Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama

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SCI Alabama Funeral Services, LLC, d/b/a Elmwood Cemetery and Mausoleum ("SCI"); Service Corporation International; SCI Funeral Services, LLC; Elmwood Cemetery Co.; Phyllis Pesseackey; and Jonathan Wheatley (collectively, "the defendants") appealed an order denying their motion to compel arbitration. The circuit court denied the motion to compel because it concluded that the relevant arbitration provision was unconscionable and thus unenforceable. In 2004, Johnnie Hinton ("Johnnie") signed a contract with SCI to purchase the interment rights to two burial spaces in Elmwood Cemetery. The contract contained an arbitration provision stating that "any claim" that Johnnie "may have" against SCI must be resolved by arbitration. In August 2016, Johnnie's husband, Nathaniel Hinton, passed away. Johnnie began to make arrangements to have Nathaniel buried in one of the two burial spaces to which she had acquired interment rights in 2004. SCI then informed Johnnie that someone else had mistakenly been buried in Nathaniel's space. According to Johnnie's complaint, the space she acquired for Nathaniel is next to the space where her father is buried. At Johnnie's request, SCI disinterred the deceased who was buried in the space Johnnie had acquired and buried him elsewhere so that Nathaniel could be buried in the space; Nathaniel was subsequently buried there. In September 2016, Johnnie sued SCI and the other defendants, alleging breach of contract and several other claims. The defendants moved to compel arbitration, citing the arbitration provision in the contract. Johnnie argued that the arbitration provision was unenforceable because, she said, the contract does not evidence a transaction affecting interstate commerce and the arbitration provision is unconscionable. The circuit court denied the motion to compel, concluding that the arbitration provision is unconscionable. Both substantive unconscionability and procedural unconscionability must be shown to establish unconscionability as a defense to an arbitration provision; these are separate, independent elements. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the arbitration provision in this case was not substantively unconscionable, and did not need to consider the issue of procedural unconscionability. The circuit court erred in denying the motion to compel arbitration. Therefore, the Court reversed the order and remanded the case for the circuit court to enter an order granting the motion to compel arbitration. View "SCI Alabama Funeral Services, LLC v. Hinton" on Justia Law

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Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC, d/b/a GCR Tires & Service ("Bridgestone"), appealed a circuit court order denying Bridgestone's motion to compel arbitration of an employment-related dispute. Ottis Adams began working as a sales representative for Bridgestone or a related entity in May 2006 and that he resigned or his employment was terminated in August 2016. At some point at or around the time he was hired, Adams signed a document entitled "New Employee Agreement and Acknowledgment of the Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. Employee Dispute Resolution Plan" ("the agreement"), which stated that Adams agreed to the terms of the employee-dispute-resolution plan, fully titled, the "BFS Retail & Commercial Operations, LLC, Employee Dispute Resolution Plan" ("the EDR Plan"). The EDR Plan contained an arbitration provision. After leaving Bridgestone in 2016, Adams went to work for McGriff Tire Company, Inc. ("McGriff"). At some point thereafter, McGriff's principal, Barry McGriff, received a letter written on the letterhead of Bridgestone's corporate parent, asserting that Adams signed a noncompetition and nonsolicitation agreement with his previous employer, that his employment with McGriff violated that agreement, and that Adams allegedly had violated a duty of loyalty by selling tires for McGriff while still employed by Bridgestone. The letter also suggested that Adams may have disclosed, or might disclose, "confidential information and trade secrets." The letter stated that Bridgestone was planning to commence legal action against Adams and concluded with a suggestion that McGriff might be named as a defendant in that action if the matter was not resolved. Adams asserts that, because of the accusations in the letter, McGriff terminated his employment. Adams sued Bridgestone and related entities, alleging Bridgestone interfered with his business relationship with McGriff and had defamed him via the letter to Barry McGriff. Adams subsequently voluntarily dismissed all defendants except Bridgestone. Bridgestone filed an answer and a counterclaim. In its counterclaim, Bridgestone averred that Adams, while still employed by Bridgestone, had taken actions for McGriff's benefit and had "feigned acceptance" of an employment agreement he never actually signed that included a noncompetition provision. Although Bridgestone did not mention arbitration or the EDR Plan in its answer or counterclaim, approximately three months after filing those pleadings, it amended its answer to assert arbitration as a defense, and it filed a motion to compel arbitration of all claims pursuant to the terms of the EDR Plan. The trial court denied Bridgestone's motion to compel, and Bridgestone appealed. After review of the record, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in denying Bridgestone's motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the terms of the EDR Plan. Accordingly, the trial court’s judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC v. Adams" on Justia Law

