Sentry Select Insurance Company v. Ruiz et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART 22 Motion to Compel. Further directives incorporated in this order. Signed by Judge David C Guaderrama. (em)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
EL PASO DIVISION
SENTRY SELECT INSURANCE
CHRISTIAN ULISES RUIZ; RUDOLPH
AUTOMOTIVE, LLC d/b/a RUDOLPH
MAZDA; MARCELO FLORES; and
CHRISTIAN ULISES RUIZ; RUDOLPH
AUTOMOTIVE, LLC d/b/a RUDOLPH
NORTH AMERICAN CAPACITY
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Presently before the Court is Third-Party Defendant North American Capacity Insurance
Company's ("North American") "Motion to Compel Arbitration and Brief in Support" (ECF No.
22) ("Motion"). For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part
North American's Motion.
On August 16, 2016, Plaintiff Sentry Select Insurance Company ("Sentry") filed a
declaratory judgment complaint before this Court against Defendants Christian Ulises Ruiz
("Ruiz"), Rudolph Chevrolet, LLC ("Rudolph Chevrolet"), Rudolph Automotive, LLC d/b/a
Rudolph Mazda ("Rudolph Mazda"), Marcelo Flores ("Flores"), and Lynn Crawford
("Crawford") (collectively, "Defendants"). See Pet. for Declaratory J., ECF No. 1. Therein,
Sentry claims, and seeks declarations, that under a garage policy (hereinafter, the "Sentry
Policy") it issued to Rudolph Chevrolet, LLC, it has no duty to defend or indemnify Defendants
in connection with a lawsuit entitled Andrea Juarez, individually and as Permanent Guardian of
Irma Vanessa Villegas, an incapacitated person v. Christian Ulises Ruiz, et. a/., Cause No.
2015-DCV-0473, which is pending in the 384th Judicial District Court, El Paso, County, Texas
(hereinafter, the "Underlying Lawsuit"). ld
7, 33(B). The Underlying Lawsuit involves a
2013 auto accident that occurred on Rudolph Mazda's parking lot: a car driven by Ruiz struck
Irma Vanessa Villegas (the plaintiff in the Underlying Lawsuit), causing her injuries. ld
the time of the accident, Ruiz and Villegas were employees of Rudolph Chevrolet or Rudolph
Mazda, and had consumed alcohol; Rudolph Chevrolet's managers, Flores and Crawford,
allegedly provided the alcohol. See id.
On November 14,2016, Defendants filed their "Original Answer and Christian Ulises
Ruiz, Rudolph Chevrolet, LLC, and Rudolph Automotive, LLC d/b/a Rudolph Mazda's CounterClaim and Third-Party Petition for Declaratory Judgment" (ECF No. 12) ("Rudolph's Answer").
Therein, Ruiz, Rudolph Chevrolet, and Rudolph Mazda (collectively "Rudolph") assert a
counterclaim for declaratory judgment against Sentry and a claim for declaratory judgement
against North American, which issued an indemnity policy (hereinafter "Nation American
Policy") to Rudolph Chevrolet and includes coverage for Rudolph Mazda. Rudolph's Answer tjf
8. ECF No. 12. Rudolph alleges that either or both the Sentry Policy and the North American
Policy covers the claims made in the Underlying Lawsuit and therefore, both Sentry and North
American have a duty to defend and/or indemnity Rudolph. Id tjf 17. North American filed its
"Original Answer of North American Capacity Insurance Company" (ECF No. 20), denying any
such duty. On April6, 2017, North American filed the instant Motion.
By its Motion, North American asks the Court to compel arbitration of(l) Rudolph's
claims against North American (hereinafter the "Rudolph-North American Claims") and (2)
Sentry's claims against Defendants and Rudolph's counterclaims against Sentry (hereinafter the
"Sentry-Defendants Claims"). Mot. at 13. In the "Certificate of Conference" section of the
Motion, North American states that Sentry is opposed to arbitration and that Rudolph is not
opposed to arbitration so long as "all of the claims in this action" are compelled to arbitration.
Mot. at 14. Neither Sentry, nor Rudolph, filed a response to North American's Motion.
A. Request to Compel Arbitration of the Rudolph-North American Claims
Pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq. (the "FAA"), North
American seeks to compel arbitration of Rudolph's claims against North American, i.e., the
Rudolph-North American Claims, as provided under an arbitration clause in the North American
Policy. The FAA requires the Court to enforce an arbitration agreement in the same manner that
it would enforce any other contract. See 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16; Specialty Healthcare Mgmt., Inc. v.
St. Mary Par. Hosp., 220 F.3d 650, 654 (5th Cir. 2000). Specifically, the FAA provides that:
A party aggrieved by the alleged failure ... of another to arbitrate under a written
agreement for arbitration may petition any United States district court which, save
for such agreement, would have jurisdiction . . . for an order directing that such
arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in such agreement.
9 u.s.c. § 4.
In ruling on a motion to compel arbitration, a district court conducts a two-step analysis.
