Midwest Neurosciences Associates, LLC v. Great Lakes Neurosurgical Associates, LLC

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Justia Opinion Summary

At issue was the circuit court’s role in determining the proper forum of dispute resolution when a subsequent contract, if enforceable, does not contain an arbitration clause that is present in an initial contract.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the non-final order of the circuit court denying a motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the initial agreement in this case, as well as the circuit court’s granting of a motion for declaratory judgment that the subsequent agreement was a valid contract, holding that, if valid, the subsequent agreement released certain parties from the agreement to arbitrate contained in the initial agreement, and the cause must be remanded to determine whether the subsequent agreement was a valid contract.

The circuit court concluded that even though the initial agreement required arbitration, it was superseded by the subsequent agreement, which did not require the parties to submit to arbitration. The court of appeals concluded that arbitration was required pursuant to the initial agreement. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, the determination of arbitrability must be decided by the circuit court rather than an arbitrator and that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether the subsequent agreement was a valid contract.

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2018 WI 112 SUPREME COURT CASE NO.: COMPLETE TITLE: OF WISCONSIN 2016AP601 Midwest Neurosciences Associates, LLC and Neurosurgery and Endovascular Associates, SC, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Great Lakes Neurosurgical Associates, LLC and Yashdip Pannu, M.D., Defendants-Respondents-Petitioners. REVIEW OF DECISION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS Reported at 379 Wis. 2d 766, 909 N.W.2d 209 (2018 – unpublished) OPINION FILED: SUBMITTED ON BRIEFS: ORAL ARGUMENT: December 19, 2018 October 10, 2018 SOURCE OF APPEAL: COURT: COUNTY: JUDGE: Circuit Ozaukee Paul V. Malloy JUSTICES: CONCURRED: DISSENTED: NOT PARTICIPATING: ABRAHAMSON, J. concurs. BRADLEY, J. dissents. DALLET, J. did not participate. ATTORNEYS: For the defendants-respondents-petitioners, there were briefs filed by Joan M. Huffman, Paul R. Erickson, and Gutglass, Erickson, Bonville & Larson, S.C., Milwaukee. There was an oral argument by Joan M. Huffman. For the plaintiffs-appellants, there was a brief filed by Frank M. Gumina, Patrick M. Harvey, and Husch Blackwell LLP, Milwaukee. There was an oral argument by Patrick M. Harvey. 2018 WI 112 NOTICE This opinion is subject to further editing and modification. The final version will appear in the bound volume of the official reports. No. 2016AP601 (L.C. No. 2015CV324) STATE OF WISCONSIN : IN SUPREME COURT Midwest Neurosciences Associates, LLC and Neurosurgery and Endovascular Associates, SC, FILED Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. DEC 19, 2018 Great Lakes Neurosurgical Associates, LLC and Yashdip Pannu, M.D., Sheila T. Reiff Clerk of Supreme Court Defendants-Respondents-Petitioners. REVIEW of a decision of the Court of Appeals. Reversed and cause remanded. ¶1 ANNETTE KINGSLAND ZIEGLER, J. unpublished decision of the court This is a review of an of appeals, Midwest Neurosciences Assocs., LLC v. Great Lakes Neurosurgical Assocs., LLC, No. 2016AP601, unpublished slip op. (Wis. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2017), reversing the Ozaukee County circuit court's1 non-final order. The non-final order denied Midwest Neurosciences Associates, LLC ("Midwest") and Neurosurgery and Endovascular 1 The Honorable Paul V. Malloy presided. No. 2016AP601 Associates S.C.'s ("NEA") motion to stay this action and compel arbitration Agreement pursuant to ("Operating the Amended Agreement"), as and Restated well as Operating the circuit court's granting of Yashdip Pannu, M.D. ("Dr. Pannu") and Great Lakes Neurosurgical Associates, LLC's ("Great Lakes") motion for declaratory judgment seeking a declaration that the Membership Interest Redemption valid contract. court with Agreement ("Redemption Agreement") was a The court of appeals remanded to the circuit instructions to grant Midwest's motion arbitration pursuant to the Operating Agreement. to compel We reverse the court of appeals and remand to the circuit court to determine whether the Redemption Agreement is enforceable. ¶2 The crux of the issue before us concerns the circuit court's role in determining the proper forum of dispute resolution when a subsequent contract, if enforceable, does not contain an contract. contract arbitration clause as is present in an initial As a part of that analysis we consider whether a which contains a merger clause and which does not contain an arbitration clause can change the forum of dispute resolution when a prior agreement between the parties contains an arbitration clause.2 The parties make competing arguments 2 The parties disagree as to whether the Redemption Agreement was validly formed. The JAMS Arbitration Rules in the Operating Agreement, however, require that even the issue of arbitrability be arbitrated. See infra note 7. "JAMS provides arbitration and mediation services worldwide," including the creation of rules that can be used to govern the arbitration of disputes at the parties' agreement. JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules & Procedures Rule 1, at 1, 6 (July 1, 2014), (continued) 2 No. 2016AP601 regarding a court's role in determining the applicability of this arbitration provision. They take contrary positions regarding whether all disputes, even arbitrability itself, must be submitted to arbitration. The parties present conflicting views of precedent regarding the judiciary's role in deciding motions to compel arbitration when a subsequent contract does not select arbitration as the forum for dispute resolution and does contain a merger clause which states that the subsequent agreement supersedes all prior contracts. Relatedly, the parties dispute whether all parties here can be compelled to arbitrate when arguably only one co-defendant is contractually required to arbitrate pursuant to the initial contract. ¶3 The claims in the underlying lawsuit that called upon the court to decide whether the dispute belonged in arbitration, involve whether Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu violated restrictive covenants Restrictive Covenant"). in the Operating Covenant Agreement Agreement and ("Ancillary the Ancillary Restrictive The Redemption Agreement, however, does not contain an arbitration provision and in fact, purports to release those restrictive covenants. Therefore, which contract controls is seminal in the first instance as to whether arbitration should be ordered. Ultimately, regardless of forum, the controlling documents will also impact the underlying dispute itself. https://www.jamsadr.com/files/Uploads/Documents/JAMS-Rules/ JAMS_comprehensive_arbitration_rules-2014.pdf. 3 No. ¶4 2016AP601 The circuit court concluded on summary judgment that even though the initial agreement, here the Operating Agreement, required arbitration it was superseded by a later, valid and enforceable Redemption Agreement which did not so require the parties to submit to arbitration. and remanded with The court of appeals reversed instructions to grant Midwest's motion to compel arbitration.3 ¶5 We reverse the court of appeals and conclude that the fundamental principles of freedom to contract allow parties to a previous contract to subsequently contract for a different forum of dispute resolution. court initially arbitrate. Here, it is necessary that the circuit determine whether court's authority The dependent on the Agreement is the terms of parties' a resolution. which contract parties to order contract. contract, authority to order arbitration. ascertain the If then contracted to arbitration is the the Redemption court lacks Thus, the court must first controls the forum of dispute In sum, we conclude that it is a court's duty to determine whether a contract calls for arbitration and when a dispute exists arbitration as clause to whether supersedes a a 3 second first contract contract without with such an a Presiding Judge Reilly concurred, expressing concern that Cirilli v. Country Insurance & Financial Servs., 2009 WI App 167, 322 Wis. 2d 238, 776 N.W.2d 272, and Mortimore v. Merge Technologies Inc., 2012 WI App 109, 344 Wis. 2d 459, 824 N.W.2d 155, erode freedom of contract and prevent parties from subsequently contracting out of arbitration. 4 No. 2016AP601 clause, the determination of arbitrability must be decided in the first instance by the circuit court rather than the arbitrator. ¶6 We also conclude, however, that the cause must be remanded to the circuit court, not to compel arbitration as was ordered by parties' the court competing of appeals, affidavits but submitted rather, in because support of the their positions on summary judgment raised genuine issues of material fact concerning contract.4 whether the Redemption Agreement is a valid Therefore, we reverse and remand to the circuit court for further proceedings. I. ¶7 owner, Dr. Pannu and sole was FACTUAL BACKGROUND Great practicing Lakes' president, physician. Arvind 100 percent Ahuja, M.D. ("Dr. Ahuja") was the sole Member of Midwest and later the sole Member of NEA. the sole Member William McCullough, M.D. ("Dr. McCullough") was of Metro Neurosurgical, S.C. ("Metro"). In 2015, the three Members of Midwest were NEA, Great Lakes, and Metro. The presidents of each were also practicing neurosurgeons and had offices adjacent to St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 4 The current dispute involves We need not weigh in on the host of issues that might relate to a non-signatory being bound by an arbitration agreement, such as (1) assumption, (2) agency, (3) estoppel, (4) veil piercing, and (5) incorporation by reference. Zurich Am. Ins. Co. v. Watts Indus., Inc., 417 F.3d 682, 687 (7th Cir. 2005). 5 No. only Drs. Pannu arbitration and provision Ahuja from a and the contract 2016AP601 applicability entered into of a an decade previous. ¶8 Specifically, on August 1, 2005, the parties at issue executed an Operating Agreement which modified a previous operating agreement of August, 2002 so to admit, among others, Dr. Pannu to Midwest.5 Dr. Pannu executed the Operating Agreement as President of Great Lakes and also signed a personal guaranty for the obligations of Great Lakes. The Operating Agreement contains the arbitration clause at issue. ¶9 The Operating Agreement created rights, obligations, and restrictions for the Members of Midwest and the physicians that worked for the Members. other provisions. how Midwest was The document includes various For example, the Operating Agreement controls to be managed and operated. For instance, subsection 1.2(a) dictates that Midwest shall have a registered office and subsection 5.5(b) grants Midwest's president the power to unilaterally terminate Members. ¶10 Section 8.5 of the Operating Agreement grants Members the right to voluntarily withdraw from Midwest. Under Section 8.5, a Member could withdraw from Midwest by "giving written 5 Midwest's primary purpose was to assist its Members, who employed physicians, in "the operation of their medical practices." 6 No. 2016AP601 notice to [Midwest] at least ninety (90) days before the stated effective date of the withdrawal."6 ¶11 Section 13.3 dictates that the "Operating Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of Wisconsin without regard to its choice of law provisions." ¶12 Section 13.1 of the Operating Agreement provides: Amendments to Operating Agreement. No Amendment or modification of this Operating Agreement shall be valid unless in writing and signed by all of the Members. Unless otherwise provided in such an amendment or modification, this Operating Agreement shall be considered to be amended only to the minimal extent necessary to give effect to this Operating Agreement, and the other terms and conditions of this Operating Agreement shall continue to apply with full force and effect. ¶13 Section 13.7 of the Operating Agreement is entitled "Arbitration," and states, in pertinent part: Arbitration. . . . [T]he parties hereto agree to resolve any and all disputes arising with respect to the terms and conditions of this Operating Agreement hereby by arbitration . . . . The arbitration shall be governed by the laws of the State of Wisconsin, this Operating Agreement and JAMS' Arbitration Rules[7] to the extent not inconsistent with the foregoing. 6 The provision of notice under Section 8.5 was subject to the provisions of Section 13.8, which provided that the notice was "valid only if in writing and upon actual receipt by the intended recipient of the notice." This provision factors into the arguments about the Redemption Agreement's enforceability. 7 JAMS Arbitration Rule 11, "Interpretation of Rules and Jurisdictional Challenges," in relevant part, provides: (b) Jurisdictional and arbitrability disputes, including disputes over the formation, existence, (continued) 7 No. ¶14 which Section details, 8.13 among contains other a "Covenant things, a Not to restriction 2016AP601 Compete," that the doctors practice in their specialty for a designated period of time, in a specified area, and at particular facilities.8 March 6, 2006, Dr. Pannu personally signed the On Ancillary Restrictive Covenant containing similar terms to Section 8.13 of the Operating Agreement. The Ancillary Restrictive Covenant, however, did not specifically incorporate by reference Section 13.7, the arbitration section, of the Operating Agreement. ¶15 Nearly ten years later, in 2015, Great Lakes and NEA were two of three remaining Members of Midwest. On February 13, 2015, the Members unanimously voted to dissolve Midwest as of March 31, 2015. One doctor relocated out of state and is not part of this lawsuit.9 Dr. Ahuja, who had no hospital privileges in the Milwaukee area, had previously announced his intention to vacate his practice from the offices. validity, interpretation or scope of the agreement under which Arbitration is sought, and who are proper Parties to the Arbitration, shall be submitted to and ruled on by the Arbitrator. The Arbitrator has the authority to determine jurisdiction and arbitrability issues as a preliminary matter. JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration Rules & Procedures Rule 11(b), supra note 2, at 14. 8 The underlying litigation in this case claims that Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu violated non-compete restrictive covenants. 9 Dr. McCullough moved to Texas and vacated the offices. 