Nichols v. Murray Ford of Kingsland, Inc. et al

Filing 22

ORDER denying Defendant Murray Ford of Kingsland's 16 Motion to Dismiss; granting Defendant's alternative 16 Motion to Stay pending resolution through arbitration. Signed by Chief Judge Lisa G. Wood on 1/13/2017. (ca)

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Ifn tl^e ?IIIntteb States!I9it(trtct Court for tbe ^ontbem IBiotrtct of 4^eorgia Pmnolnttb Btbioton SANDRA NICHOLS, Plaintiff, CV 216-69 V. MURRAY FORD OF KINGSLAND INC., and S.E. GA FORD, INC d/b/a LILLISTON FORD OF KINGSLAND, Defendants. ORDER Before the Court is Defendant Murray Ford of Kingsland's ("Murray Ford") Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion to Stay Proceedings and Compel Arbitration (Dkt. No. 16). For the reasons stated below. Defendant's motion to Stay Proceedings and Compel Arbitration (Dkt. No. 16) is GRANTED. BACKGROUND The Sandra facts Nichols' stated herein ("Plaintiff") are taken solely Complaint and true pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). are from Plaintiff assumed to be In February 2015, Nichols was hired to work as a full-time Sales Representative by Defendant Lilliston Ford of Kingsland ("Lilliston Ford"). A0 72A (Rev. 8/82) Dkt. No. 1 SI 14. Plaintiff alleges that Lilliston Ford employee Mike Hanley C^Hanley") made several sexually during a business trip. charged SISI 18-20. comments toward her She alleges that this eventually escalated to forcible kissing and groping. months afterwards. Plaintiff alleges that she For endured groping and sexually explicit comments from Hanley. more JA. SISI 29- 30. Plaintiff alleges that she reported the February incident to her manager, Stephen Ardman (""Ardman"), on May 9, 2015. SI 32. The reiterated her with her. a written harassment allegedly continued. concerns to Ardman, SI 36. complaint who allegedly that Ms. became later upset Plaintiff claims that she ultimately gave to the owner of Lilliston Tanner-Lilliston (''Ms. Tanner-Lilliston"). alleges Plaintiff Id. Tanner-Lilliston Ford, SI 37. assured Jedon Plaintiff Plaintiff that she would fix the problem, but again, the harassment continued. Id. Plaintiff and alleges that Ardman subsequently turned began retaliating against her with Hanley. On September Murray Ford. 1, JA. SI 45. 2015, Lilliston on her Id. Ford was purchased by On September 4, 2015, Plaintiff alleges that she notified the owners of Murray Ford about the harassment and retaliation she was suffering. 2015, Plaintiff was terminated. JA. SI 46. JA. SI 47. On September 14, She further alleges she was not paid commission for three vehicles sold when working for Murray Ford. JA. SI 48. Plaintiff asserts her termination and unpaid commission was in retaliation for reporting Hanley's harassment. She subsequently filed a Complaint with this Court on May 13, 2016. Murray Ford now moves to dismiss on the basis that Plaintiff is required to arbitrate this matter before the Court can exercise jurisdiction in this case. Dkt. No. 16. LEGAL STANDARD When ruling on a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court must accept as true the facts as set forth in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Cir. 2010). Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 705 (11th Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain sufficient factual material ^^to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Atl. Corp. V. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). a complaint allegations should respecting ^'contain all the either direct Bell At a minimum, or material elements inferential necessary to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Fin. Sec. Assurance, Inc. v. Stephens, Inc., 500 F.3d 1276, 1282-83 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (quoting Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. for Choice, Inc., 253 F.3d 678, 683 (11th Cir. 2001)). DISCUSSION Murray Ford seeks to enforce arbitration and dismiss this action. ""'The Federal Arbitration Act (^FAA') generally governs the validity of an arbitration agreement." Windshield Repair, LLC, 745 F.3d Walthour v. Chipio 1326, 1329 (llth cert. den'd, 134 S. Ct. 2886 (2014). Cir. 2014), ''The FAA was 'enacted in 1925 as a response to judicial hostility to arbitration.'" Id. (quoting CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood, 565 U.S. —, —, 132 S. Ct. 665, 668 (2012)). "The FAA thus 'embodies a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements' and