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Arbitration Denied in Boxer-Promoter Fight

(CN) - Undefeated world champion super-middleweight Andre Ward won't have to arbitrate his fight over money with his late promoter Dan Goossen, a federal judge ruled.

Ward, 30, claimed Goossen and Goossen Tutor Promotions violated the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act by failing to disclose required financial information for several of Ward's fights over the past 10 years. Ward sued Goossen in August, seeking an accounting and damages.

Goossen in September demanded arbitration. On Oct. 15, U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson denied the arbitration motion.

(Goossen died on Sept. 29, and Ward notified the court he will amend his complaint to name Goossen's estate as defendant along with Goossen Tutor Promotions.)

In an 11-page ruling, Henderson said the 2004 and 2011 promotional agreements between Ward and Goossen are nearly identical, and include an addendum mandated by the California State Athletic Commission, which requires arbitration to resolve all controversies regarding the validity and enforceability of such contracts.

But Ward and Goossen offered differing opinions on what can be arbitrated.

Goossen said the fight-promotion contracts intentionally expand the Athletic Commission's arbitration clause to include all disputes.

"Conversely, plaintiff argues that the applicable arbitration requirement is the provided in the addendum section: 'all controversies considering the validity and or enforceability' of the contract."

Henderson says the Federal Arbitration Act compels arbitration when a valid agreement to arbitrate exists and the dispute falls within the "scope of that agreement."

"However, 'absent some ambiguity in the agreement, it is the language of the contract that defines the scope of disputes subject to arbitration,'" Henderson found. "Consequently, a court should look first to whether the parties agreed to arbitrate the dispute, not to general policy goals."

Henderson added: "In order to decide whether parties agreed to arbitrate a particular set of disputes, courts apply state-law principles governing the construction of contracts. In this case, plaintiff's narrow interpretation of the applicable arbitration provision best adheres to California's state-law principles governing the construction of contracts."

In moving for arbitration, Henderson said, Goossen contradicts the contract's "plain language" by negating the Athletic Commission's addendum requiring arbitration only for disputes arising from contractual validity or enforceability.

Henderson said the dispute involves ambiguities in the contract, instead of validity or enforceability.

"An application of California contract law to the plain text of the parties' contract strongly favors the finding of a narrow arbitration provision that applies only to dispute involving the validity and enforceability of the contract," Henderson ruled.

"Only disputes concerning the validity and enforceability of the contract must be arbitrated, and court therefore denies defendants' motion to compel arbitration."

Ward won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics and won his first world championship in 2009. His professional record is 27-0 with 14 knockouts.

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