction against an
arbitration," which we have jurisdiction to review under
9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(2). The trouble is that the district
court did not say it was granting an injunction, nor does its
order purport to enjoin the Williamses from arbitrating their
claims. Rather, the order simply declares that certain
counterclaims "are not before the [a]rbitration
panel," while others "remain in arbitration."
jurisdiction rests on the substance of the order, however,
not simply what the district court chose to call it. In
Conners v. Gusano's Chicago Style Pizzeria, for
example, we accepted an interlocutory appeal from an order
that "prevent[ed] [a party] from using its agreement
with [other parties] to relocate a dispute to an arbitral
forum." 779 F.3d 835, 839 (8th Cir. 2015). We looked
past the "label" affixed to the order and
emphasized its "injunctive effect," which was to
deny an "arbitral forum" with "finality."
Id. (quoting Nordin v. Nutri/Sys., Inc.,
897 F.2d 339, 342 (8th Cir. 1990)); see also Gulfstream
Aerospace Corp. v. Mayacamas Corp., 485 U.S. 271, 287-88
(1988) (explaining that appellate jurisdiction extends to
"orders that have the practical effect of granting or
denying injunctions and have serious, perhaps irreparable,
consequence" (internal quotation marks and citation
sure, Conners relied on a general statutory grant of
jurisdiction over interlocutory orders "granting . . .
injunctions," rather than the arbitration-specific
provision we rely on here. 779 F.3d at 839 (citing 28 U.S.C.
§ 1292(a)(1)); cf. McLaughlin Gormley King Co. v.
Terminix Int'l Co., 105 F.3d 1192, 1193 (8th Cir.
1997) (explaining that "appealability [in the
arbitration context] is governed by the specific appeal
provisions" in 9 U.S.C. § 16). But other than the
fact that the arbitration-specific provision is narrower, the
operational language in both statutes is the same: they allow
appeals from interlocutory orders "granting" an
injunction. So labels are no more decisive under one than the
that we are unsure what else the district court's order
could be, if not an injunction against arbitration. The firm
asked the court to declare the scope of the arbitration, but
federal courts do not have that sort of general supervisory
authority over ongoing arbitration proceedings. Cf.
9 U.S.C. § 16 (listing various orders a district court
might issue in connection with an arbitration). To the
contrary, the most natural way the district court could have
granted the relief the firm sought was by enjoining the
Williamses from arbitrating some of their counterclaims.
Accordingly, we have appellate jurisdiction under 9 U.S.C.
turn to the question of whether the counterclaims enjoined by
the district court were arbitrable. When arbitrability
depends on the interpretation of a contract, as it does here,
our review is de novo. See Lyster v. Ryan's Family
Steak Houses, Inc., 239 F.3d 943, 945 (8th Cir. ...