seeks 'to relieve congestion in the courts and to provide parties with an alternative method for dispute resolution that is speedier and less costly than litigation.'" Aerospace Corp., 428 F.3d Id. (quoting Caley v. Gulfstream 1359, Consistent with the text of the 1367 (llth Cir. 2005)). FAA, "courts must 'rigorously enforce' arbitration agreements according to their terms." Am. Express Co. v. Italian Colors Rest., — U.S. —, —, 133 S. Ct. 2304, 2309 (2013) (quoting Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v. Byrd, 470 U.S. 213, 221 (1985)). The FAA's primary substantive provision provides that a written agreement to arbitrate a controversy arising out of that contract upon "shall such be grounds valid, as irrevocable, exist at law and or in enforceable, equity save for the revocation of any contract." 9 U.S.C. § 2; see also Penderqast V. F.3d Sprint Nextel Corp., 691 1224, 1231 (llth Cir. 2012) (explaining that with arbitration other contracts"). agreements are on ^^equal footing court can decline to enforce an arbitration agreement under the FAA only if the plaintiff[] can point to a generally applicable principle of contract law under which the agreement could be revoked." State law, here, Georgia law, Caley, 428 F.3d at 1371. generally governs whether an enforceable contract exists; however, the FAA preempts state law to the extent that it treats arbitration agreements differently than other contracts. JA. at 1367. In support of its Motion to Dismiss, Murray Ford relies on the following arbitration agreement, signed by Plaintiff, which subjects all actions against Murray Ford to alternative dispute resolution: I agree that any dispute of a legal nature arising under federal, state, or local law between me and the Company, including any such claim regarding Company property, discrimination, harassment, or any other legal dispute relating to my employment or arising from any labor, employment, or civil rights law, will be subject to final and binding arbitration in accordance with the Company's Dispute Resolution Policy. I understand that the Arbitrator has the same authority, to award damages and other relief, as does a court of law. I also understand that while the Employee Handbook is otherwise subject to change at the Company's discretion, this Agreement to Arbitrate and the Company's Dispute Resolution policy will be binding and irrevocable for the Company and me as written. Dkt. No. 16-3 p. 2. As Circuit an has initial held matter, the Court that ''statutory notes claims, that the including Eleventh Title VII claims, can be subject to mandatory arbitration." Consumer Fin. Corp., 211 2000)(citation omitted). Title VII claim it 1217, 1222 {11th Cir. Therefore, while this case involves a may arbitration agreement. F.3d Brown v. ITT nonetheless be subject to a valid Therefore, the Court must look to the actual language of the agreement itself to determine whether the arbitration clause applies. that She the arbitration points to Plaintiff urges the Court to find clause language does in the not mandate Murray Ford arbitration employee here. handbook indicating that arbitration is not mandatory, but instead, an '"option."^ Further, Plaintiff points to another provision in the employee handbook that arbitration ^^can," rather than '"shall," apply to "any actionable issue." Dkt. No. 17 p. 3. There is no dispute that Plaintiff signed the arbitration agreement Murray within Ford. the notice Instead, of acknowledgement Plaintiff argues that form the cited by arbitration clause is unenforceable given that the mandatory language in the notice of acknowledgement employee handbook. that the contradicts Dkt. No. 17 p. 5. arbitration agreement is the language in the Further, Plaintiff argues unenforceable because it is ^ "in the event you are still not satisfied with the decision presented, you have the option of requesting binding arbitration between you and the company. Arbitration can apply to any actionable issue, including claims regarding wrongful discharge, employment discrimination, harassment, or any other dispute relating to your employment or arising employment, or civil rights law." Dkt. No. 16-2 p. 3. under any labor, missing key terms. Id. Finally, Plaintiff argues that the arbitration agreement is unconscionable. The Court finds that Id. there is nothing innately contradictory about the arbitration agreement and the employee handbook's language about the '^option" to arbitrate. Plaintiff urges the Court to read the employee handbook to indicate that she and she alone had the power to arbitrate this matter. such language exists in the employee handbook. No The handbook simply provides notice that the option to arbitrate any dispute can be exercised by Plaintiff, not exercise its right to arbitrate. its intent agreement, to which that arbitrate any dispute indicates that ^'any ^'missing terms" arbitration the Court agreement is could be more detailed. 