8 No. ¶16 On March 16, 2015, the Members 2016AP601 restructured the dissolution process such that NEA would buy out the Members' interests in Midwest. Great Lakes would vacate the premises no later than May 15, 2015. Great Lakes, however, was subject to the non-compete provisions of the Operating Agreement. After discussing the logistics of how the purchases would work, the Members unanimously voted to rescind the vote to dissolve Midwest.10 ¶17 to On March 30, 2015, Midwest's attorney sent an e-mail Dr. Pannu, accountants Dr. Ahuja, attaching a and Great "proposed Lakes' [Redemption and Midwest's Agreement] and [an] Assignment Agreement" which concerned, in part, the release of the non-compete provision with Midwest. the e-mail were instructed to ask any The recipients of questions at their "earliest opportunity" because "we intend to exchange funds and sign documents tomorrow." suggestion from Great On March 31, 2015, in response to a Lakes' accountant, Midwest's attorney added one paragraph to the Redemption Agreement and confirmed 10 NEA's offer to buy the other Members' interests came in response to the Members being advised that there were unforeseen difficulties with winding down Midwest related to expenses and lease obligations. Prior to voting, the Members had a lengthy discussion regarding retirement plans and lease obligations. With respect to the retirement plans, it was determined that actuarial calculations would be done to determine how much Dr. Pannu and Dr. McCullough would pay. In addition, it was agreed that Midwest's accountant would calculate the projected wind-down expense budget for Midwest and that Dr. Pannu and Dr. McCullough would pay their projected wind-down expenses based on that budget. 9 No. 2016AP601 that his assistant had sent the "the final agreement." The e- mail also contained the following instructions: "Please sign and deliver per my earlier email."11 ¶18 Agreement On the and same the day, Dr. Pannu accompanying Great Lakes from the Redemption Agreement12 Assignment delivered them to Midwest's attorney. distinguishes executed and The Redemption Agreement Dr. Pannu as "Pannu" and "Y. Pannu," respectively, and also notes that it is Great Lakes, "Pannu", that holds a one-third membership interest in Midwest. ¶19 Midwest's The Redemption desire to "set Agreement forth outlines the terms Great upon Lakes which and [Great Lakes] will sell and [Midwest] will redeem [Great Lakes'] entire Membership Interest" in Midwest. Agreement indicates surrender [Great March 31, 2015, that Lakes'] pursuant Great For instance, the Redemption Lakes membership to Section "desires in 8.5 to [Midwest] of the voluntarily effective Operating 11 Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu assert that Midwest's attorney was acting as both Midwest's and NEA's attorney when he circulated the Redemption Agreement. They allege that this does not create a conflict of interest because Dr. Ahuja cannot approve the transaction with respect to Midwest, while rejecting the same transaction with respect to NEA. Midwest and NEA, however, allege that if Midwest's attorney "was representing Midwest, he could not also represent NEA" because Great Lakes was still a Member of Midwest. It is not necessary for us to answer this disagreement. 12 The Assignment Agreement states that, as of March 31, 2015, Great Lakes "transfer[red] and assign[ed] to [Midwest] . . . all of [Great Lakes'] right, title and interest in and to the Membership Interests." 10 No. 2016AP601 Agreement," and Section 2 of the Redemption Agreement dictates that Great Lakes "shall sell, assign and transfer to [Midwest], free and clear encumbrances, of and all [Midwest] liens, shall claims, purchase agreements and [Great Lakes], the entire Membership Interest." Agreement outlines the purchase price acquire and from The Redemption for Great Lakes' membership interest and specifically identified and allocated to Great Lakes the amount that it was required to pay to Midwest for its share of the costs associated with winding down Midwest, as well as requiring Great Lakes to pay a set amount relating to retirement that Great plans. The Lakes must Redemption "fully Agreement vacate" its also establishes office suite by April 30, 2015. ¶20 Section 6 of the Redemption Agreement is entitled, "Mutual Release," and provides: [Midwest] Releasees [, defined as "[Midwest] and each of [Midwest's] Members and the Members' shareholders, members, owners, successors, assigns, agents, directors, officers, employees, representatives, attorneys, heirs, executors and administrators of such of the foregoing as are natural persons, and all persons acting by, through, under or in concert with any of the foregoing,] hereby jointly and severally, irrevocably and unconditionally release, acquit and forever discharge [Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu] and each of [Great Lakes'] shareholders, members, owners, successors, assigns, agents, directors, officers, employees, representatives, attorneys, heirs, executors and administrators of such of the foregoing as are natural persons, and all persons acting by, through, under or in concert with any of the foregoing (collectively, "Pannu Releasees"), or any of them, from any and all Claims[, defined as charges, complaints, claims, liabilities, obligations, promises, agreements, controversies, damages, actions, 11 No. 2016AP601 causes of action, suits, rights, demands, costs, losses, debts and expenses (including attorneys' fees and costs actually incurred), known and unknown, of any nature whatsoever, including without limitation, any and all claims under the Expense Sharing Agreement, the Operating Agreement, and any and all other claims, whether at common law, in contract or tort,] which [Midwest] Releasees now have or claim to have or which [Midwest] Releasees at any time heretofore had or claimed to have or which [Midwest] Releasees at any time hereafter may have or claim to have for any claims arising or accruing to the date hereof against each or any of the Pannu Releasees, other than for a breach of this Agreement. (Emphases added.) ¶21 Section 7 of the Redemption Agreement, "Release of Non-Compete Restrictions," states: "[Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu] are currently subject to non-compete restrictions contained in the Operating Covenant]. Agreement and in the [Ancillary Restrictive In consideration for the terms of this Agreement, [Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu's] restrictions against competition are hereby released and made void." ¶22 Section 10.3 of the Redemption Agreement, "Applicable Law," does not reference arbitration, nor does an arbitration clause exist elsewhere in the Redemption Agreement. Section 10.3 reads: "All questions concerning the construction, validity and interpretation of this Agreement and the performance of the obligations imposed by this Agreement shall be governed by the internal law, not the law of conflicts, of the State of Wisconsin." ¶23 had According to Dr. Pannu's affidavit, he and Great Lakes performed all of their obligations under the Redemption Agreement other than moving out of their office by April 8, 12 No. 2015. 2016AP601 For instance, Dr. Pannu said he delivered a check for Great Lakes' share of the wind-down expenses to Midwest's attorney and hand-delivered a check for Great Lakes' retirement plan contributions to Midwest's accounting firm. It is undisputed that one of Great Lakes' checks was cashed.13 ¶24 On April 8, 2015, Dr. Pannu attempted to get a copy of the Redemption Agreement as signed by Dr. Ahuja. Initially, Dr. Pannu exchanged text messages with Dr. Ahuja: Dr. Pannu: Hi Can u get me a copy of the [Redemption Agreement] signed by you Thx Dr. Ahuja: Will work on it when I am back ? Anything up Dr. Pannu: No Attorney wants it So it is clean Dr. Ahuja: Yea and it appears not going to let us out of lease But I will take care of it Dr. Pannu: Ok Dr. Ahuja: ? Who is your lawyer thx Dr. Pannu: [Lawyer's name]14 13 According to Dr. Ahuja's affidavit, the check was cashed in error by a clerical employee and a cashier's check in the same amount was sent to Dr. Pannu once the error was discovered. 14 The attorney that at a motion hearing on involved in this" prior "copied on anything . . . Dr. Pannu named clarified on the record December 17, 2015, that he "was not to April 8, 2015, and had not been prior to that." 13 No. Dr. Ahuja: K great ¶25 within Further, ten minutes of sending 2016AP601 the initial text message, Dr. Pannu sent an e-mail to Midwest's attorney, and carbon copied Dr. Ahuja and Midwest's and Great Lakes' accountants, asking Midwest's attorney to "let [him] know when you get a signed copy of the agreement from [Dr. Ahuja]." Midwest's attorney responded that he would meet with Dr. Ahuja to get his signature "[a]s soon as all of the documentation is accounted for."15 ¶26 According to Dr. Ahuja's affidavit, he (and thus Midwest and NEA) never agreed to the terms of the Redemption Agreement. Initially, Dr. Ahuja said he never instructed Midwest's attorney to include a complete release of Great Lakes' or Dr. Pannu's non-compete obligations in the Redemption Agreement and that Dr. Ahuja in fact disagreed with releasing the restrictions. Further, Dr. Ahuja stated that during an April 20, 2015 phone call with Dr. Pannu, he told Dr. Pannu that he was still reviewing the Redemption Agreement. Moreover, Dr. Ahuja stated that once he had more thoroughly reviewed the Redemption Agreement, he determined he was not willing to sign it. 15 In the e-mail, Midwest's attorney stated that they were waiting on retirement plan documents from Great Lakes. According to Dr. Pannu's affidavit, Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu had already provided the requested documents to Midwest's accountant. 14 No. ¶27 2016AP601 On April 30, 2015, Great Lakes vacated the office and moved into different office space in the same facility that was shared with a physician unaffiliated with Midwest.16 ¶28 In May of 2015, Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu were advised that Midwest and NEA considered the Redemption Agreement to be a mere proposal that was subsequently rejected by Midwest and NEA. Thus, Midwest and NEA alleged that Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu were violating the non-compete covenants in the Operating Agreement and the Ancillary Restrictive Covenant. ¶29 On July 1, 2015, Dr. Ahuja, on behalf of Midwest, sent a letter to Dr. Pannu informing him that Great Lakes' membership status in Midwest was being terminated effective immediately pursuant to Section 5.5(b) of the Operating Agreement. The letter also demanded that Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu comply with the non-compete restrictions in the Operating Agreement and the Ancillary Restrictive Covenant. II. ¶30 On September PROCEDURAL POSTURE 2, 2015, Midwest and NEA filed a complaint against Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu alleging that Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu breached the non-compete covenants of the 16 Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu subsequently moved back into their old office that was shared with Midwest from June of 2015 to January of 2016, but moved out once more in January of 2016. 15 No. 2005 Operating Agreement and the 2006 Ancillary 2016AP601 Restrictive Covenant.17 ¶31 Before a responsive pleading was filed, Midwest and NEA moved to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration in accordance with Section 13.7 of the Operating Agreement. Midwest and NEA argued that the Operating Agreement was the governing contract between the parties and that Section 13.7 within that agreement unambiguously required the parties to arbitrate violations of Section 8.13 of the Operating Agreement and the Ancillary Restrictive Covenant. Midwest and NEA argued that the Operating Agreement governed because there was never a meeting of the minds on the Redemption Agreement, as well as the fact that the Redemption Agreement was never signed by all of the parties which was required to amend the Operating Agreement per Section 13.1. Further, Midwest and NEA argued that any challenge to the validity of the Operating Agreement must be decided by an arbitrator, not the circuit court. ¶32 On October 6, 2015, Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu filed an answer containing affirmative defenses and counterclaims,18 as 17 On February 29, 2016, Midwest and NEA filed an amended complaint, reiterating the causes of action in the initial complaint and pleading additional causes of action against Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu related to Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu's payment of rent to Midwest, as well as Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu's alleged tortious interference with Midwest and NEA's prospective and current contractual relationships. 18 On February 29, 2016, Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu filed an amended counterclaim. On April 15, 2016, Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu filed an amended answer containing affirmative defenses and counterclaims. 16 No. 2016AP601 well as a motion for declaratory judgment seeking, among other things, an order declaring that the Redemption Agreement was a valid contract. They contended that as of March 31, 2015, the Operating Agreement and Ancillary Restrictive the non-compete Covenant were provisions invalid, of the unenforceable, and/or inapplicable to Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu. Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu argued that the Redemption Agreement is binding and released Operating them from Agreement and the non-compete the Ancillary restrictions Restrictive in the Covenant. They argued that the Redemption Agreement was binding because Midwest and NEA manifested their intention to sign the Redemption Agreement and reaffirmed their intention by allowing Great Lakes therein. and Dr. Pannu Accordingly, the to fully motion perform further the sought obligations an order declaring that Midwest and NEA are not entitled to arbitration. In subsequent responses, Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu argued that the circuit court must decide whether the Redemption Agreement is enforceable and that, at best, it is premature to compel arbitration because the merits of the case hinge entirely on the enforceability of the Redemption Agreement, which contains no arbitration clause and in fact, fully releases them from the claims asserted. The parties filed briefs and affidavits in support of their respective positions. ¶33 On December 17, 2015, the circuit court held a hearing on both motions. motion for judgment Initially, the circuit court stated that the declaratory motion" and judgment that "maybe 17 was "similar there[ are] to a summary some" factual No. disputes. 