Washington Mut. Fin. Grp., LLC v. Bailey, 364 F.3d 260, 263 (5th Cir. 2004). First, the court
must "determine whether parties agreed to arbitrate the dispute." Klein v. Nabors Drilling USA
L.P., 710 F.3d 234, 236 (5th Cir. 2013). That determination is guided by two questions '"(1) is
there a valid agreement to arbitrate the claims and (2) does the dispute in question fall within the
scope of that arbitration agreement?"' Klein, 710 F.3d at 236 (quoting Sherer v. Green Tree
Servicing LLC, 548 F.3d 378, 381 (5th Cir. 2008)). Federal courts apply state law contract
principles when determining the validity of an agreement to arbitrate. Webb v. Investacorp, Inc.,
89 F.3d 252,258 (5th Cir. 1996) (per curiam). Second, once the court finds that the parties did
agree to arbitrate, it must then "consider whether any federal statute or policy renders the claims
nonarbitrable." Washington Mut. Fin. Grp., LLC, 364 F.3d at 263.
Here, Rudolph Chevrolet and Rudolph Mazda, as insureds, are a party to the North
American Policy, see App. in Supp. of Mot. at 6, 32, ECF No. 22-1, and so is North American,
id. at 25. The policy provides, in relevant part:
In the event of any dispute, controversy or claim between you and us ... related
to or arising out of matters covered by this policy . . . will be finally settled by
binding arbitration pursuant to the procedures set forth in this arbitration
The scope of this arbitration provision includes, but is not limited to, the
performance of the respective obligations of you and us under this policy, any
questions of interpretation of any article, clause, or other provision of this policy,
... or any claim for violation of any state, federal, or governmental law, statute,
regulation or ordinance ....
ld. at 22 (§ IX.F ("Binding Arbitration")) (emphasis added). Further, the policy provides, "[w]e
have no duty or obligation to defend you under this policy. Provided you comply with the
provisions of paragraph II.F. below, we shall indemnify you ... for all reasonable and necessary
defense costs." App. in Supp. of Mot. at 11 (§ II. E). Rudolph claims that North American has a
duty to defend and/or indemnify Rudolph. Rudolph's Answer at 6.
North American contends that the scope of the arbitration provision is very broad, and
that the Rudolph-North American Claims fall within that scope. See Mot.,, 13, 14. It therefore
argues that the Rudolph and North American agreed to arbitrate their disputes at issue in this
case. See id
15. Rudolph has not filed a brief in response to the instant Motion. See Local
Rule CV-7(e) ("If there is no response filed within the time period prescribed by this rule, the
court may grant the motion as unopposed."). Accordingly, and upon review of Rudolph's
Answer and the relevant provisions in the North American Policy, the Court finds that Rudolph
and North American agreed to arbitrate. Moreover, there is no evidence of any federal statute or
policy that would prevent these claims from being arbitrable. Therefore, the Rudolph-North
American Claims should be subjected to arbitration.
B. Request to Compel Arbitration of the Sentry-Defendants Claims
North American also asks the Court to compel arbitration of Sentry's claims against
Defendants and Rudolph's counterclaim against Sentry, i.e., the Sentry-Defendants Claims. As a
ground for the request, North American relies on the "intertwined claims" theory of equitable
estoppel adopted in Grigson v. Creative Artists Agency, L.L.C., 210 F.3d 524 (5th Cir.2000).
Mot. ~ 9. 1 Under Grigson, equitable estoppel "can be applied to require a signatory to arbitrate a
North American says that based on the express language of the North American Policy, the
FAA, not state arbitration law, applies here. Mot.~ 9; see also id, Ex. A,§ IX.F ("You and we agree that
the Federal Arbitration Act and related federal judicial procedure will govern arbitration as set forth in
this provision to the fullest extent possible, and state arbitration law will not apply." (emphasis added)).
Cf Pershing, LLC v. Bevis, 606 F. App'x 754, 756 & n.S (5th Cir. 20 I 5) ("The Supreme Court made
clear in Arthur Andersen LLP v. Carlisle[,556 U.S. 624 (2009),] that equitable-estoppel claims are matters
of state contract law." (citing Crawford Prof/ Drugs, Inc. v. CVS Caremark Corp., 748 F.3d 249,26162 (5th Cir. 2014) ("Arthur Andersen instructs that a non-signatory to an arbitration agreement may
claim against a nonsignatory if the signatory's claims against a nonsignatory rely on the
existence and terms of a written agreement which contains an arbitration provision." Vinewood
Capital, LLC. v. Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Tr., 295 F. App'x 726, 730-31 (5th Cir. 2008) (per
curiam) (citing Grigson, 210 F.3d at 527). "Equitable estoppel also applies when a signatory to
a contract containing an arbitration clause claims substantially interdependent and concerted
misconduct by a nonsignatory and a signatory to the contract." Id (same). In Grigson,
"[p]rinciples of estoppel we~e applied against signatories to the arbitration agreement to prevent
unfair gamesmanship." USHealth Grp., Inc. v. South, 636 F. App'x 194, 199 (5th Cir. 2015)
(per curiam) (emphasis in original); see also Grigson, 210 F.3d at 528 ("[A] signatory to that
agreement ... cannot, on the one hand, seek to hold the non-signatory liable pursuant to duties
imposed by the agreement, which contains an arbitration provision, but, on the other hand, deny
arbitration's applicability because the defendant is a non-signatory.").
