Campbell v. Adecco USA, Inc.
ORDER entered by Judge Nanette Laughrey. Defendant's Motion to Compel Arbitration [Doc. 8] is denied. (Rosenbaum, Daniel)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
On behalf of himself and all others
ADECCO USA, INC.,
Case No. 2:16-cv-04059-NKL
Before the Court is Defendant Adecco USA’s Motion to Compel Arbitration [Doc.
8]. For the following reasons, the motion is denied.
In August or September 2015, Plaintiff Hernandez Campbell applied for an
employment position with Adecco, a staffing company. As part of his application,
Campbell completed and signed a series of electronic documents.
One of these
documents, the Dispute Resolution and Arbitration Agreement form, stated in relevant
[A]ny and all disputes, claims, or controversies arising out of or
relating to this Agreement, the employment relationship between the
parties, or the termination of the employment relationship shall be resolved
by binding arbitration. . . BY SIGNING THIS AGREEMENT, THE
PARTIES HEREBY WAIVE THEIR RIGHT TO HAVE ANY DISPUTE,
CLAIM OR CONTROVERSY DECIDED BY A JUDGE OR JURY IN A
. . . [Adecco] may change or modify the terms of the [Agreement] at
any time with reasonable prior notice to Employee. It is understood that
future changes will supersede or eliminate, in whole or in part, the terms of
the [Agreement]. Current versions of the [Agreement] will be posted by
[Adecco] on [Adecco’s] internet site or such other location(s) designated by
. . . If any provision(s) of this [Agreement] is declared overboard,
invalid or unenforceable such provision(s) shall be severed from this
[Agreement] and the remaining provisions of this [Agreement] shall remain
in full force and effect and shall be construed in a fashion which gives
meaning to all of the other terms of this [Agreement].
[Doc. 8-1, pp. 10-11].
Campbell was given an opportunity to opt-out of this Arbitration Agreement by
requesting a separate opt-out form within thirty days. However, Campbell electronically
signed the Arbitration Agreement and did not request an opt-out form.
In November 2015, Campbell interviewed at Adecco’s office and was hired as a
forklift driver for Challenge MFG, a third-party Adecco client. Campbell started working
for Challenge MFG in late November 2015.
On December 24, 2015, Adecco informed Campbell he was no longer eligible for
employment and that he should no longer report for work at Challenge MFG. According
to Campbell’s complaint, this decision was based upon a consumer credit report Adecco
had obtained. Campbell further asserts he was not given a reasonable amount of time to
challenge any inaccuracy within the consumer report. Campbell subsequently filed this
class action suit, alleging that Adecco violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by retracting
an offer of employment based upon information contained in a consumer credit report.
Agreements to arbitrate disputes are enforceable and strongly favored under
federal law. See AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011). If such
an agreement is valid, a “court must rigorously enforce [it] according to [its] terms.”
Am. Exp. Co. v. Italian Colors Rest., 133 S. Ct. 2304, 2309 (2013). Yet an arbitration
agreement must still comply with the principles of contract law. See 9 U.S.C. § 2; RentA-Ctr., W., Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63, 67 (2010). In Missouri, a contract must contain
an “offer, acceptance, and bargained for consideration.” Johnson v. McDonnell Douglas
Corp., 745 S.W.2d 661, 662 (Mo. banc 1988). An arbitration agreement is unenforceable
if it lacks these required elements.
Adecco maintains that it entered into a valid Arbitration Agreement with
Campbell and that the scope of this agreement covers the FCRA dispute at issue.
Accordingly, Adecco argues that the Court must either compel Campbell to arbitrate his
claims, dismiss the case, or stay these proceedings until arbitration occurs. See 9 U.S.C.
§§ 3, 4.
In his brief, Campbell does not dispute that he signed the Arbitration Agreement
and that the agreement pertains to his FCRA claim. Campbell argues, however, that the
Arbitration Agreement lacks bargained-for consideration, making it an illusory and thus
unenforceable contract. Campbell focuses on the Modification Provision, which provides
that “[Adecco] may change or modify the terms of the [Agreement] at any time with
reasonable prior notice to Employee.” [Doc. 8-1, p. 11]. This provision, he argues,
provides Adecco an unenforceable unilateral right to modify the Agreement’s terms at its
sole discretion. Adecco maintains that its Modification Provision is enforceable and that,
in the alternative, the provision can be severed from the Agreement if the Court finds it
Consequently there are two dispositive questions before the Court: (1) whether the
Arbitration Agreement lacks consideration such that it is unenforceable, and (2) if so,
whether the Modification Provision can be severed from the Agreement.
Under Missouri law, a contract contains valid consideration where a “benefit [is]
conferred upon the promisor or [there is] a legal detriment to the promisee.” State ex rel.