621 F. App'x "incompleteness" arbitration court's 569, an clause). opinion in l:13-CV-2353, 2016 arguing 1) that rejects invalidate the cannot in the arbitration dispute . . . will be Dkt. No. 16-3 p. 1. Plaintiff's arbitration unenforceable argument that clause. simply The because it Matthews v. Ultimate Sports Bar, LLC, 572-73 (11th insufficient Plaintiff Matthews WL the not Ford Indeed, Murray Ford indicated subject to final and binding arbitration." Furthermore, Murray v. Cir. basis relies Ultimate 4035655 (N.D. agreement is Ga. 2015) to invalidate heavily Sports July (holding on Bar, 28, a sister LLC, 2016), "incomprehensible" an and No. in 2) incomplete terms should invalidate the agreement. However, the agreement in this case is distinguishable from the agreement in Matthews. The agreement in that case contained broken English resulting in ^^nonsensical language" that even understand. lA. at *2. In court did addition, the the court could not This is plainly not the case here. not hold that missing terms were the reason that the agreement was invalid. alone Instead, the Matthews court found that the agreement, taken as a whole, was entirely meaningless. case here. Again, this is simply not the Therefore, the Court finds that the agreement is valid. Finally, the Court turns to Plaintiff s argument that the arbitration clause is unconscionable. Under Georgia law, an unconscionable contract is ^^such an agreement as no sane man not acting under a delusion would make and that no honest man would take advantage of." (Ga. Ct. factors App. in 1986). Georgia determining intelligence, their Hall v. Fruehauf Corp., 346 S.E.2d 582, 583 business relative look unconscionability: acumen bargaining courts and power, the ''age, experience the to of following education, the parties, conspicuousness of and comprehensibility of the contract language, the oppressiveness of the terms, and the presence or absence of meaningful choice." NEC Techs., Inc. Plaintiff v. Nelson, attempts to 478 S.E.2d frame 8 her 769, 771 lack (Ga. of 1996). business sophistication as unconscionable. lack of a reason why the Dkt. No. 17 p. 6. sophistication unconscionable. is arbitration agreement The Court disagrees. insufficient to find an is A mere agreement Saturna v. Bickley Constr. Co., 555 S.E.2d 825, 827 (Ga. Ct. App. 2001). She also claims that she did not have time to read the agreement sufficiently before she signed it. This argument also has no merit. Under Georgia law, ''one signing a document has a duty to read it and is bound by the terms of a document [s]he does not read." Gill Plumbing v. Jimenez, 714 S.E.2d 342, 350 (Ga. Ct. App. 2011). Furthermore, to the extent that Plaintiff argues that she lacked the bargaining power to renegotiate the agreement or ask for more fails. time to consider the agreement, this "[0]ne may not void a contract on argument also grounds of duress merely because she entered into it with reluctance, the contract is very parties disadvantageous to was unequal or her, there the was bargaining some negotiations preceding the agreements." 534 S.E.2d Plaintiff's agreement arbitration such, the 446, 450 (Ga. 2000). unconscionability will be provision Court enforced. of the Thus, 2008 unfairness of the in the Kramer v. Kroqer Co., Thus, argument power the and the Agreement Court the Court rejects arbitration finds the enforceable. As will stay this matter pending the resolution through arbitration. Bender v. A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 971 F.2d 698, 699 (11th Cir. 1992). CONCLUSION For the reasons set forth above, it is hereby ordered that Defendant Murray Ford of Kingsland's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 16) is DENIED. (Dkt. No. However, Defendant's alternative Motion to Stay 16) is GRANTED and the Court orders this action STAYED pending resolution through arbitration. SO ORDERED, this 13th day of January, 2017. LISA GODBEY WODD, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA 10 be

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