FIA Card Services, NA f/k/a MBNA America Bank, NA v. Horn
(Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Jun. 23, 2009)(Frost) (suit for confirmation of arb award under
federal arbitration statute may be brought in county court at law in Harris County)(jurisdiction of
courts at law in Harris County)
Decision: TRIAL COURT'S DISMISSAL ORDER REVERSED AND CASE REMANDED:
HOLDING: Harris County Civil Court at Law of Harris County has subject-
matter jurisdiction over suit to confirm arbitration award under the Federal
Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §1-16 ('FAA'). Trial court's jurisdictional dismissal of
confirmation action was error.
Opinion by Justice Kem Frost
Panel members: Justices Frost, Brown and Boyce
14-08-00024-CV FIA Card Services, N.A. fka MBNA America Bank, N.A. v. Valicia M. Horn
Appeal from County Civil Court at Law No 1 of Harris County
Trial Court Judge: Hon. Jack Cagle
FIA CARD SERVICES, N.A. fka, MBNA AMERICA BANK N.A., Appellant
VALICIA M. HORN, Appellee
On Appeal from the County Civil Court at Law No. 1
Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 884736
M E M O R A N D U M O P I N I O N
In this appeal we consider the propriety of the trial court's dismissal of a suit to confirm an
arbitration award. Concluding that the Federal Arbitration Act does not deprive the trial court of
subject-matter jurisdiction, we reverse and remand.
Appellee Valicia M. Horn opened a line of credit with appellant FIA Card Services, N.A.
(hereinafter “FIA Card Services"), agreeing to be bound by an arbitration agreement containing
the following language: “This arbitration agreement is made pursuant to a transaction involving
interstate commerce and shall be governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §1-16
('FAA'). Judgment upon any arbitration award may be entered in any court having jurisdiction."
When a dispute arose, the parties participated in an arbitration proceeding and FIA Card
Services received an arbitration award of $12,338.21 against Horn. FIA Card Services sought
confirmation and enforcement of the arbitration award by filing an original petition with the Harris
County Court at Law Number 1, initiating this suit.
On its own motion, the trial court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. In its findings of fact
and conclusions of law, the trial court determined, among other things, (1) FIA Card Services and
Horn entered into a valid and binding agreement to arbitrate any claims or disputes relating to
Horn's account; (2) pursuant to the parties' agreement, the National Arbitration Forum
conducted an arbitration proceeding and awarded FIA Card Services $12,338.21 against Horn;
and (3) the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §1-16 (“Federal Act"), governs the arbitration
agreement and confirmation of the arbitration award.
Apparently concluding that section 9 of the Federal Act deprived it of subject-matter jurisdiction
to confirm the award, the trial court dismissed the case.
II. Issue and Analysis
On appeal, FIA Card Services argues in a single issue that the trial court had subject-matter
jurisdiction to confirm the arbitration award and therefore improperly dismissed the case. A court
must have subject-matter jurisdiction to decide a case. Tex. Ass'n of Bus. v. Tex. Air Control Bd.,
852 S.W.2d 440, 443 (Tex. 1993). The existence of jurisdiction is a question of law, which this
court reviews de novo. Mayhew v. Town of Sunnyvale, 964 S.W.2d 922, 928 (Tex.1998).
Generally, the Federal Act applies to a written provision in a contract “evidencing a transaction
involving commerce" to settle a dispute by arbitration. 9 U.S.C.A. §2 (West 2009). The parties
do not dispute that the Federal Act governs this matter. When, as in this case, the parties
expressly agree that their arbitration agreement shall be governed by the Federal Act, the
parties are not required to establish that the transaction at issue involves or affects interstate
commerce. See In re Choice Homes, Inc., 174 S.W.3d 408, 412 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.]
2005, orig. proceeding).
