13 May 2011

Colorado Securities Act Trumps Forum Selection Clause in Contract

As a general rule, parties to a contract can decide where disputes arising under the contract or between the parties in relation to the transaction are litigated and according to which state's law. When this is part of an arbitration clause, state law determinations that a choice of forum are frequently pre-empted by the Federal Arbitration Act. But, what if the contract provides that suits may be brought in ordinary courts, but only in a particular state?

If that contract is a contract related to a sale of securities that are regulated by the Colorado Securities Act because sales are made by a business with Colorado offices from which it conducts business, the Colorado Court of Appeals has held that the contract's forum selection clause is void as violation of a public policy articulated in that statute in an anti-waiver provision.

The Colorado Court of Appeals followed precedents interpreting similar issues under Colorado's Wage Claims Act and invalidating an arbitration requirement in a case covered by Colorado's Wrongful Withholding of Security Deposits Act. California and Illinois have similarly used anti-waiver provisions to invalidate forum selection clauses.

The Colorado Court of Appeals rejected analogies to federal securities contracts in international situations where state securities law claims are also present, a situation where many federal courts have upheld choice of forum clauses. It also rejected analogies to arbitration cases, where a federal statute applies, and to change of venue motions in the federal courts which do not have an analogous provision for transferring a case to a different state in Colorado's state courts.

In the case decided, in which the clause also selected Texas law as applicable, the distinction was crucial, because the general partnership interests that were marketed are securities under Colorado law, but not under the state securities laws of Texas, and because the Texas securities law, on its face, does not apply to transactions conducted outside the state of Texas.

Notably, this case was not brought as a class action.

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