Business partners entered into two separate settlement agreements to resolve disputes arising from the dissolution of their jointly-owned companies. The first agreement provided for binding arbitration of all disputes before a three-person arbitration panel, one of whom had served as the parties' corporate counsel and was designated as the neutral arbitrator on the three-person panel. In the event he withdrew or was dismissed from the panel by one of the parties, the agreement specified a mechanism for the selection of his replacement.
The second agreement provided for the resolution of disputes pertaining to the collection of accounts receivable from third-party debtors only, and designated corporate counsel as the sole final decision maker. Unlike the first agreement entered two years earlier, the second agreement made no mention of arbitration and provided no mechanism for the replacement of corporate counsel in the event he became unavailable.
When corporate counsel resigned his role as final decision maker under the second agreement, and the parties were unable to agree on a replacement, plaintiff filed an order to show cause and verified complaint, seeking to compel the appointment of a replacement. The court affirmed the Chancery Division's decision that, based upon the doctrines of impossibility and frustration of purpose, corporate counsel's unavailability rendered the second agreement void. Further, because there was no mention of arbitration in the second agreement, it was not an arbitration agreement governed by the New Jersey Uniform Arbitration Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-1 to -32.