2016AP601 Nonetheless, the court found that Dr. Ahuja, through Midwest's attorney, made an offer that he intended to be bound by when the e-mail containing the "final agreement" was sent. Further, the circuit court noted that Dr. Pannu accepted the offer when he signed the Redemption Agreement and returned it with the check that was subsequently cashed. Moreover, the circuit court held that the "minor problems" after March 31, 2015, or Dr. Ahuja's "ambiguous" text message to Dr. Pannu on April 8, 2015, that a reasonable person could view as saying "I'm questioning the agreement," do not change the analysis because the Redemption Agreement was already a "done deal" and the "horse was kind of out of the barn and you can't put it back." motion The circuit court granted Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu's and concluded that the Redemption Agreement was an enforceable contract and thus, that Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu were not restricted by the covenants not to compete in either the Operating Agreement or the Ancillary Restrictive Covenant. ¶34 On March 16, 2016, the circuit court issued a written order granting Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu's motion and declaring that the Redemption Agreement was a valid contract. The court determined that as of March 31, 2015, the Operating Agreement and the Covenant non-compete were provisions invalid, of the unenforceable Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu. Ancillary and/or Restrictive inapplicable to The order also denied Midwest and NEA's motion to stay the action and compel arbitration. ¶35 On March 23, 2016, Midwest and NEA petitioned for leave to appeal the circuit court's March 16 order, which the 18 No. court of appeals granted. 2016AP601 On December 20, 2017, the court of appeals issued its decision concluding that the "determinative question is whether the circuit court erred by not ordering the parties to submit their dispute to Neurosciences, No. 2016AP601, ¶8. "that the question of whether arbitration." Midwest The court of appeals held the arbitration clause superseded should have been submitted to arbitration." was Id., ¶2. As such, the court of appeals declined to address the multiple other issues that Midwest and NEA raised on appeal and reversed and remanded, instructing the circuit court to grant Midwest and NEA's motion to compel arbitration. ¶36 On February 5, 2018, petitioned this court for review. the petition. Id., ¶¶2, 8, 23. Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu On May 18, 2018, we granted We now reverse and remand the cause for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. III. ¶37 review This summary case comes judgment STANDARD OF REVIEW to us rulings 19 on summary judgment.19 independently, applying "We the The circuit court understood Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu's motion for declaratory judgment to be "similar to a summary judgment motion" and applied the summary judgment methodology. Thus, while the motion was entitled a motion for declaratory judgment, it was actually a motion for summary judgment. See WEA Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Krisik, 2013 WI App 139, ¶¶1, 4 n.2, 8, 352 Wis. 2d 73, 841 N.W.2d 290 (reviewing a motion for declaratory judgment as a summary judgment motion because the circuit court understood the motion to "in essence [] be a motion for summary judgment and applied the summary judgment methodology"). 19 well-established [(2015-16)]." standards 20 set forth in 2016AP601 Stat. § 802.08 Hirschhorn v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co., 2012 WI 20, ¶20, 338 Wis. 2d 761, 809 N.W.2d 2d 529. review Wis. No. whether the circuit court Thus, we independently correctly judgment to Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu. granted summary Tatera v. FMC Corp., 2010 WI 90, ¶15, 328 Wis. 2d 320, 786 N.W.2d 810 (citing Racine Cty. v. Oracular Wis. 2d 682, rendered 781 if Milwaukee, N.W.2d 88). the interrogatories, Inc., Summary pleadings, and 2010 admissions WI judgment depositions, on 25, file, ¶24, 323 "shall be answers together with to the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." ¶38 Id.; § 802.08(2). "[A] petition to compel arbitration involves contract interpretation, which is a question of law that we review de novo." 2015 First Weber Grp., Inc. v. Synergy Real Estate Grp., LLC, WI 34, ¶20, Wis. 2d 496, 860 substantive arbitrability . . . [are] questions of law we review de novo." Cirilli v. Country Ins. & "determination[s] Fin. Servs., N.W.2d 272. 2009 361 of WI App 167, ¶10, N.W.2d 498. 322 Wis. 2d 238, Thus, 776 Similarly, issues of contract interpretation are reviewed de novo. Mortimore v. Merge Technologies Inc., 2012 WI App 109, ¶13, 344 Wis. 2d 459, 824 N.W.2d 155. 20 All subsequent references to the Wisconsin Statutes are to the 2015-16 version unless otherwise indicated. 20 No. IV. A. 2016AP601 ANALYSIS Fundamental Principles 1. Freedom to contract and laws governing arbitration ¶39 "Freedom of contract is based on the idea that individuals should have the power to govern their own affairs without interference." Solowicz v. Forward Geneva Nat'l, LLC, 2010 WI 20, ¶34, 323 Wis. 2d 556, 780 N.W.2d 111. there is one thing which more than another As such, "if public policy requires it is that [individuals] of full age and competent understanding shall have the utmost liberty of contracting, and that their contracts, when entered into freely and voluntarily, shall be justice." held sacred, Merten v. and shall Nathan, be 108 enforced by Wis. 2d 205, 212 courts of n.5, 321 N.W.2d 173 (1982) (quoting Balt. & Ohio Sw. Ry. Co. v. Voigt, 176 U.S. 498, 505 (1900)). Thus, Wisconsin courts have generally sought "to enforce contracts deliberately made by the parties rather than set them aside." Baierl v. McTaggart, 2001 WI 107, ¶12, 245 Wis. 2d 632, 629 N.W.2d 277. ¶40 Arbitration agreements are "a matter of contract." Joint Sch. Dist. No. 10 v. Jefferson Educ. Ass'n, 78 Wis. 2d 94, 101, 253 N.W.2d 536 (1977) (quoting United Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582 (1960)); First Options of Chi., Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 943 (1995). such, "[a]rbitrators derive their authority only from As the parties' advance agreement that they will submit such grievances to arbitration" and thus, parties cannot be "required to submit any dispute to arbitration unless [they have] agreed to do so." 21 No. 2016AP601 Kimberly Area Sch. Dist. v. Zdanovec, 222 Wis. 2d 27, 39, 586 N.W.2d 41 (Ct. App. 1998) (citing AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Commc'ns Workers of America, 475 U.S. 643, 648-49 (1986)). Parties may contract broadly and agree to arbitrate, even the issue of arbitrability. ¶41 Wisconsin law Mortimore, 344 Wis. 2d 459, ¶¶15, 20. recognizes the need to defer to the parties' agreement to arbitrate and the "policy of encouraging arbitration as an alternative to litigation." 361 Wis. 2d 496, ¶24. First Weber Grp., When parties agree to arbitration, a court's role is limited because a different forum of dispute resolution has been selected. In fact, the Wisconsin legislature has codified the limited role of the court. Wis. Stat. ch. 788. In Mortimore, the court of See appeals explained that when the parties have contracted to arbitrate, the court's "function is limited to a determination of whether: (1) there is a construction of the arbitration clause that would cover the grievance on its face and (2) whether provision of the contract specifically excludes it." any other Mortimore, 344 Wis. 2d 459, ¶16. ¶42 Wisconsin's "policy of encouraging arbitration as an alternative to litigation," Wis. 2d 496, ¶24, however, see is not First Weber limitless. Grp., Even 361 Midwest acknowledges that courts typically decide the initial issue of arbitrability. "[A]rbitrators cannot determine whether they have the authority to decide arbitrability unless the parties give arbitrators such authority." Kimberly Area Sch. Dist., 222 Wis. 2d at 39-40; see generally Joint Sch. Dist. No. 10, 78 22 No. 2016AP601 Wis. 2d at 110 (stating that "parties may submit arbitrability to an arbitrator"). "[T]he evidence of this grant [of authority] must be 'clear and unmistakable,'" otherwise, "the question of whether the parties agreed to arbitrate is to be decided by the court, not the arbitrator." Kimberly Area Sch. Dist., 222 Wis. 2d at 39-40; see also Kaplan, 514 U.S. at 944-45 ("silence or ambiguity" affects the presumption of arbitrability). ¶43 Consequently, only those disputes that the parties have agreed to so submit to arbitration are relegated to proceed in that forum. Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 299 (2010). A court should order arbitration "only where the court is satisfied that neither the formation of the parties' arbitration specifically agreement committing such nor (absent disputes to a an valid provision arbitrator) its enforceability or applicability to the dispute is in issue." Id. at 299; id. at 300 (stating all of the United States Supreme Court's opinions compelling arbitration did so only "after the Court was persuaded that the parties' arbitration agreement was validly formed and that it covered the dispute in question and was legally enforceable"). ¶44 In Granite Rock Co., the Court clarified that "[t]he test for arbitrability remains whether the parties consented to arbitrate the dispute in question." Id. at 304 n.11. Thus, in Granite Rock Co., the Court concluded that judicial resolution was required "to determine whether the parties consented arbitrate the matters covered by the [arbitration] demand." 23 to Id. No. 2016AP601 at 303 n.9 & 304 (referencing Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 444 n.1 (2006)). This rule stems from the of "principle that underscores all our arbitration decisions: Arbitration is strictly 'a matter of consent,' and thus 'is a way disputes——that the arbitration.'" ¶45 In to resolve those parties have disputes——but agreed to only those submit to arbitrability and Id. at 299 (citation omitted). answering both who determines what is subject to arbitration, Wisconsin courts apply state-law contract principles and chapter 788. Utilization of the Wisconsin Kaplan, 514 U.S. at 944. contract principles requires "courts to place arbitration agreements 'on equal footing with all other contracts.'" Clark, 581 U.S. ___, Kindred Nursing Ctrs. Ltd. P'ship v. 137 S. Ct. 1421, 1424, 1426 (2017). Accordingly, "[a] court may invalidate an arbitration agreement based on 'generally applicable contract defenses' like fraud or unconscionability, but not on legal rules that 'apply only to arbitration or that derive their meaning from the fact that an agreement to arbitrate is at issue.'" ¶46 Id. at 1426. Chapter 788 of the Wisconsin Statutes is also referred to as the "Wisconsin Arbitration Act" and limits a court's role with respect to issues concerning arbitration. A court, however, must still, when called upon to do so, determine in the first instance whether the parties agreed to arbitrate. Then it becomes a court's duty to determine whether a contract calls for arbitration and when a dispute exists as to whether a second contract without an arbitration 24 clause supersedes a first No. 2016AP601 contract with such a clause, the determination of arbitrability must be decided in the first instance by the circuit court rather than the arbitrator. ¶47 clauses Wisconsin in arbitration enforceable Stat. contracts enforceable," agreement except § 788.01, "shall upon such entitled provides be valid, grounds as "Arbitration that a written irrevocable exist at law and or in equity for the revocation of any contract" (emphasis added). As a result, it is a court's duty to determine whether a contract calls for arbitration. Another contract that clearly and expressly supersedes a first contract is "grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of a contract." ¶48 Wisconsin Stat. § 788.02 informs when a court must stay proceedings to permit arbitration, as follows: If any suit or proceeding be brought upon any issue referable to arbitration under an agreement in writing for such arbitration, the court in which such suit is pending, upon being satisfied that the issue involved in such suit or proceeding is referable to arbitration under such an agreement, shall on application of one of the parties stay the trial of the action until such arbitration has been had in accordance with the terms of the agreement, providing the applicant for the stay is not in default in proceeding with such arbitration. Section 788.03 directs how a court ordering arbitration is to proceed and states in part as follows: The party aggrieved by the alleged failure, neglect or refusal of another to perform under a written agreement for arbitration may petition any court of record having jurisdiction of the parties or of the property for an order directing that such arbitration proceed as provided for in such agreement. . . . The court shall hear the parties, and upon being satisfied 25 No. 2016AP601 that the making of the agreement for arbitration or the failure to comply therewith is not in issue, the court shall make an order directing the parties to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the terms of the agreement. Wis. Stat. § 788.03. ¶49 The court arbitrator's award may, or order after a arbitration, rehearing pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 788.10. by the vacate an arbitrator, In addition, the court may, after arbitration, modify an arbitrator's award pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 788.11. Finally, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 788.12, a circuit court may enter judgment "[u]pon the granting of an order confirming, modifying or correcting an award," in conformity therewith. ¶50 Thus, when parties have contracted for arbitration as the forum for dispute resolution, a court's role is limited. In this case, however, the court must first ascertain whether the controlling contract calls for arbitration. Thus, we are presented with the question of the court's role when the parties once contracted to arbitrate, but the court is presented with a later written clause. contract that does not contain an arbitration Fundamental principles clearly militate in favor of the ability to freely contract, even if that changes the forum of dispute resolution. Which contract controls is seminal to a determination of whether arbitration must be ordered. 