Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson, 513 U.S. 265 (1995)

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certiorari to the supreme court of alabama

No. 93-1001. Argued October 4, 1994—Decided January 18, 1995

The termite prevention contract between petitioner exterminators and respondent Gwin, a homeowner, specified that any controversy thereunder would be settled exclusively by arbitration. After respondents Dobson, who had purchased Gwin's home, sued in state court following a termite infestation, petitioners asked for, but were denied, a stay to allow for arbitration under the contract and 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act, which makes enforceable a written arbitration provision in "a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce." The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed on the basis of a state statute invalidating predispute arbitration agreements, ruling that the federal Act applies only if, at the time the parties entered into the contract and accepted the arbitration clause, they "contemplated" substantial interstate activity. Despite some such activities, the court found that these parties "contemplated" a transaction that was primarily local and not "substantially" interstate.

Held: Section 2's interstate commerce language should be read broadly to extend the Act's reach to the limits of Congress' Commerce Clause power. The use of the words "evidencing" and "involving" does not restrict the Act's application and thereby allow a State to apply its anti-arbitration law or policy. Pp. 270-282. (a) The legal background demonstrates that the Act has the basic purpose of overcoming judicial hostility to arbitration agreements and applies in both federal diversity cases and state courts, where it pre-empts state statutes invalidating such agreements. See, e. g., Southland Corp. v. Keating, 465 U. S. 1, 15-16. It would be inappropriate to overrule Southland and permit Alabama to apply its antiarbitration statute, since the Court in that case considered the basic arguments now raised, and nothing significant changed subsequently; since, in the interim, private parties have likely written contracts relying on Southland; and since Congress, both before and after Southland, has enacted legislation extending, not retracting, the scope of arbitration. Pp. 270-273. (b) The statute's language, background, and structure establish that 2's "involving commerce" words are the functional equivalent of the phrase "affecting commerce," which normally signals Congress' intent to exercise its commerce power to the full, see Russell v. United States,


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