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Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC, d/b/a GCR Tires & Service ("Bridgestone"), appealed a circuit court order denying Bridgestone's motion to compel arbitration of an employment-related dispute. Ottis Adams began working as a sales representative for Bridgestone or a related entity in May 2006 and that he resigned or his employment was terminated in August 2016. At some point at or around the time he was hired, Adams signed a document entitled "New Employee Agreement and Acknowledgment of the Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. Employee Dispute Resolution Plan" ("the agreement"), which stated that Adams agreed to the terms of the employee-dispute-resolution plan, fully titled, the "BFS Retail & Commercial Operations, LLC, Employee Dispute Resolution Plan" ("the EDR Plan"). The EDR Plan contained an arbitration provision. After leaving Bridgestone in 2016, Adams went to work for McGriff Tire Company, Inc. ("McGriff"). At some point thereafter, McGriff's principal, Barry McGriff, received a letter written on the letterhead of Bridgestone's corporate parent, asserting that Adams signed a noncompetition and nonsolicitation agreement with his previous employer, that his employment with McGriff violated that agreement, and that Adams allegedly had violated a duty of loyalty by selling tires for McGriff while still employed by Bridgestone. The letter also suggested that Adams may have disclosed, or might disclose, "confidential information and trade secrets." The letter stated that Bridgestone was planning to commence legal action against Adams and concluded with a suggestion that McGriff might be named as a defendant in that action if the matter was not resolved. Adams asserts that, because of the accusations in the letter, McGriff terminated his employment. Adams sued Bridgestone and related entities, alleging Bridgestone interfered with his business relationship with McGriff and had defamed him via the letter to Barry McGriff. Adams subsequently voluntarily dismissed all defendants except Bridgestone. Bridgestone filed an answer and a counterclaim. In its counterclaim, Bridgestone averred that Adams, while still employed by Bridgestone, had taken actions for McGriff's benefit and had "feigned acceptance" of an employment agreement he never actually signed that included a noncompetition provision. Although Bridgestone did not mention arbitration or the EDR Plan in its answer or counterclaim, approximately three months after filing those pleadings, it amended its answer to assert arbitration as a defense, and it filed a motion to compel arbitration of all claims pursuant to the terms of the EDR Plan. The trial court denied Bridgestone's motion to compel, and Bridgestone appealed. After review of the record, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in denying Bridgestone's motion to compel arbitration pursuant to the terms of the EDR Plan. Accordingly, the trial court’s judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC v. Adams" on Justia Law

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A party waives any right to object to the validity of an arbitration provision calling for the arbitration of certain claims once that party agrees to arbitrate those claims. Here, the parties settled the claims made the basis of case no. CV-2015-900849 by agreeing to arbitrate any further disputes regarding alleged violations of the Hillwood Office Center Owners' Association, Inc.’s ("the HOCOA"), governing documents. Following the dismissal of case no. CV-2015- 900849, Carol Blevins continued to assert violations of the governing documents and made a demand for arbitration. The HOCOA and its board members agreed to the submission of Carol's claims to arbitration. Although the HOCOA and its board members did object to certain issues being submitted to the arbitrator for determination, arguing that those issues instead should be determined by the trial court, they did not object to the submission of the claims to arbitration. The HOCOA and its board members agreed upon two different arbitrators and also sought the enforcement of the settlement agreement containing the arbitration provision by initiating case no. CV-2015- 901891. Accordingly, The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that because the HOCOA and its board members agreed to the submission of the claims raised in this matter to the now pending arbitration proceeding, they waived their right to object to the validity of the arbitration provision. The appeal in case no. CV-2015-900849 was dismissed. To the extent that the HOCOA and its board members appealed the trial court's order dissolving the stay of arbitration in case no. CV-2015-901891, that order was affirmed. Finally, the order appealed from case no. CV-2016- 901627 was affirmed in part and reversed in part and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Hillwood Office Center Owners' Association, Inc., et al. v. Blevins" on Justia Law