2. ¶51 because The The contracts at issue contracts whether the at parties issue require entered 26 into closer the examination later contract No. controls initially the court's determination 2016AP601 regarding the proper forum of dispute resolution, but also later may impact the underlying dispute. If the Redemption Agreement is enforceable, its terms do not choose arbitration as the forum for dispute resolution. according to the If it is not, the matter must proceed Operating Restrictive Covenant. Agreement and the Ancillary Thus, it is the court that must first determine whether a valid contract requires arbitration. dispute regarding the Redemption Agreement presents The "such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of" the Operating Agreement and Ancillary Restrictive Covenant. Stat. § 788.01. arbitration, Before the court an action must be can be "satisfied Wis. stayed to permit that the issue involved in such suit or proceeding is referable to arbitration under such an agreement." Wis. Stat. § 788.02. Before the court can order arbitration, the court must be "satisfied that the making of the agreement for arbitration or the failure to comply therewith is not in issue." ¶52 Initially in 2005, Wis. Stat. § 788.03. the parties entered into an Operating Agreement which "memorialize[d] certain amendments and modifications to the Operating Agreement of [Midwest] dated August 1, 2002." This Operating Agreement changed the 2002 contract new to admit Members arbitration in Section 13.7. a restrictive Section 8.13. covenant but it clearly provided for The Operating Agreement contained between Great Lakes and Midwest in Dr. Pannu and Midwest separately entered into an Ancillary Restrictive Covenant a year later. 27 Then about ten No. 2016AP601 years later, in 2015, the dynamic and composition of the group changed and the parties purportedly entered into a Redemption Agreement, which contains a mutual release and indemnification as a part of winding down the business, provides for the surrender of Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu's membership in Midwest, and releases Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu from the 2005 and 2006 restrictive covenants. supersedes "all arrangements, The Redemption Agreement specifically prior agreements, communications, promises, representations covenants, or warranties, whether oral or written" in its merger clause. ¶53 A determination as to whether the issue of arbitrability is to be submitted to the arbitrator is examined in light of the pertinent contract. In order to determine whether the parties have always and forever agreed to arbitrate arbitrability by virtue of the JAMS Arbitration Rules in the Operating Agreement 2005, the Mortimore, 344 has not agreed Wis. 2d 459, to ¶15 language appeals "[N]o party can be compelled to arbitrate a matter she the of contracts. or examine court we he further as concluded, which must from submit to (citing of the arbitration." Cirilli, 322 Wis. 2d 238, ¶12); see also Wis. Stat. ch. 788. ¶54 called While a court's role is limited, courts are indeed upon arbitration. to determine whether a contract Wis. Stat. §§ 788.01, 788.02, 788.03. calls for Only then, if the forum chosen by the contract is arbitration, will the presumption of arbitrability control the dispute. Co., 561 U.S. at 301. Granite Rock Here, serious questions exist as to 28 No. whether the Operating Agreement still controls the 2016AP601 issue of arbitrability, whether the Redemption Agreement supersedes that agreement, and to what extent, if any, one co-defendant, Dr. Pannu individually, ever agreed to arbitrate. ¶55 We now turn to the relevant contracts at issue. Dr. Pannu signed the 2005 Operating Agreement as President of Great Lakes, not individually. While the Operating Agreement contains a guaranty signed by Dr. Pannu, it is separate from the signature page of the Operating Agreement where he signed as President. The guaranty and acknowledgement serve to guaranty the obligations of the signator to the contract, Great Lakes. If the parties were only contesting the requirement to arbitrate under the Operating Agreement perhaps be different. alone, the court's See Wis. Stats. ch. 788. role would That, however, is not the question with which we are presented. ¶56 The parties demonstrated a willingness to later contract in 2006 concerning the individual restrictive covenant, outlined in the Ancillary Restrictive Covenant, which Dr. Pannu signed individually as a physician. The Ancillary Restrictive Covenant does not specifically contain an arbitration clause. Why a subsequent restrictive agreement was necessary in 2006 might be an additional consideration for the court if these were the only two agreements at issue. This is not critical to our analysis, however, circuit determine whether contract. because the the Redemption Agreement court is must the first parties' The Redemption Agreement from a decade later is the only of the three documents at issue that sets forth by its 29 No. 2016AP601 terms the distinct contractual obligations of Great Lakes the entity, and Dr. Pannu individually. does not contain supersedes an prior arbitration contracts The Redemption Agreement provision and and releases by Great Dr. Pannu from the non-compete restrictions. its terms Lakes and These conflicting written contractual provisions militate against the presumption of arbitrating arbitrability. The court is required by chapter 788 of the Wisconsin Statutes to determine whether the contract calls for arbitration. In order to do so, it must determine which is the controlling contract. ¶57 A closer examination of the terms of the contracts further explains why it cannot be assumed that the Operating Agreement alone ends the analysis as to arbitration. Most typically, a challenge might be made to a contractual clause, but the court nonetheless orders even that issue to arbitration because the pertinent contract calls for arbitration. Here, the language of the relevant documents call into question which of the contracts controls. ¶58 of the The combination of the merger clause in Section 10.2 Redemption Agreement, the explicit reference to the Operating Agreement in the "Mutual Release" in Section 6, the "Applicable existence Law" of an provision in arbitration Section 10.3, provision in and the the non- Redemption Agreement, make evident that, if enforceable, the parties did not consent to arbitration in the Redemption Agreement. If the Redemption Agreement revokes the Operating Agreement, the court would not order arbitration pursuant to the Operating Agreement. 30 No. ¶59 Section 10.2 utilizes different 2016AP601 capitalization to denote "this Agreement" (referring to the Redemption Agreement) and "the Midwest, entire Great agreement," Lakes, and calling Dr. Pannu into question intended Agreement to revoke the Operating Agreement. Agreement, unlike Restrictive the Covenant, Operating addresses Agreement the or the whether Redemption The Redemption the relationship Ancillary between all three. ¶60 that For example, the merger clause in Section 10.2 states "[t]his constitutes Agreement" the "entire (meaning the agreement" Redemption between Agreement) the "parties" (meaning Great Lakes, Dr. Pannu, and Midwest)21 "pertaining to its subject agreements, matter" promises, representations, [Great Lakes] or or and that it covenants, warranties, "supersedes arrangements, whether [Midwest]." It collateral or antecedent understandings." oral all prior communications, or written, "expressly by negatives See Town Bank v. City Real Estate Dev., LLC, 2010 WI 134, ¶39, 330 Wis. 2d 340, 793 N.W.2d 476 (defining a merger clause as a "written provision which expressly understandings"). negatives No collateral reference is made or to the antecedent Arbitration section of the Operating Agreement. 21 Dr. Ahuja was only designated as a party "for purposes of the Mutual Releases and Indemnification set forth in Sections 6 and 8," not Section 10.2. 31 No. ¶61 2016AP601 Furthermore, Section 6 of the Redemption Agreement by its terms is to "release, acquit and forever discharge" Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu from "any and all" "charges, complaints, claims, liabilities, controversies, obligations, damages, rights, demands, costs, nature whatsoever" actions, losses, under promises, causes debts "the of and Operating agreements, action, expenses" suits, of "any Agreement." The obligation or promise to "resolve any and all disputes arising with respect to the Agreement . . . by release. See terms and conditions of seemingly fits arbitration" Town Bank, 330 Wis. 2d 340, this ¶46 Operating within this (refusing to require contract drafters to "expressly identify and exclude in their contracts any prior oral or written communication between the parties that may rise to the level of an agreement"). ¶62 of the In addition, the "Applicable Law" provisions in each agreements "Applicable Law" are different. provision The provides Operating that the Agreement's "Operating Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of Wisconsin without regard to its choice of law provisions." The arbitration clause in the Operating Agreement specifically incorporates the JAMS Arbitration Rules which state that "disputes over the formation, existence, validity, interpretation or scope of the agreement under which Arbitration is Arbitration, sought, shall be and who submitted Arbitrator" (emphases added). Rules & Procedures, Rule are to proper and Parties ruled on to the by the JAMS Comprehensive Arbitration 11(b), 32 14 (July 1, 2014), No. 2016AP601 https://www.jamsadr.com/files/Uploads/Documents/JAMS-Rules/JAMS_ comprehensive_arbitration_rules-2014.pdf. ¶63 The Applicable Law section in the Agreement, on the other hand, is quite different. no arbitration clause and states that "[a]ll Redemption It contains questions concerning the construction, validity and interpretation of this Agreement and the performance of the obligations imposed by this Agreement shall be governed by the internal law, not the law of conflicts, of the State of Wisconsin" (emphases added). Simply stated, the applicable law and forum selection in one contract is very different from the other. ¶64 Therefore, the Redemption Agreement, if enforceable, supersedes by its very language the Operating Agreement's mode of adjudication, including its incorporation of JAMS Arbitration Rules that granted the authority to the arbitrator to determine arbitrability. See Thomas W. Ward & Assoc., Inc. v. Spinks, 574 So. 2d 169, 170 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1990) (per curiam) (holding "the trial court cannot leave it to the arbitrators themselves to determine which claims are subject to arbitration when it has not established which agreement applies"). ¶65 Due to the foregoing, Midwest and NEA failed demonstrate "clear and unmistakable" intent to arbitrate. to Riley Mfg. Co. v. Anchor Glass Container Corp., 157 F.3d 775, 780-81 (10th Cir. 1998). Thus, the question of whether the parties agreed to arbitrate must, in this instance, be decided by the circuit court. See Wis. Stat. ch. 788; see also Riley Mfg. Co., 157 F.3d at 780-81 (holding "the existence of the merger clause 33 No. 2016AP601 in the Settlement Agreement [in combination with the lack of arbitration clause] raises at least an ambiguity on the question of the intent of the parties to allow an arbitrator to decide the validity of the 1991 arbitration clause" because it "raises legitimate questions as to the continuing existence and scope of the arbitration clause in the Manufacturing Agreement" and thus, "the question of whether an agreement to arbitrate continues to exist . . . is a question for the courts"). ¶66 Consequently, this matter requires a judicial determination of "whether the parties consented to arbitrate the matters covered by the [arbitration] demand." Granite Rock Co., 561 U.S. at 303 n.9 & 304 (referencing Buckeye Check Cashing, 546 U.S. at 444 n.1). As will later be discussed, it is for the circuit court to further explore the validity and enforceability of the Redemption Agreement. 3. ¶67 No Wisconsin Clarifying precedents or federal case establishes that once arbitration is contracted as the forum for dispute resolution, parties can never later contract for an alternative forum for dispute resolution. Mortimore, contract 344 to inconsistent To the extent Cirilli, 322 Wis. 2d 238, and Wis. 2d 459, arbitrate is with law. the are read irrevocable, Clearly, as that concluding that interpretation section 788.01 of a is the Wisconsin Arbitration Act contemplates that a court will enforce "[a] provision in any written contract to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of the contract" and that 34 No. such contractual provision to arbitrate "shall be 2016AP601 valid, irrevocable and enforceable except upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of a contract." § 788.01 (emphasis added). Wis. Stat. Another contract that clearly and expressly supersedes a first contract is "grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of a contract." Thus, Cirilli and Mortimore must not stand for the proposition that once parties contract for arbitration, that decision is always irrevocable. ¶68 that Midwest and NEA rely on Cirilli for the proposition whether a subsequent agreement revokes the consent to arbitrate found in an earlier agreement is for an arbitrator to decide because it goes to the merits of the dispute. This, however, construes Cirilli too broadly. ¶69 Cirilli, unlike this case, did not involve the same parties entering into a subsequent contract. ¶¶5, 8 n.2, 8-9, 15 n.6. 