Section 9 of the Federal Act provides in pertinent part:
If the parties in their agreement have agreed that a judgment of the court shall be entered upon
the award made pursuant to the arbitration, and shall specify the court, then at any time within
one year after the award is made any party to the arbitration may apply to the court so specified
for an order confirming the award, and thereupon the court must grant such an order unless the
award is vacated, modified, or corrected as prescribed in sections 10 and 11 of this title. If no
court is specified in the agreement of the parties, then such application may be made to the
United States court in and for the district within which such award was made. 9 U.S.C.A. §9
The language of the parties' arbitration agreement provides that “[j]udgment upon any arbitration
award may be entered in any court having jurisdiction." Under the unambiguous language of the
agreement, the parties have not specified a court in which a party may seek rendition of
judgment on an arbitration award. In these circumstances, the parties, under section 9 of the
Federal Act, may seek confirmation of an award in a United States court in and for the district
within which such award was made. See id; Palisades Acquisition XVI, LLC v. Chatman, ___ S.W.
3d ___, No. 14-08-00108-CV, 2009 WL 1660485, at *2 (Tex. App.- Houston [14th Dist.] June 16,
2009, no pet. h.); see also Mauldin v. MBNA Am. Bank, N.A., No. 02-07-00208-CV, 2008 WL
4779614, at *4 (Tex. App.- Fort Worth Oct. 30, 2008, no pet.) (mem. op.). “Under this
unambiguous language, a party may seek confirmation of the arbitration award in federal court
but is not required to do so." Palisades Acquisition XVI, LLC, 2009 WL 1660485, at *2
The Federal Act is enforced by both state and federal courts. See Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp.
v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 26 n.32, 103 S. Ct. 927, 942 n.32, 74 L. Ed. 2d 765 (1983);
Palisades Acquisition XVI, LLC, No. 14-08-00108-CV, 2009 WL 1660485, at *3 (providing that the
section 9 of the Federal Act does not limit subject-matter jurisdiction to the federal courts); see
also Mauldin, 2008 WL 4779614, at *5 (same).
Under the unambiguous language of section 9, Congress does not confer exclusive jurisdiction
upon federal courts as to arbitration agreements that fail to specify a court in which a party may
seek rendition of judgment on the arbitration award. See 9 U.S.C.A. §9; Moses H. Cone Mem'l
Hosp., 460 U.S. at 25-26 & n.32, 103 S. Ct. at 942 & n.32; Palisades Acquisition XVI, LLC v.
Chatman, ___ S.W.3d ___, No. 14-08-00108-CV, 2009 WL 1660485, at *3. Therefore, section 9
does not deprive the county court at law of subject-matter jurisdiction.
Under the Texas Government Code, “a statutory county court exercising civil jurisdiction
concurrent with the constitutional jurisdiction of the county court has concurrent jurisdiction with
the district court in . . . civil cases in which the matter in controversy exceeds $500 but does not
exceed $100,000 . . . as alleged on the face of the petition." Tex. Gov't Code Ann. §25.0003
(Vernon Supp. 2009). As alleged in this case, the amount in controversy exceeds $500 but does
not exceed $100,000. Though the Texas Government Code contains certain limitations
concerning the jurisdiction of a Harris County civil court at law, none of these limitations apply to
the case at hand. See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. §25.0003(b) (prohibiting jurisdiction of a statutory
county court over causes and proceedings concerning roads, bridges, and public highways);
Tex. Gov't Code Ann. §25.1032(a) (Vernon 2004) (prohibiting jurisdiction over probate matters);
Therefore, the trial court had subject-matter jurisdiction over this case. See Palisades
Acquisition XVI, LLC v. Chatman, ___ S.W.3d ___, No. 14-08-00108-CV, 2009 WL 1660485, at
The trial court erred in dismissing this case.
Accordingly, we sustain FIA Card Services's sole issue on appeal, reverse the trial court's
judgment, and remand for further proceedings.
/s/ Kem Thompson Frost
Panel consists of Justices Frost, Brown, and Boyce.
 FIA Card Services contends that the Federal Act applies. Horn did not file an appellate brief in this case, and
it is unclear from the record whether Horn appeared in the trial court below.
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