Kansas City v. State Highway Comm'n, 163 S.W.2d 948, 953 (Mo. 1942). Campbell
argues that the Arbitration Agreement lacks adequate consideration because Adecco
incurred no such legal detriment: Adecco offered Campbell only the possibility of at-will
employment and a promise to arbitrate that was subject to unilateral modification.
The Missouri Supreme Court considered an identical question in Baker v. Bristol
Care, Inc., 450 S.W.3d 770 (Mo. banc 2014). In Baker, an employer and an at-will
employee signed a contract agreeing to arbitrate any disputes. The agreement contained a
clause permitting the employer to modify the contract after providing notice. Per its
terms, the employer “reserve[d] the right to amend, modify or revoke this agreement
upon thirty (30) days’ prior written notice to the Employee.” Id. at 773.
After getting fired from his at-will position, the Baker employee filed a class
action lawsuit seeking compensation for allegedly unpaid overtime hours. The employer
filed a motion to compel arbitration. It argued that the parties had mutually promised to
arbitrate such disputes, and that this contract was enforceable because it contained two
sources of consideration: (1) “[the employee’s] continued employment” and (2) “mutual
promises to resolve claims through arbitration.” Id.
The Missouri Supreme Court disagreed and held that no consideration existed. In
reaching this conclusion, the Baker court first found that “continued at-will employment
does not constitute valid consideration.” Id. at 775. Second, because the employer
“retain[ed] unilateral authority to amend the agreement retroactively, its promise to
arbitrate is illusory and is not consideration.” Id. at 776-77. See also Frye v. Speedway
Chevrolet Cadillac, 321 S.W.3d 429, 442 (Mo. Ct. App. 2010) (“A contract that purports
to exchange mutual promises will be construed to lack legal consideration if one party
retains the unilateral right to modify or alter the contract as to permit the party to
unilaterally divest itself of an obligation to perform the promise initially made.”).
Campbell’s case is directly analogous. As in Baker, the contracts signed between
Campbell and Adecco secured him, at best, a promise of at-will employment. Further,
also as in Baker, Campbell and Adecco both facially promised to arbitrate any disputes—
but Adecco alone retained the right to “change or modify the terms of the [Agreement] at
any time with reasonable prior notice.” [Doc. 8-1, p. 11]. Adecco’s promise to arbitrate
is therefore illusory and cannot constitute consideration. Presumably, at any time before
or after a dispute arises, Adecco could give Campbell notice that while he is still
obligated to arbitrate his claims, Adecco will no longer consider itself bound by the
results of that arbitration.
At oral argument, Adecco contended that its Agreement is distinguishable from
the one in Baker.
Unlike the provision in Baker, Adecco argued, its Modification
Provision requires reasonable notice and only applies to future changes. The Court does
not find this position persuasive. While the Modification Provision requires “reasonable
prior notice,” [Doc. 8-1, p. 11], so too did the provision in Baker, which demanded
“thirty (30) days’ prior written notice” before an alteration, Baker, 450 S.W.3d at 773.
These clauses are not functionally distinguishable. If anything, the Baker provision
imposed greater limitations on the employer by clearly delineating the point at which
notice would no longer be reasonable.
Further, although Adecco’s Modification Provision discusses “future changes,”
this phrase simply signals that changes may occur in the future; it does not limit how
those changes are applied.
Adecco stated at oral argument that it only envisioned
applying future changes prospectively, regardless of how the provision was worded. But
just as in Baker, the plain language of the Modification Provision does not limit Adecco
to prospective changes. Rather, “the fact remains that the language of the agreement
would permit . . . [Adecco] to disclaim or modify its arbitration promises unilaterally at
any time for its own benefit.” 1 Baker, 450 S.W.3d at 777.
Adecco also argues that there is a difference between a party’s unilateral power to “modify” and
the power to “terminate, revoke or cancel” an agreement. [Doc. 18, p. 7]. The Court again does not see a
practical distinction between these concepts in Campbell’s case. The parties’ Modification Provision
states that Adecco may “eliminate, in whole . . . the terms of the [Agreement].” [Doc. 8-1, p. 11]. Even
As in Baker, therefore, the parties’ Arbitration Agreement does not contain valid
In the alternative, Adecco argues that the Court should sever the Modification
Provision from the remainder of the Agreement. Pointing to the severability clause
contained in the Arbitration Agreement, Adecco maintains that the Modification
Provision can be severed because it is not essential to the parties’ mutual promise to
arbitrate. Campbell responds that a valid contract was never formed between the parties,
and thus the entire agreement—including the severability clause—is unenforceable.
In Missouri, courts “will give effect to a severability clause when the clause being
severed is not a necessary part of the contract.” Eaton v. CMH Homes, Inc., 461 S.W.3d
426, 436 (Mo. banc 2015).