322 Wis. 2d 238, Instead, in Cirilli, the plaintiffs claimed that a subsequent settlement the defendants reached with different parties released them from their duty to arbitrate under their nothing original about whether contract. parties Id., can ¶¶1-2. enter into Cirilli a says subsequent, superseding contract and agree to remove their disputes from arbitration. Moreover, Cirilli neither addresses nor concludes that there can never be "grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of a contract." In the case at issue, unlike Cirilli, there is a dispute as to whether a second contract without an arbitration clause supersedes the first contract with 35 No. such a clause. of 2016AP601 As a result, unlike Cirilli, the determination arbitrability, whether the Operating Agreement is an unrevoked contract, must be decided, in the first instance, by the circuit court rather than the arbitrator. ¶70 Midwest and NEA also assert that Mortimore, a case where the court of appeals remanded the matter for arbitration, lends further support for their cause. See 344 Wis. 2d 459, ¶1. Midwest and NEA claim that there is no fundamental difference between the Agreement oral here, agreement because in Mortimore neither was and fully the Redemption executed. At a minimum, Midwest and NEA seemingly acknowledge, however, that there is a material factual dispute in both cases upon whether there was a binding subsequent agreement. ¶71 In Mortimore, Mortimore's written employment contract (entered in 2004) contained an arbitration clause and prohibited oral modifications of the contract. Id., ¶3. Specifically, the contract stated that "[n]o amendment or modification of this Agreement shall be: valid or binding upon [Merge Technologies] unless made in writing and signed by an officer of [Merge Technologies] . . . or upon the Executive unless made in writing and signed by him." Id. In 2006 Merge Technologies and Mortimore began working towards drafting a new written contract for Mortimore. Id., ¶7. As of June 19, 2016, "two substantively different contract drafts were being edited by two different people——one draft was a amended Mortimore's 2004 contract." new Id. contract, the other A cover letter was prepared by the head of the compensation committee for one of 36 No. 2016AP601 the contracts——which contained no arbitration clause——but the cover letter and the contract were never sent nor signed. The following day Merge Technologies decided to not Id. offer Mortimore a new contract for a period and eventually decided to seek his resignation instead. ¶72 Merge Id., ¶8. Based on these facts, the court of appeals held that Technologies negotiation," and agreed Mortimore to an had, through amendment Mortimore's 2004 employment contract. or "a process modification Id., ¶19. of to The court of appeals relied on the adoption of the Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association as a "clear and unmistakable expression of the parties' intent to reserve the question of arbitrability for the arbitrator and not the court." Id., ¶20. This conclusion of the court of appeals however was based upon the fact that the "2004 contract contemplated that amendments or modifications, such as those negotiated between Mortimore and Merge [Technologies], binding only if made in writing." would be Id., ¶19. enforceable and Notably, despite this provision, "the record show[ed] that no such modifications or changes eliminating an arbitration requirement were ever made in writing." Id. The court of appeals concluded that Mortimore's "conten[tions] that this alleged oral agreement is enforceable . . . [and] his breach of contract claims are not subject to arbitration . . . is mistaken." Id., ¶18. Thus, Mortimore neither addresses nor concludes that once contracted for, there can never be "grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of a contract." 37 In the case at issue, unlike No. 2016AP601 Mortimore, there is a material factual dispute as to whether a second written contract, which does not have an arbitration clause, supersedes the first written contract which does, such that the determination of arbitrability here must first be decided by the circuit court rather than the arbitrator. ¶73 In sum, Cirilli and Mortimore do not stand for the proposition that once parties contract decision is always irrevocable. for arbitration, that Even in Mortimore, the circuit court was called upon to determine whether the initial contract had been revoked. Clearly, section See 788.01 Mortimore, of the 344 Wis. 2d 459, Wisconsin ¶19. Arbitration Act contemplates that a court will enforce "[a] provision in any written contract thereafter to arising settle out by of arbitration the contract" a and controversy that such contractual provision to arbitrate "shall be valid, irrevocable and enforceable except upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of a contract." Wis. Stat. § 788.01. Another contract that clearly and expressly supersedes a first contract is revocation "grounds of a as exist contract." To at law the or in extent equity that for language the in Mortimore or Cirilli suggests that contracts to arbitrate are forever irrevocable, that language is limited by the facts of those cases. ¶74 Midwest and NEA also argue that Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu's challenge to the Operating Agreement is governed by Buckeye Check Cashing, 546 U.S. 440, and Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395 (1967), and that those 38 No. cases require the enforcement of the Operating 2016AP601 Agreement.22 Midwest and NEA argue that this is so because the challenge is not itself to the arbitration provision, but instead hinges on whether the Agreement. Redemption See Buckeye Agreement Check superseded Cashing, 546 the U.S. Operating at 445-46 ("[U]nless the challenge is to the arbitration clause itself, the issue of the contract's validity is considered by the arbitrator in the first instance."); Prima Paint, 388 U.S. at 404 ("But the statutory language does not permit the federal court to consider claims of fraud in the inducement of the contract generally."). ¶75 The challenges in Buckeye Check Cashing and Prima Paint, however, are also distinguishable from the challenge in 22 Midwest and NEA also allege that Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440 (2006), explained that "before formation" and "after formation" challenges (words that Midwest and NEA used, not the Supreme Court) should be treated differently because not to do so would "permit[] a court to deny effect to an arbitration provision in a contract that the court later finds to be perfectly enforceable." See Buckeye Check Cashing, 546 U.S. at 448–49. Midwest and NEA's argument completely lacks merit. Buckeye Check Cashing's explanation was in reference to why "a challenge to the validity of the contract as a whole, and not specifically to the arbitration clause, must go to the arbitrator." Id. at 449. It is unsurprising that Buckeye Check Cashing did not make a distinction between labels "before formation" and "after formation" as "it is not the mere labeling of a dispute . . . that determines whether an issue is arbitrable"; it is "whether the parties consented to arbitrate the dispute in question." Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 304 n.11 (2010). Tellingly, if a court found a superseding agreement revoked the parties' consent to arbitrate, the court could not later find that the arbitration provision was enforceable. 39 No. this case. 2016AP601 In both Buckeye Check Cashing and Prima Paint there was only one contract. Neither of the parties' challenges went to the subsequent contracting out of arbitration. In Buckeye Check Cashing, the parties resisting arbitration alleged that "the contract as a whole (including its arbitration provision) [was] rendered invalid by [a] usurious finance charge" that was in violation of various laws. however, acknowledged that 546 U.S. at 443-44. they "concluded" an The parties, agreement to arbitrate and never alleged that the finance charge impacted or revoked their consent to arbitrate. See id. at 444 n.1; Granite Rock Co., 561 U.S. at 300-01. ¶76 Similarly, in Prima Paint, the parties resisting arbitration alleged that the entire contract should be rescinded because they were contract as whole, fraudulently but "no induced claim into [was] entering advanced by the [the resisting party] that [the other party] fraudulently induced it to enter into the agreement to arbitrate." 406. 388 U.S. at 398-99, Here, however, Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu argue that the Redemption Agreement superseded the Operating Agreement. In fact, it is because of this genuine issue of material fact that we send this matter back for further determination. See, e.g., Joint Sch. Dist. No. 10, 78 Wis. 2d at 101 ("For arbitration is a matter of contract and a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit." (quoting United Steelworkers, 363 U.S. at 582)). Thus, neither Buckeye nor Check Cashing nor Prima 40 Paint address prohibit No. 2016AP601 parties from subsequently contracting out of arbitration as the forum of dispute resolution. ¶77 Finally, fundamental principles of freedom to contract support the proposition that parties can subsequently contract to modify the terms of a previous contract. In fact, here, various parties in various capacities did contract in 2005 and 2006. Contracts can involve mutual agreement to change certain obligations, including a duty to arbitrate. Wisconsin law, including Wis. Stat. ch. 788, does not limit such freedom to contract, but rather chapter 788 reinforces the freedom contract by enforcing parties' contractual agreements. of In fact, this view comports with the Federal Arbitration Act if "grounds exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract" and places "arbitration agreements 'on equal footing with all other contracts.'" Wis. Stat. Wis. 2d 481, legally Kindred Nursing Ctrs., 137 S. Ct. at 1424; § 788.01; 492, binding 159 unless see, e.g., N.W.2d 706 mutually Sipple (1968) rescinded v. Zimmerman, ("The contract by the parties 39 was to it."); Town Bank, 330 Wis. 2d 340, ¶39 (describing the fact that "when [a] contract contains an unambiguous merger or integration clause, the court is barred from considering evidence of any prior or contemporaneous understandings or agreements between the parties" as a "principle [that] stems from basic contract law"). Courts should remain mindful of the limited role endowed to them under chapter 788 and not endeavor into the province of the parties' contractual choice to arbitrate. 41 No. ¶78 2016AP601 The notion that no parties can ever contract out of arbitration is antithetical to these values and principles than the idea of a prohibition on contracting out of arbitration through mutual agreement and thus, a "limitless . . . contractual obligation to arbitrate." Litton Fin. Printing Div. v. NLRB, 501 U.S. 190, 209 (1991); see id. ("[The United States Supreme Court] refuse[d] to apply [the] presumption [of arbitrability] wholesale in the context of an expired bargaining agreement, for to do so would make limitless the contractual obligation to arbitrate" and "determine[d] whether the parties agreed to arbitrate this dispute" because a court "cannot avoid that duty because it requires interpret a provision of a bargaining agreement."). Cirilli, Mortimore, Buckeye Check Cashing, require a competing result under these facts. nor us to Neither Prima Paint Therefore, this court's conclusion that a party can subsequently contract out of the obligation to arbitrate is not only consistent with federal and Wisconsin law, it is also necessitated by the fundamental principles underlying freedom to contract. B. ¶79 Finally, we briefly address why we remand this case to the circuit court. defined. Summary Judgment Summary The principles of summary judgment are welljudgment is granted if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party 42 No. is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." § 802.08(2); Hirschhorn, 338 Wis. 2d 761, 2016AP601 Wis. Stat. ¶20. Stated differently, summary judgment should not be granted "unless the facts presented conclusively show that the plaintiff's action has no merit and cannot be maintained." Mrozek v. Intra Fin. Corp., 2005 WI 73, ¶14, 281 Wis. 2d 448, 699 N.W.2d 54. ¶80 In determining whether to grant summary judgment, "the court decides whether there is a genuine issue of material fact; the court does Wis. 2d 682, not ¶25. decide The the moving fact." party Racine bears the Cty., 323 burden of establishing the absence of a genuine, that is, disputed, issue of material fact. ¶21, 308 AccuWeb, Inc. v. Foley & Lardner, 2008 WI 24, Wis. 2d 258, Wis. 2d 332, 338, 294 746 N.W.2d 447; N.W.2d 473 Grams (1980). v. Boss, Moreover, we 97 view summary judgment materials in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. AccuWeb, 308 Wis. 2d 258, ¶21. A factual issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Baxter v. DNR, 165 Wis. 2d 298, 312, 477 N.W.2d 648 (Ct. App. 1991). A "material fact" is one that is "of consequence to the merits of the litigation." Michael Wis. 2d 713, 724, 499 N.W.2d 641 (1993). R.B. v. State, 175 "Any reasonable doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party" for summary judgment. Paetow Claim Serv., Inc. v. Heck, N.W.2d 831 (1980). 43 93 Wis. 2d 349, Heck & 356, 286 No. ¶81 summary valid The question judgment and that was was whether enforceable before the 2016AP601 circuit the Redemption contract. Competing court Agreement on was affidavits a were submitted which presented genuine issues of material fact. ¶82 Nonetheless, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu concluding that the Redemption Agreement was validly formed. The circuit court found that Dr. Ahuja, through Midwest's attorney, made an offer that he intended to be bound by when the e-mail containing the "final agreement" was sent, and that Dr. Pannu accepted the offer when he signed the Redemption Agreement and returned it with the check that was subsequently cashed. Prior to granting summary judgment, however, the circuit court acknowledged that "maybe there[ are] some" factual disputes. ¶83 In this case, we conclude In support of their competing motions, the parties to Great court Dr. Pannu. attempting to circuit granted affidavits judgment the improperly presented summary that demonstrate Lakes their and mutual assent, or lack thereof, to forming the Redemption Agreement. See Wis. Stat. § 802.08(2) (precluding summary judgment if there is a "genuine issue as to any material fact" (emphasis added)). ¶84 In support of the formed position Agreement was validly and submitted an affidavit representing Dr. Pannu had performed all of that is the enforceable, that their Great obligations Redemption Dr. Pannu Lakes and under the Redemption Agreement other than moving out of their office by April 8, 2015, including delivering 44 a check that was No. subsequently cashed. 2016AP601 That evidence, however, was refuted by Dr. Ahuja's affidavit. Dr. Ahuja asserted that the check was cashed in error by a clerical employee, and that a cashier's check in the same amount was sent to Dr. Pannu once the error was discovered. agreed to the Further, Dr. Ahuja asserted that he had never terms of the Redemption Agreement; had never instructed Midwest's attorney to include a complete release of Great Lakes' or Dr. Pannu's non-compete obligations in the Redemption Agreement, and in fact disagreed with releasing the restrictions; and that in April he told Dr. Pannu in a phone conversation about signing the Redemption Agreement that he was still reviewing it and shortly after the phone call determined that he was not willing to sign it. He noted that the agreement does not contain his signature. ¶85 issues At a minimum, these competing affidavits raise genuine of material fact rendering summary judgment improper. Hence, we reverse and remand the cause to the circuit court. V. ¶86 CONCLUSION The crux of the issue before us concerns the circuit court's role in determining the proper forum of dispute resolution when a subsequent contract, if enforceable, does not contain an contract. contract arbitration clause as is present in an initial As a part of that analysis we consider whether a which contains a merger clause and which does not contain an arbitration clause can change the forum of dispute resolution when a prior agreement between the parties contains 45 No. an arbitration clause. 