Maryland Courts May Grant Injunctive Relief Even when an Arbitration Clause Exists

Written by Raymond McKenzie on December 8th, 2009

Maryland law permits a party to request injunctive relief from a Maryland federal or state court even when a contract states that all disputes must be referred to arbitration. The Court of Appeals of Maryland held in Brendsel v. Winchester Construction Company, Inc., 898 A.2d 472 (2006) that:

“[A]n interlocutory mechanics’ lien is in the nature of a provisional remedy, not much different than an interlocutory injunction or attachment sought to maintain the status quo so that the arbitration proceeding can have meaning and relevance, and the predominant view throughout the country is that the availability of such remedies by a court is permitted by the Federal and Uniform Arbitration Acts and is not inconsistent with the right to enforce an arbitration agreement.”

In its ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals focused on the need for courts to have the ability to preserve the status quo by granting injunctive relief while a dispute is sent to arbitration. Without this ability, the Court held, a ruling by an arbitrator could very well be immaterial, as the damage done to a party could by that time be irreparable.

The Maryland Court of Appeals’ holding finds support from the Fourth Circuit in Merril Lynch et al. v. Bradley and Collins, 756 F.2d 1048 (1985):

“Accordingly, we hold that where a dispute is subject to mandatory arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, a district court has the discretion to grant a preliminary injunction to preserve the status quo pending the arbitration of the parties’ dispute if the enjoined conduct would render that process a “hollow formality.” The arbitration process would be a hollow formality where “the arbitral award when rendered could not return the parties substantially to the status quo ante.” Lever Brothers, 554 F.2d at 123.”

Therefore, Maryland courts are permitted to intercede and grant injunctive relief in spite of an arbitration clause where the absence of such relief would cause the arbitration to be nothing more than a “hollow formality.”
This power exists even when a contractual provision states that the parties must refer all disputes to arbitration.


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