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STV One Nineteen Senior Living, LLC ("STV"), appealed a circuit court order denying its motion to compel arbitration of certain counterclaims filed against it by Dixie Boyd, by and through her agent, Mary Alice Boyd-Kline, under a valid power of attorney. Dixie Boyd and Mary-Alice Boyd-Kline, as holder of Boyd's power of attorney, signed a "residency agreement" with STV, which operated an assisted-living facility. STV agreed to provide Dixie Boyd with a private apartment and other related services, including, among other things, utilities, housekeeping, laundry, meals, maintenance, planned activities, transportation, and security and protection. The residency agreement contained an arbitration clause. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the plain language of the arbitration clause encompassed Boyd's counterclaims, and the trial court erred, therefore, in denying STV's motion to compel arbitration. View "STV One Nineteen Senior Living, LLC v. Boyd" on Justia Law

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Candy Parkhurst ("Parkhurst"), personal representative of the estate of her husband, Andrew P. Parkhurst ("Andrew"), deceased, file suit to compel Carter C. Norvell and Parkhurst & Norvell, an accounting firm Norvell had operated as a partnership with Andrew ("the partnership"), to arbitrate a dispute regarding the dissolution of the partnership. Pursuant to an arbitration provision in a dissolution agreement Norvell and Andrew had executed before Andrew's death, the trial court ultimately ordered arbitration and stayed further proceedings until arbitration was complete. Subsequently, however, Parkhurst moved the trial court to lift the stay and to enter a partial summary judgment resolving certain aspects of the dispute in her favor. After the trial court lifted the stay and scheduled a hearing on Parkhurst's motion, Norvell and the partnership appealed, arguing that the trial court was effectively failing to enforce the terms of a valid arbitration agreement in violation of the Federal Arbitration Act. The Alabama Supreme Court determined there was no evidence in the record indicating that Norvell made such an agreement and he, in fact, denied doing so. In the absence of any evidence that would establish such an agreement, as well as any other evidence that would conclusively establish that Norvell clearly and unequivocally expressed an intent to waive his right to have the arbitrator resolve this dispute. As such, Parkhurst failed to meet her burden of showing that the arbitration provision in the dissolution agreement should not have been enforced. Accordingly, the trial court erred by lifting the arbitral stay in order to consider Parkhurst's motion for a partial summary judgment, and its judgment doing so was reversed and remanded. View "Norvell v. Parkhurst" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal were denials of motions to compel arbitration filed by Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC ("Locklear CJD"), and Locklear Automotive Group, Inc. ("Locklear Group"), in actions filed by plaintiffs who alleged they were victims of identity theft resulting from personal information they had provided Locklear CJD in order to explore the possibility of financing the purchase of a vehicle from Locklear CJD. In case no. 1160435, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court order denying the motion to compel arbitration; in the other appeals, the Court reversed the trial court's orders and remanded for further proceedings. Plaintiffs in these cases purchased vehicles from Locklear CJD. All the plaintiffs signed an arbitration agreement as part of their vehicle purchases; the operative language of those arbitration agreements was the same. And all the plaintiffs alleged that they were the victims of identity theft that resulted from providing personal information to Locklear CJD when they filled out credit applications for the vehicle purchases. With respect to Case 1160435, the Supreme Court determined that on the face of the arbitration agreement, its terms did not apply to the interaction of the Lollars and the defendants that occurred in 2015. The Lollars purchased their vehicle in 2013; vehicle purchase to which the 2013 arbitration agreement referred and related was one transaction. The Lollars' 2015 visit to the dealership for the purpose of exploring whether to enter into an entirely different transaction with Locklear CJD (and their provision of financial information to Locklear CJD during that visit) was an unrelated matter to which the arbitration clause did not apply. View "Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC v. Hood" on Justia Law