2016AP601 The parties make competing arguments regarding a court's role in determining the applicability of this arbitration provision. They take contrary positions regarding whether all disputes, even arbitrability itself, must be submitted to arbitration. The parties present conflicting views of precedent regarding the judiciary's role in deciding motions to compel arbitration when a subsequent contract does not select arbitration as the forum for dispute resolution and does contain a merger clause which states that the subsequent agreement supersedes all prior contracts. Relatedly, the parties dispute whether all parties here can be compelled to arbitrate when arguably only one co-defendant is contractually required to arbitrate pursuant to the initial contract. ¶87 The claims in the underlying lawsuit that called upon the court to decide whether the dispute belonged in arbitration, involve whether Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu violated restrictive covenants in the Restrictive Covenant. Operating Agreement and the Ancillary The Redemption Agreement, however, does not contain an arbitration provision and in fact, purports to release those restrictive covenants. Therefore, which contract controls instance is seminal in the arbitration should be ordered. the controlling documents first as to whether Ultimately, regardless of forum, will also impact the underlying dispute itself. ¶88 The circuit court concluded on summary judgment that even though the initial agreement, here the Operating Agreement, required arbitration it was superseded by a later, valid and 46 No. 2016AP601 enforceable Redemption Agreement which did not so require the parties to submit to arbitration. and remanded with The court of appeals reversed instructions to grant Midwest's motion to compel arbitration. ¶89 We reverse the court of appeals and conclude that the fundamental principles of freedom to contract allow parties to a previous contract to subsequently contract for a different forum of dispute resolution. court initially arbitrate. Here, it is necessary that the circuit determine whether court's authority The dependent on the terms Agreement is the of a parties' which resolution. parties to contract, contract order contract. authority to order arbitration. ascertain the If then contracted to arbitration is the the Redemption court lacks Thus, the court must first controls the forum of dispute In sum, we conclude that it is a court's duty to determine whether a contract calls for arbitration and when a dispute exists arbitration as to clause whether supersedes a a second first contract contract without with an such a clause, the determination of arbitrability must be decided in the first instance by the circuit court rather than the arbitrator. ¶90 We also conclude, however, that the cause must be remanded to the circuit court, not to compel arbitration as was ordered parties' by the court competing of appeals, affidavits but submitted rather, in because support of the their positions on summary judgment raised genuine issues of material fact concerning whether the Redemption 47 Agreement is a valid No. contract. 2016AP601 Therefore, we reverse and remand to the circuit court for further proceedings. By the Court.—The decision of the court of appeals is reversed, and the cause is remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. ¶91 REBECCA FRANK DALLET, J., withdrew from participation. 48 ¶92 two SHIRLEY S. ABRAHAMSON, J. primary Agreement agreements says that in the all No. 2016AP601.ssa (concurring). There are instant disputes case. will The be Operating submitted to arbitration and issues of substantive arbitrability will also be decided by the arbitrator. release Great imposed upon Lakes them The Redemption Agreement purports to and by Pannu the from Operating any and all Agreement, obligations including any agreement to arbitrate disputes. ¶93 the The legal issues about which the parties disagree are effect Agreement of the and Redemption whether the Agreement Redemption on the Agreement is Operating a valid contract. ¶94 I agree with the majority that, if valid, the Redemption Agreement releases Great Lakes and Pannu from the agreement to arbitrate contained in the Operating Agreement, and that the cause should be remanded to the circuit court to determine whether the Redemption Agreement is a valid contract. ¶95 However, I write separately because the majority fails to set forth a clear analytical framework through which the legal issues presented in the instant case should be resolved and mishandles federal case law in the process. Additionally, the majority stumbles in its application of the law to the facts in such a way that warrants both clarification and correction. I ¶96 decisions Although they are not binding on this court, several by the federal circuit 1 courts of appeals have No. 2016AP601.ssa addressed the issue presented by the instant case.1 Of these cases, Dasher v. RBC Bank (USA), 745 F.3d 1111 (11th Cir. 2014), is the most helpful and worthy of special consideration. ¶97 In Dasher, Dasher sued the bank for allegedly charging excessive overdraft agreement. fees in breach of his 2008 account The 2008 Agreement contained an arbitration clause. In 2012, a new account agreement was issued and Dasher accepted that agreement. The arbitration clause. 2012 Agreement did not contain an When the bank moved to compel arbitration per the 2008 Agreement's arbitration clause, an issue arose as to whether that clause was effective, given that the 2012 Agreement had superseded the 2008 Agreement. ¶98 The Dasher court rejected the bank's argument that an arbitration clause in an entirely superseded agreement remains effective unless agreement. The specifically Dasher court eliminated explained in that the superseding "[d]espite [the language in the cases cited by RBC], which certainly appears to support RBC's contention, closer examination reveals a critical distinction: in each case cited by RBC, the prior agreement remained effective to some extent for various reasons, whereas 1 See, e.g., Dasher v. RBC Bank (USA), 745 F.3d 1111 (11th Cir. 2014); Dottore v. Huntington Nat'l Bank, No. 1:09-cv-2636, 2010 WL 3861010 (N.D. Ohio Sept. 28, 2010), aff'd, 480 Fed. Appx. 351 (6th Cir. 2012); Applied Energetics, Inc. v. NewOak Capital Mkts., LLC, 645 F.3d 522 (2d Cir. 2011); Bank Julius Baer & Co., Ltd. v. Waxfield Ltd., 424 F.3d 278 (2d Cir. 2005); Riley Mfg. Co., Inc. v. Anchor Glass Container Corp, 157 F.3d 775 (10th Cir. 1998); Patten Sec. Corp., Inc. v. Diamond Greyhound & Genetics, Inc., 819 F.2d 400 (3d Cir. 1987); Matterhorn, Inc. v. NCR Corp., 763 F.2d 866 (7th Cir. 1985). 2 No. 2016AP601.ssa here, the prior agreement is entirely superseded."2 The cases cited by the arbitration bank clauses could in not stand entirely for the superseded proposition agreements that remain effective unless specifically eliminated because none of those cases dealt with an entirely superseded agreement.3 ¶99 In my view, the Dasher case persuasively articulates the correct analytical framework. ¶100 Whether, supersedes a prior and to what contract extent, containing a an second contract arbitration clause such that the prior contract's arbitration clause is rendered ineffective is an issue that must be decided by the court rather than an arbitrator. arbitration clause The assertion that the prior contract's was superseded calls into question the enforceability of the arbitration clause specifically, including the agreement to arbitrate issues of substantive arbitrability.4 ¶101 In subsequent "should determining contract apply whether, supersedes ordinary a state-law 2 Dasher, 745 F.3d at 1120. 3 Id. 4 and prior to what contract, principles that extent, the a court govern the Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 444 & n.1 (2006) (stating that a party resisting arbitration may dispute that an agreement to arbitrate "ever concluded" or "challenge[] specifically the validity of the agreement to arbitrate"); Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395, 402-04 (1967); see also Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 297-300 (2010). 3 No. contracts."5 formation of 2016AP601.ssa "If the subsequent agreement only partially supersedes the prior agreement, amends it, or waives some but whether not the all of its arbitration provisions, provision the was second among question the is superseded, amended, or waived provisions."6 If, however, the subsequent agreement prior should entirely determine supersedes "whether the the agreement, subsequent the court agreement alone supports a motion to compel arbitration."7 II ¶102 I now apply the relevant state-law principles that govern the formation of contracts. ¶103 The Wisconsin Arbitration Act provides, in pertinent part, that arbitration clauses "shall be valid, irrevocable and enforceable except equity the for upon such revocation grounds of any as exist contract."8 at A law or in subsequent contract that supersedes a prior contract constitutes "grounds as exist contract."9 at law or in equity for the revocation of any The question, then, is whether, and to what extent, the Redemption Agreement, the second contract, supersedes the Operating Agreement, the first contract. 5 First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944 (1995) 6 Dasher, 745 F.3d at 1122. 7 Id. at 1123. 8 Wis. Stat. § 788.01. 9 Majority op., ¶47. 4 No. ¶104 A subsequent agreement's supersession 2016AP601.ssa of a prior agreement is typically accomplished by including a merger clause in the subsequent agreement. In Wisconsin, this court stated the following with respect to merger clauses: [The appellant] argues . . . that an exception exists to the general rule that parol evidence is admissible with respect to the issue of integration; that evidence of contemporaneous or prior agreements, written or oral, which relate to the same subject matter as the agreement in question is not admissible when the written agreement embodies written terms excluding additional understandings or agreements not contained in the writing, i.e., 'merger' clauses. With this much we can agree. Absent claims of duress, fraud, or mutual mistake, a written provision which expressly negatives collateral or antecedent understandings makes the document a complete 10 integration. ¶105 A recent supersession of decision contracts, concerning Town Bank merger v. City clauses Real and Estate Development, LLC, 2010 WI 134, 330 Wis. 2d 340, 793 N.W.2d 476, is instructive in resolving the dispute in the instant case. ¶106 Town between a Bank bank involved and a a two-phase developer financing for the redevelopment of a building in downtown Milwaukee. agreement purchase and A Commitment Letter pledged financing for both phases of the project, but a subsequent Term Credit Agreement (TCA) executed by the parties provided financing for only the first phase. The TCA contained the following clause: 10 Dairyland Equip. Leasing, Inc. v. Bohen, 94 Wis. 2d 600, 855-56, 288 N.W.2d 852 (1980); see also Matthew v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 54 Wis. 2d 336, 341-42, 195 N.W.2d 611 (1972). 5 No. 2016AP601.ssa This Agreement, including the Exhibits attached or referring to it, the Note and the Security Documents, are intended by Customer and Lender as a final expression of their agreement and as a complete and exclusive statement of its terms, there being no conditions to the full effectiveness of their agreement except as set forth in this Agreement, the Note and the Security Documents.11 ¶107 The bank provided the first phase of financing as provided by the TCA, but refused to finance the second phase as referenced in the Commitment Letter. The bank sued the developer seeking a declaratory judgment that the bank was not obligated to provide additional funding to the developer. ¶108 The Town Bank court concluded that because the TCA contained an unambiguous merger clause, quoted above, the developer was precluded from introducing any evidence of prior understandings or agreements that may have existed between the parties, including the Commitment Letter.12 ¶109 Implicit in the court's holding was the conclusion that the TCA and Commitment Letter related to the same subject matter. That is, the Town Bank court (incorrectly, in my view) must have concluded that the TCA was the final expression of the parties' financing agreement altogether, as opposed to being the final expression of only the first phase of financing. this not the case, Town Bank would stand for the Were absurd proposition that a fully integrated contract with respect to one subject can extinguish contracts between the same parties with 11 Town Bank v. City Real Estate Dev., LLC, 2010 WI 134, ¶14, 330 Wis. 2d 340, 793 N.W.2d 476. 12 Id., ¶¶40-41. 6 No. respect to entirely unrelated subjects.13 never been, how merger clauses 2016AP601.ssa This is not, and has operate in Wisconsin or elsewhere.14 ¶110 Thus, with these state-law principles in mind, I turn to whether, and to what extent, the Redemption Agreement, if valid, supersedes the Operating Agreement. III ¶111 The majority suggests that, if valid, the Redemption Agreement supersedes the Operating Agreement in its entirety.15 The Redemption Agreement does no such thing. ¶112 The merger clause in the Redemption Agreement states that the Redemption Agreement "constitutes the entire agreement between the supersedes parties all pertaining prior agreements, arrangements, communications, whether or oral written, to its subject promises, representations by [Great Lakes] matter and covenants, or warranties, or [Midwest]." (Emphasis added.) ¶113 Is the "subject matter" of the Redemption Agreement identical to the "subject matter" of the Operating Agreement such that the former entirely supersedes the latter? The answer is clearly, "No." 13 Id., ¶¶68-72 & nn.10-13 (A.W. Bradley, J., dissenting). 14 Dairyland, 94 Wis. 2d at 608-09; Matthew, 54 Wis. 2d at 341-42; 11 Richard A. Lord, Williston on Contracts § 33:14 (4th ed. 2002); Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 213. 15 See majority op., ¶¶47, 56, 64, 67, 75. 