“Whether a contract is severable . . . depends on the
circumstances of the case and is largely a question of the parties’ intent.” Woods v. QC
Fin. Servs., Inc., 280 S.W.3d 90, 99 (Mo. Ct. App. 2008).
Considering Campbell and Adecco’s intent in signing their Arbitration Agreement,
the Court observes that Adecco’s modification power appears central to the bargain as a
whole. Campbell was provided a narrow opportunity to opt out of the Agreement’s
binding arbitration and class action waiver, while, on the other side, the Agreement gave
Adecco almost unlimited capacity to “modify the terms . . . at any time.” [Doc. 8-1, p.
11]. It would be inequitable to enforce Campbell’s promise to arbitrate in spite of—and,
without cancelling the Arbitration Agreement, Adecco is thus empowered to eliminate its terms—a power
that clearly allows Adecco to modify the parties’ mutual promise to arbitrate.
in part, because of—Adecco’s illusory promise made in return.
See Glassford v.
BrickKicker, 35 A.3d 1044, 1054 (Vt. 2011) (“[The employer] should not benefit from a
binding arbitration clause that is a major component of the scheme to offer plaintiffs an
illusory remedy for any claims they might have against [the employer].”).
Citing Eaton and State ex rel. Hewitt v. Kerr, 461 S.W.3d 798 (Mo. banc 2015),
Adecco argues that the parties’ intent was to arbitrate their disputes, and therefore, by
removing the Modification Provision from the Agreement, the Court can make Adecco
and Campbell’s intent enforceable rather than illusory.
Yet Eaton and Hewitt are
Both cases involved an unconscionable term contained within an
otherwise valid contract; neither concerned a contract lacking in consideration. See
Hewitt, 461 S.W.3d at 809 (finding that plaintiff’s “argument that the agreement lacked
consideration fails”); Eaton, 461 S.W.3d at 434 (“Both parties exchanged consideration
for the entire contract.”).
Because a contract cannot form without consideration,
Johnson, 745 S.W.2d at 662, the Court is faced with a more fundamental question in this
case: whether Campbell and Adecco ever entered into an arbitration contract in the first
As such, more instructive to this inquiry are cases where there is “a dispute over
whether a contract was ever formed.” Piano v. Premier Distrib. Co., 107 P.3d 11, 16
(N.M. Ct. App. 2004). In Piano, the court considered a similar modification provision
that allowed the employer to unilaterally alter arbitration agreements. After deciding the
contract lacked consideration, Piano concluded that when an “agreement is not supported
by consideration, a contract was never formed,” and therefore a court should not “rewrite
the [contract] such that it is supported by consideration”—even if this could be
accomplished by severing a single clause. Id. See also United Servs. Auto. Ass'n v. Pells,
2004 WL 792666 (Wash. Ct. App. 2004) (when an additional meeting of the minds is
required to save a contract, the entire contract is unenforceable, including any agreement
Likewise, in Birbrower, Montalbano, Condon & Frank v. Superior Court, 949
P.2d 1 (Cal. 1998), the California Supreme Court examined a contract that the plaintiff
claimed lacked consideration. The Birbrower court framed its analysis by distinguishing
between contracts where “part of the consideration given for the contract involves
illegality” and contracts wholly containing “illegal consideration.” Id. at 12. In the first
situation, the invalid portion is severable. In the second, however, courts cannot save the
contract by severing a provision. “If the court is unable to distinguish between the lawful
and unlawful parts of the agreement, the illegality taints the entire contract, and the entire
transaction is illegal and unenforceable.” Id. (citing cases) (internal quotation marks
The Court finds the reasoning of Piano and Birbrower persuasive. Because the
Arbitration Agreement signed by Campbell and Adecco wholly lacks consideration—and
indeed, never contained consideration—the parties never achieved a meeting of the
minds. See White v. Pruiett, 39 S.W.3d 857, 862 (Mo. Ct. App. 2001) (consideration
required for parties to have a “meeting of the minds” and mutually agree to contract
formation). Therefore Campbell and Adecco never entered into a contract agreeing to
arbitrate their disputes, and the Court cannot enforce a contract that does not exist. Doing
so would require the Court to create a new, valid contract through an artificial meeting of
the minds. This is a judicial action the Court is not authorized to take.
Accordingly, the Modification Provision cannot be severed from the Arbitration
Agreement, which is unenforceable. Any provisions contained within the Agreement—
including the parties’ professed promise to arbitrate their disputes—are unenforceable as
For the foregoing reasons, Adecco’s Motion to Compel Arbitration [Doc. 8] is
s/ Nanette K. Laughrey
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY
United States District Judge
Dated: June 13, 2016
Jefferson City, Missouri
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