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Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC, and Locklear Automotive Group, Inc. (collectively, "Locklear"), sought a writ of mandamus to order the Bibb Circuit Court to vacate certain discovery orders in actions filed against Locklear by Rhonda Cook, James McKinney, and James Daniel Parker (collectively, "the purchasers"), who alleged that they were victims of identity theft by a Locklear employee. In July and August 2016, each purchaser alleged that the employee used the personal information from the purchaser's credit application to purchase thousands of dollars in cellular-telephone services. They asserted claims of negligence, wantonness, invasion of privacy, conversion, fraud, tort of outrage, civil conspiracy, violations of Alabama's Consumer Identity Protection Act, and breach of fiduciary duty. Shortly after filing their lawsuits, the purchasers sought general discovery, including interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions, and notices of deposition. In response to the three actions, Locklear filed a motion in each action seeking an order compelling arbitration staying the action. The trial court held a hearing on the motions, but did not rule on them. Subsequently, each of the purchasers filed a motion to compel Locklear's responses to their discovery requests and to deem admitted their requests for admissions. The trial court granted the purchasers' motions. Locklear then filed three petitions for mandamus review. While the mandamus petitions were pending, the trial court granted Locklear's motions to stay discovery. The Alabama Supreme Court noted that, in the instant case, the issue presented for its review was not to review the trial court's order denying a motion to compel arbitration; the trial court has not yet ruled on Locklear's motion to compel. The Supreme Court was reviewing the trial court's general discovery orders, and concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion by allowing general discovery before the resolution of the issue whether the purchasers must arbitrate their claims. Furthermore, because it would be unfair to require Locklear conduct merit-based discovery prior to deciding the arbitration issue, and because Locklear could not be afforded the relief it seeks after that discovery has been conducted, Locklear does not have an adequate remedy by ordinary appeal. Accordingly, the Court granted the petitions and issued the writs, directing the trial court to vacate its orders requiring Locklear to respond to the purchasers' discovery requests, including the requests for admissions and to sit for depositions. View "Ex parte Locklear Chrysler Jeep Dodge, LLC" on Justia Law

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Jimmy Nation, Oliver McCollum, James Pickle, James Nation, Micah Nation, and Benjamin Chemeel II (collectively referred to as "the defendants") appealed the circuit court's denial of their motion to compel arbitration of a breach-of-contract claim filed against them by the Lydmar Revocable Trust ("Lydmar"). Lydmar owned a 75% membership interest in Aldwych, LLC. In 2008, Lydmar and the defendants entered into an agreement pursuant to which Lydmar agreed to sell its membership interest in Aldwych, LLC, to the defendants. The defendants paid Lydmar a portion of the agreed price at the time the agreement was executed and simultaneously executed two promissory notes for the balance of the purchase price. By 2014, Lydmar sued defendants for breach of contract for failing to make the required payments. At the request of the parties, the circuit court delayed setting the matter for a bench trial until they had an opportunity to resolve the case without a trial. The parties' attempts failed. Thereafter, defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration of Lydmar's breach-of-contract claim. Lydmar did not file a response to the defendants' motion to compel arbitration. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding defendants submitted evidence showing that Lydmar signed a contract agreeing that all disputes between them related to the defendants' purchase of Lydmar's membership interest in Aldwych would be settled in arbitration and that the contract evidenced a transaction affecting interstate commerce. Lydmar did not refute that evidence, nor did it establish that the defendants waived their right to rely on those arbitration provisions. Therefore, the circuit court erred by returning the case to its active docket and effectively denying the defendants' motion to compel arbitration. View "Nation et al. v. Lydmar Revocable Trust" on Justia Law

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Adrienne Scott purchased from Jack Ingram Motors, Inc. ("Jack Ingram"), a new 2015 Nissan Juke automobile, which had been manufactured by Nissan. Scott took the vehicle to Jack Ingram after smelling fuel in the interior of the vehicle. Jack Ingram did not detect the smell; it inspected the fuel system of the vehicle, and found no leaks in the fuel system. Two days later, while Scott was driving the vehicle, it spontaneously caught fire. Scott sued Jack Ingram and Nissan, raising a number of claims stemming from the fire. Jack Ingram moved to compel arbitration of the claims filed against it based on the arbitration agreement Scott had signed in connection with the sale of the vehicle. Scott filed a response indicating that, although she was willing to arbitrate her breach-of-warranty and negligence claims against Jack Ingram, she objected to litigating part of the case, i.e., her claims against Nissan. Scott She indicated in her response that she was willing to arbitrate the case or to litigate the case, but she objected to having to do both. The trial court entered an order holding that, "in the interest of judicial economy," the entire matter should be arbitrated. Nissan filed a motion to reconsider, which the trial court denied. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court exceeded its discretion by compelling Nissan to arbitrate the claims asserted against it by Scott. The trial court's order was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Nissan North America, Inc. v. Scott" on Justia Law