7 No. 2016AP601.ssa ¶114 The Operating Agreement's purpose is to provide "the rights, obligations, and Midwest and its Members. restrictions" that will apply to Within its scope are the subjects of capital contributions, tax distributions, allocations of profits and losses, the authority and powers of Midwest's officers and Members, etc. operations of It is a Midwest. document On the that other governs hand, the the internal Redemption Agreement's purpose is to "set forth the terms upon which [Great Lakes] will sell and [Midwest] will redeem [Great Lakes'] entire Membership Interest[.]" It does not purport in any way to alter or address the internal operations of Midwest and how those operations are to be governed. ¶115 Although there is some overlap in subject matter between the Operating Agreement and Redemption Agreement (e.g., how Great Lakes' Membership Interest is calculated and paid out), the subject matter of the agreements is not identical. ¶116 The Redemption Agreement, if valid, would not entirely revoke the Operating Agreement as the majority suggests.16 Even if the Redemption Agreement is valid, the Operating Agreement will still have binding effect on Midwest and all of its Members even if it will no longer have any binding effect on Great Lakes or Pannu. Would Midwest lack a written agreement as to its 16 At ¶¶59-60, the majority appears to read the merger clause in a way that is untethered to the subject matter of the Redemption Agreement. This suggestion gives further support to the absurd proposition that merger clauses have the effect of extinguishing prior agreements between the parties unrelated to the subject matter of the contract in which the merger clause is contained. See supra ¶108 and notes 13-14. 8 No. internal operations simply because it agreed 2016AP601.ssa to allow the voluntary dissociation of a Member and release that Member from obligations imposed by the Operating Agreement? I think not. ¶117 Indeed, we have an example of an entirely superseded contract in the instant Operating Agreement. Agreement states: hereof supersede terms." case, Section "This and namely, 1.4 of Operating replace the the the 2002 2005 Agreement Original Original and Operating the Agreement terms and its There is no ambiguity——the 2005 Operating Agreement completely Original and entirely Operating Redemption extinguished Agreement. Agreement to If entirely the terms Midwest had supersede of the intended the 2002 the Operating Agreement, one would expect to see language similar to what Midwest used to entirely supersede the 2002 Original Operating Agreement. ¶118 Thus, if valid, the Redemption entirely supersede the Operating Agreement. not end the inquiry. Agreement does not However, that does The court must also determine if the Redemption Agreement supersedes the Operating Agreement at all, and if so, whether the Operating Agreement's arbitration clause is one of the superseded provisions. ¶119 The majority asserts that the Applicable Law provision of the Redemption Agreement expressly supersedes "the Operating Agreement's mode of adjudication, including its incorporation of JAMS Arbitration Rules that granted arbitrator to determine arbitrability."17 17 Majority op., ¶64. 9 the authority to the No. 2016AP601.ssa ¶120 The majority's assertion incorrectly conflates choiceof-law provisions and arbitration clauses. Providing that questions concerning the construction of a contract shall be governed by Wisconsin law says nothing about the forum in which those questions will be decided. ¶121 The majority finally finds its footing when it reaches the Mutual Release provision of the Redemption Agreement. I agree with the majority that "[t]he obligation or promise to 'resolve any and all disputes arising with respect to the terms and conditions of this Operating Agreement . . . by arbitration' seemingly fits within this release."18 ¶122 Asserting resisting party that from its a subsequent obligation contract to submit released disputes the to arbitration is exactly the type of specific challenge to the enforceability of a validly formed arbitration clause that the United States Supreme Court requires.19 Great Lakes and Pannu do not argue that the arbitration clause in the Operating Agreement was invalidly formed. Rather, they argue that the arbitration clause in the Operating Agreement cannot be enforced because the 18 Id., ¶61. 19 Buckeye, 546 U.S. at 444 & n.1; Prima Paint, 388 U.S. at 402-04; see also Granite Rock, 561 U.S. at 297-300. 10 No. 2016AP601.ssa Mutual Release provision specifically revokes any obligation on their part to submit to arbitration.20 IV ¶123 The majority's focus on the principles undergirding freedom of contract is not misplaced or inappropriate——those principles support the majority's conclusion that parties that agreed to arbitrate disputes may undo that agreement if they so choose. However, these principles alone do not provide a clear analytical framework through which the legal issue presented in the instant case should be resolved ¶124 I would articulate that framework as follows. ¶125 Whether, supersedes a prior and to what contract extent, containing a an second contract arbitration clause such that the prior contract's arbitration clause is rendered ineffective is an issue that must be decided by the court rather than an arbitrator. arbitration clause The assertion that the prior contract's was superseded calls into question the enforceability of the arbitration clause specifically, including the agreement to arbitrate issues of substantive arbitrability. ¶126 In subsequent determining contract whether, supersedes 20 a and prior to what contract, extent, the a court Puzzlingly, the majority calls into question this framework. See majority op., ¶74 n.22. To be clear, Supreme Court precedent establishes two ways in which arbitration clauses may be challenged in and resolved by a court. The resisting party may dispute that an agreement to arbitrate "ever concluded," Buckeye, 546 U.S. at 444 n.1, or "challenge[] specifically the validity of the agreement to arbitrate" as Great Lakes and Pannu do in the instant case, Buckeye, 546 U.S. at 444-45. 11 No. should apply formation ordinary of state-law contracts. If principles the that subsequent 2016AP601.ssa govern contract the only partially supersedes the prior contract, amends it, or waives some but not all whether the amended, or contract entirely of its arbitration waived provisions, provision provisions. supersedes the the was If, second among however, prior the the contract, question is superseded, subsequent the court should determine whether the subsequent contract alone supports a motion to compel arbitration. ¶127 In the instant case, it appears that the purpose of the Redemption Agreement was not to nullify or extinguish the Operating Agreement in its entirety. Rather, the Redemption Agreement sets forth the terms upon which Great Lakes will cease to be a Member of Midwest and release Great Lakes and Pannu from any and all obligations that the Operating Agreement might have imposed upon them, including the obligation to submit disputes arising out of the Operating Agreement to arbitration and to allow the arbitrators to decide issues of substantive arbitrability. ¶128 However, there is a genuine issue of material fact with regard contract. to whether the Redemption Agreement is a valid Thus, the cause should be remanded to the circuit court for the determination of this issue. 12 No. ¶129 REBECCA majority GRASSL nullifies the BRADLEY, J. parties' 2016AP601.rgb (dissenting). arbitration The agreement by creating a new rule bestowing on the judiciary the power to decide arbitrability even though the arbitrator would resolve this issue. invokes "fundamental nonetheless principles infringes on the of parties agreed an Ironically, the majority freedom contracting to contract"1 rights of but private parties and expands the statutorily limited role of the courts when parties parties' contract contractual for arbitration. agreement to let I the would honor arbitrator the decide what, if any, impact the partially-executed Redemption Agreement had on the existence and validity of the Operating Agreement. ¶130 Because the parties dispute the formation of the Redemption Agreement as well as its effect on the continued existence of the Operating Agreement, this court must apply the rules the parties agreed to follow under their existing contract, for "any and all disputes arising with respect to the terms and conditions of this Operating Agreement, § 13.7. Operating Agreement." See The dispute here is whether the Redemption Agreement supersedes the Operating Agreement as to Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu, thereby eliminating the arbitration provision. This presents an issue of substantive arbitrability, which the parties contractually agreed to have the arbitrator decide. "[t]he 1 The majority acknowledges (albeit in a footnote) that JAMS Arbitration Rules Majority op., ¶5. 1 in the Operating No. 2016AP601.rgb Agreement . . . require that even the issue of arbitrability be arbitrated"2 but overrides the parties' chosen method of dispute resolution anyway.3 I would instead respect the parties' contract, affirm the court of appeals, and remand the matter to the circuit arbitrator court for with directions resolution of this to send the preliminary case to the dispute.4 I respectfully dissent. 2 Majority op., ¶2 n.2. "JAMS" is an acronym for Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services, Inc. 3 While the foundation of the majority's preference for court resolution of arbitrability disputes is unclear, its disdain for arbitration as a method of dispute resolution is transparent in its declaration that "only those disputes that the parties have agreed to so submit to arbitration are relegated to proceed in that forum." Majority op., ¶43 (emphasis added). The majority misunderstands that the choice of method for dispute resolution belongs to the parties, not the court. 4 The arbitrator would first decide arbitrability, which involves two inquiries: (1) "whether there is a construction of the arbitration clause that would cover the grievance on its face" and (2) "whether any other provision of the contract specifically excludes it." Joint Sch. Dist. No. 10 v. Jefferson Educ. Ass'n, 78 Wis. 2d 94, 111, 253 N.W.2d 536 (1977). In this case, no party challenges the applicability of the arbitration clause in and of itself; rather, Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu dispute its enforceability, alleging that a second contract eliminated the arbitration provision. If the arbitrator determines that the arbitration clause in the Operating Agreement no longer exists or is invalidated by the Redemption Agreement, this case returns to court for ultimate disposition of the underlying issue. If the arbitrator determines the Redemption Agreement was never formed, the non-compete issue would be resolved in an arbitration of the merits. 2 No. 2016AP601.rgb I ¶131 Principles governing arbitration disputes are rather straightforward and should have controlled the disposition of this case. First, Wis. Stat. § 788.01 (2015-16) recognizes that: A provision in any written contract to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of the contract, or out of the refusal to perform the whole or any part of the contract . . . shall be valid, irrevocable and enforceable except upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract. Wisconsin has a longstanding "policy of encouraging arbitration as an alternative to litigation," First Weber Grp., Inc. v. Synergy Real Estate Grp., LLC, 2015 WI 34, ¶24, 361 Wis. 2d 496, 860 N.W.2d 498 (quoted source omitted), and "[t]here is a strong presumption of arbitrability where the contract in question contains an arbitration clause," Cirilli v. Country Ins. & Fin. Servs., 2009 WI App 167, ¶14, 322 Wis. 2d 238, 776 N.W.2d 272. ¶132 Second, the circuit court generally decides arbitrability unless the parties contract to have the arbitrator decide it, as they have done here. 361 Wis. 2d 496, ¶36. See First Weber Grp., Inc., The arbitrability issue addresses whether the parties agreed to submit a dispute to arbitration. See Kimberly Area Sch. Dist. v. Zdanovec, 222 Wis. 2d 27, 37, 586 N.W.2d 41 (Ct. unmistakably" App. contract 1998). to When have parties arbitrability "clearly decided by and the arbitrator, the circuit court must honor the parties' choice. See AT&T Techs., Inc. v. Commc'ns. Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 649 (1986). When the parties specifically incorporate the JAMS' 3 No. Arbitration Rules in their contract, the court 2016AP601.rgb views their inclusion as a clear and unmistakable agreement to remove the arbitrability determination from the circuit court and place it with the arbitrator. Mortimore v. Merge Techs., 2012 WI App 109, ¶20, 344 Wis. 2d 459, 824 N.W.2d 155; Oracle Am., Inc. v. Myriad Grp. ("Virtually determined A.G., every that constitutes 724 F.3d circuit to 1069, have incorporation clear and of 1074 (9th considered [formal] unmistakable evidence Cir. the 2013) issue arbitration that the has rules parties agreed to arbitrate arbitrability."). ¶133 Finally, prescribes a proceedings, as limited the role enumerating majority for the specific recognizes,5 courts judicial Chapter over 788 arbitration powers. Notably absent from this narrow conferral of judicial authority is the power to remove decisions over arbitrability from the arbitrator when the parties contractually assigned that issue to the arbitrator alone. II ¶134 Applying these rules, the answer is obvious: whether these parties will arbitrate their underlying dispute must be decided by the arbitrator. The Operating Agreement upon which Midwest bases its non-compete claim against Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu contains an arbitration clause, which plainly incorporates JAMS Arbitration Rules: 5 Majority op., ¶46. 4 No. 2016AP601.rgb Section 13.7. Arbitration. With the exception of any decision made by Midwest pursuant to the terms of Section 5.5 hereof ["Appointment of and Powers of the Company President."] (which shall be deemed final), the parties hereto agree to resolve any and all disputes arising with respect to the terms and conditions of this Operating Agreement hereby by arbitration conducted by a single arbitrator selected from a slate of potential arbitrators residing in the Milwaukee, Madison or Chicago metropolitan areas, from a slate of five, proposed by JAMS. The party requesting arbitration shall strike the first name from the slate and the other party shall strike the next, alternating until a final individual remains, who shall serve as arbitrator and conduct an arbitration proceeding in accordance with the Arbitration Rules of JAMS. The arbitrator shall have the power to order temporary and permanent injunctive relief, on an expedited basis if deemed necessary. Any decision made by such an arbitrator within the scope of his or her authority shall be binding upon the parties. Unless agreed otherwise by the parties and arbitrator, the arbitration shall take place in Milwaukee County. The arbitration shall be governed by the laws of the State of Wisconsin, this Operating Agreement and the JAMS' Arbitration Rules[.] (Emphasis added.) JAMS Rule 11(b) provides: Jurisdictional and arbitrability disputes, including disputes over the formation, existence, validity, interpretation or scope of the agreement under which Arbitration is sought, and who are proper Parties to the Arbitration, shall be submitted to and ruled on by the Arbitrator. The Arbitrator has the authority to determine jurisdiction and arbitrability issues as a preliminary matter. (Emphasis added.) Accordingly, the arbitration provision of the Operating Agreement evinces the parties' contractual agreement to have the arbitrator, rather than the circuit court, decide issues of arbitrability. The arbitration provision also requires "any and all disputes arising with respect to the terms and conditions of this Operating arbitration under JAMS rules. 5 Agreement" be resolved in No. 2016AP601.rgb ¶135 Application of these rules under Wisconsin law easily resolves this preliminary issue. contract with an arbitration Arbitration Rules. The parties entered into a clause, which incorporates JAMS Those Rules confer exclusive authority on the arbitrator to decide issues of arbitrability. Controlling law holds that by doing so, the arbitrability question must be decided by the arbitrator——not the circuit court. The dispute about whether the Redemption Agreement was formed challenges the existence and validity of the Operating Agreement. JAMS Rule 11(b) controls and assigns authority to resolve this preliminary dispute to the arbitrator alone. Allegations that a partially- executed Redemption Agreement superseded the Operating Agreement do not alter the analysis. ¶136 The majority expresses concern that "serious questions exist as to whether the Operating Agreement still controls the issue of arbitrability, whether the Redemption Agreement supersedes that agreement, and to what extent, if any, one codefendant, Dr. Pannu individually, ever agreed to arbitrate."6 agree. I But the parties' contract specifies that the arbitrator, not a court, must answer these questions. The contract could not including be clearer: "arbitrability disputes, disputes over the . . . existence, [and] validity . . . of the agreement under which Arbitration is sought, and who are proper Parties to the Arbitration, Arbitrator." 6 shall be submitted to and ruled on by the Great Lakes and Dr. Pannu challenge the existence Majority op., ¶54. 6 No. and validity of the Redemption Agreement. decide this issue. Operating Agreement in 2016AP601.rgb light of the The parties agreed the arbitrator would Dr. Pannu disputes being a proper party to the arbitration. The parties agreed the arbitrator would decide this issue too. Contrary to the majority's minimization of the arbitrator's authority "presumption,"7 it to is the decide arbitrability parties' contract arbitrability to be decided by the arbitrator. as a that mere requires The court errs in interpreting Chapter 788 to require stripping the arbitrator of his contractual authority; nothing in Chapter 788 empowers the judiciary to override the parties' contracted method for resolving this precursory issue. ¶137 Contrary to the majority's misconstruction of the issue presented, this case is not about precluding parties from entering into subsequent agreements or altering the preexisting choice of forum for dispute resolution. parties' Certainly parties are free to change their minds and revoke, cancel, or otherwise invalidate the original agreement to arbitrate. But any decision to undo a contractual agreement to arbitrate must be mutual. If the parties did not dispute the formation of the Redemption Agreement or its applicability to each of them, the court may not unchallenged be and merger clause. considering fully arbitration executed at Redemption given Agreement the with a See Town Bank v. City Real Estate Dev., LLC, 2010 WI 134, 330 Wis. 2d 340, 793 N.W.2d 476. 7 all, Majority op., ¶54. 7 A merger clause No. 2016AP601.rgb in a contract executed only by the party seeking to enforce that merger clause in order to evade a prior agreement to arbitrate does not have the same superseding effect when another party disputes its formation and application to all parties.8 ¶138 This court has repeatedly protected parties' freedom to contract. Id., ¶33 (collecting cases). Our goal when interpreting contracts freely entered into by the parties "is to ascertain the true intentions of the parties as expressed by the contractual language." Id. (quoted source omitted). "[T]he best indication of the parties' intent is the language of the contract itself" and unless the contract is ambiguous, we stick to "the four corners of the contract, without consideration of extrinsic evidence." undisputed, Id. freely-made (quoted contract source before omitted). the court The only is the Operating Agreement and its plain language says the parties want "any and all" disputes about its existence or validity to be resolved by the arbitrator. by enforcing the I would honor the parties' contract arbitration provision in the Operating Agreement. ¶139 The majority opinion quotes "fundamental principles of freedom to contract" and acknowledges the "utmost liberty of contracting" and holds these rights "sacred,"9 but then proceeds 8 Not only do Midwest and NEA challenge the formation of the Redemption Agreement, they also dispute the applicability of its merger clause to NEA based on language restricting its scope to Dr. Pannu and Midwest. 9 Majority op., ¶5, ¶39. 8 No. 2016AP601.rgb to disregard the plain text of the parties' Operating Agreement and to ignore well-established arbitration principles supporting freedom of procedure existing contract for rights. circuit contract courts requiring The to majority follow arbitration when invents a a to party contends the new an fully- executed first contract is void due to the parties' negotiations over a second contract, which one party signed but the other party refused to sign. This unprecedented judicial intrusion directs courts to ignore the contractual conferral of authority on the arbitrator to decide arbitrability, and instead conduct a full-blown court trial over the existence and validity of the fully-executed contract containing the arbitration clause. As a result, the parties who previously decided to resolve disputes out-of-court will be subjected to a circuit court calendar delaying any hope of resolving the merits of the non-compete allegations until a factfinder resolves this preliminary dispute in a forum the parties previously rejected in favor of private arbitration. ¶140 In reaching this result, the majority erroneously distinguishes and "clarifies," but does not overrule, the only two Wisconsin cases addressing similar factual scenarios: Cirilli, 322 Wis. 2d 238, and Mortimore, 344 Wis. 2d 459. ¶141 Cirilli involved a dispute between insurance agents and their former employer, Country Insurance. ¶2. The Agents' written agreements with 322 Wis. 2d 238, Country required binding arbitration for "any claim or controversy relating to or arising out of the relationship 9 between the Agent and the No. Companies." claiming Id., ¶3. Country The Agents sued Country in circuit court owed written agreements. 2016AP601.rgb them termination Id., ¶2. commissions under the Country filed a motion to compel arbitration of the Agents' claims. Id., ¶3. The Agents argued that a settlement agreement and release Country executed with different former agents arbitration provision. making similar Id., ¶5, ¶9. claims superseded the The Agents supported their argument with the decision of an arbitrator, in a prior case brought by different former agents, who determined the release voided the arbitration requirement. Id., ¶¶6-7. The circuit court agreed with the Agents' position and refused to order arbitration. Id., ¶8. The court of appeals reversed and ordered the matter sent to the arbitrator for determination. Id., ¶19. The court of appeals held the Agents' claims for termination requiring commissions arbitration fell and squarely the fact within that the another agreement arbitrator decided the release voided similarly situated agents' agreements with Country Agents' cannot contractual be the basis language. Id., for avoiding ¶¶15-18. the The Cirilli court of appeals ruled that by concluding the release controlled, the circuit court erroneously determined the merits of the Cirilli Agents' claims——a circuit court. task assigned to the arbitrator, not the deciding the Id. ¶142 Cirilli prohibits circuit courts from merits when the parties have agreed to arbitrate disputes, even when the answer is obvious and even when another arbitrator has already ruled on the merits of an identical claim involving 10 No. different claimants. 2016AP601.rgb Transferring a decision on the merits to the circuit court usurps the freedom of contract and the mutual decision two parties made to have disputes resolved by arbitration. ¶143 What constitutes the "merits" of a case can be unclear when one party argues a subsequent obligations under the original contract. contract voided the Typically, the merits will be the substantive allegation——here, Midwest's claim that Dr. Pannu violated his non-compete "merits" of the dispute. obligation goes to the However, the "merits" in this case also include a determination that a subsequent contract voids the existing contract because such a determination altogether eliminates the non-compete claim. By having the circuit court hold a trial whenever parties dispute the formation of a second contract (despite arbitrability disregards be both the existing decided the by the parties' contract's requirement arbitrator), contract and the that majority longstanding arbitration rules applied by both this court and the United States Supreme Court.10 10 "[A] court is not to rule on the potential merits of the underlying claims" even if the claims appear frivolous. AT&T Tech., Inc. v. Commc'ns. Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 649-50 (1986). Courts "have no business weighing the merits of the grievance, considering whether there is equity in a particular claim, or determining whether there is particular language in the written instrument which will support the claim." Id. Any doubts as to whether a claim should be arbitrated should be resolved in favor of arbitration. Id. at 650. "[A] challenge to the validity of the contract as a whole, and not specifically to the arbitration clause, must go to the arbitrator." Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 449 (2006). 11 No. ¶144 In attempting to distinguish Cirilli, 2016AP601.rgb the majority ignores the fact that the Cirilli Agents argued the release—— which did not underlying contain agreement arbitration clause. case and the an arbitration between the clause——superseded parties, including the its This is the very issue presented in this majority is simply wrong to state otherwise. Whether a subsequent agreement supersedes an earlier agreement containing an arbitration clause is a "question[] not properly before the court[.]" Cirilli, 322 Wis. 2d at 253, ¶18. In this case, whether the Redemption Agreement supersedes the Operating Agreement inquires into the existence and validity of the Operating Agreement, an issue the parties agreed the arbitrator must decide. The majority's interference with the arbitrator's exclusive province threatens the freedom to contract; it does not advance it. ¶145 In Mortimore, the court of appeals ordered arbitration in a factual scenario almost identical to Midwest's. Mortimore and contract, his employer, Merge, had a written employment which contained an arbitration clause for claims "'arising out of or relating to this Agreement.'" ¶3. Mortimore, 344 Wis. 2d 459, The arbitration clause incorporated American Arbitration Association ("AAA") rules, and required any amendments to the contract be "in writing and signed" by Merge. Compensation Committee and Mortimore were Id. working Merge's on a new contract for Mortimore and ostensibly reached an oral agreement on a contract that did not contain an arbitration clause. ¶7. Id., The new contract was never signed, however, because Merge 12 No. learned Mortimore had interfered with 2016AP601.rgb Merge's audit, Mortimore subsequently resigned at Merge's request. and Id., ¶8. Mortimore sued Merge in court for breach of contract and Merge requested the Id., ¶¶9-10. circuit court send the matter to arbitration. The circuit court held an evidentiary hearing and concluded the oral contract superseded the contract requiring arbitration. Id., ¶10. ¶146 The court of appeals reversed, ruling that the question of whether the unsigned second contract superseded the arbitration-requiring contract arbitrator. The court of appeals held: Id., ¶21. was a question for the (1) deciding the oral agreement trumped the existing employment contract is a determination on the merits that courts "do not make," id., ¶19 (citing AT&T Tech., 475 U.S. at 648-50); and (2) the parties unmistakably indicated they wanted the arbitrator to decide arbitrability as evidenced by the existing employment contract's adoption of AAA arbitration rules, including Rule 7(a): arbitrator shall jurisdiction, existence, have the including scope or power any to rule objection validity of the on with his "[t]he or her own respect to the arbitration agreement." Id., ¶20 (brackets in Mortimore). ¶147 Mortimore current case. is on all fours with the facts in the When parties have an existing contract with an arbitration clause indicating the parties want the arbitrator to decide arbitrability, whether a subsequent oral or partially executed agreement supersedes the existing contract is an issue the arbitrator must decide. 13 ¶148 By favoring judicial resolution of No. 2016AP601.rgb the preliminary issue of arbitrability due to the mere possibility that a second contract might be valid, the majority ignores both the language of the Operating Agreement as well as longstanding arbitration principles. contract contract, Because superseded requiring arbitrator, governs. the the parties first, that dispute the plain arbitrability whether text be of a second the decided by first the The parties, who agreed to resolve "any and all disputes" by arbitration, should get the benefit of their bargain. Instead of honoring the parties' contract to arbitrate, the majority sets it aside. ¶149 The majority hollowly recites the pivotal precept that "[f]reedom of contract is based on the idea that individuals should have the interference,"11 power but to govern nevertheless their unseats own the affairs without contractually- chosen arbitrator in favor of a judicially-imposed circuit court to resolve a dispute between parties who expressly rejected the court system as a forum for dispute resolution. Because I would enforce the parties' contractual expectations, I respectfully dissent. 11 Majority op., ¶39 (quoting Solowicz v. Forward Geneva Nat'l, LLC, 2010 WI 20, ¶34, 323 Wis. 2d 556, 780 N.W.2d 111). 14 No. 1 2016AP601.rgb

Primary Holding

The Supreme Court held that when a subsequent contract does not contain an arbitration clause that is present in an initial contract the determination of arbitrability must be decided by the circuit court rather than an arbitrator and that genuine issues of material fact existed in this case as to whether the subsequent agreement was a valid contract.

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