Since Grigson was decided, the Fifth Circuit has made clear that "this version of estoppel
only applies to keep a signatory from avoiding its arbitration agreement." USHealth Grp., Inc.,
636 F. App'x at 199 (emphasis in original) (citing Bridas S.A.P.LC. v. Gov't ofTurkmenistan,
345 F.3d 347, 361 (5th Cir. 2003)); see also Janvey v. Alguire, 841 F.3d 231, 242 (5th Cir. 2017)
(per curiam) ("The 'intertwined claims' theory governs motions to compel arbitration when a
signatory-plaintiff brings an action against a nonsignatory-defendant asserting claims dependent
on a contract that includes an arbitration agreement that the defendant did not sign."). More, the
Fifth Circuit clarified that "the reverse does not hold true: a signatory may not use the same logic
compel a signatory to that agreement to arbitrate based on, inter alia, equitable estoppel if the relevant
state contract law so permits. Consequently, prior decisions allowing non-signatories to compel
arbitration based on federal common law, rather than state contract law ... have been modified to
conform with Arthur Andersen."))).
to estop a non-signatory from avoiding arbitration." USHealth Grp., Inc., 636 F. App'x at 199
(emphasis added) (citing Bridas S.A.P.LC., 345 F.3d at 361)).
Grigson's equitable estoppel theory does not apply here. North American and Rudolph
(more specifically, Rudolph Chevrolet and Rudolph Mazda) are signatories to the agreement
containing the arbitration clause, i.e., the North American Policy, on which North American
attempts to rely. App. in Supp. of Mot. at 6, 25, 32. However, Sentry is a non-signatory to that
agreement. Further, Sentry opposes arbitration. Mot. at 14. Consequently, the Court denies
North American's request to compel the Sentry-Defendants Claims to arbitration. See Janvey,
847 F.3d at 242 ("The 'intertwined claims' theory ... does not govern the present case, where a
signatory-defendant seeks to compel arbitration with a nonsignatory-plaintiff. ").
As an additional or alternative ground for arbitration, North American appeals to this
Court's "inherent discretion." Mot.~, 22-23. Assuming without deciding that the Court has
such discretion to compel Sentry to arbitration, it declines to exercise it here. See AI Rushaid v.
Nat'/ Oilwell Varco, Inc., 151 F.3d 416,424 (5th Cir. 2014) (hereinafter AI Rushaid I) ("'In
order to be subject to arbitral jurisdiction, a party must generally be a signatory to a contract
containing an arbitration clause.'" (quoting Bridas S.A.P.LC., 345 F.3d at 353)); Vinewood
Capital, LLC., 295 F. App'x at 730 ("Although there is a strong and liberal policy favoring
arbitration and the enforcement of arbitration agreements, 'courts may require a party to submit a
dispute to arbitration only if the party has expressly agreed to do so."' (quoting Pers. Sec. &
Safoty Sys., Inc. v. Motorola Inc., 291 F.3d 388, 392 (5th Cir. 2002))).
Finally, North American requests that the Court stay "the claims in this case," that is, the
claims asserted by all parties. See Mot., 24. It argues that disposition of the Sentry-Defendants
Claims and that of the Rudolph-North American Claims depend on the resolution of the same
factual issue pending in the Underlying Lawsuit: i.e., whether the incident and injuries occurred
in the scope of the employment of Ruiz and Villegas. See id ~~ 18, 24. Although each set of
claims may depend on the resolution of that factual issue, there is nothing, and North American
has not pointed to anything, to suggest that the disposition of the Sentry-Defendants Claims is
contingent upon the disposition of the Rudolph-North American Claims.
Consequently, the Court denies North American's request to stay the Sentry-Defendants
Claims. See AI Rushaid I, 757 F.3d at 424 ("Our conclusion [that the claims between two
signatories should be subjected to arbitration] does not, however, necessarily require the district
court to compel any of the other parties to arbitrate their dispute or to stay proceedings."
(emphasis added)); see also AI Rushaidv. Nat'/ Oilwell Varco, Inc., 814 F.3d 300,306 (5th Cir.
20 16) (hereinafter AI Rushaid II) (That the claims would be split among multiple arbitrations and
court proceeding "is an inevitable and permissible consequence where one of multiple
defendants asserts a right to arbitrate." (citing Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v. Byrd, 410 U.S. 213,
220-21 (1985) (noting that private arbitration agreements must be enforced even if the result is
piecemeal or bifurcated litigation))). If North American "had truly prioritized [its] desire to try
the case efficiently, [it] could have foregone arbitration." Cf. AI Rushaid II, 814 F.3d at 306.
However, because the Court grants North American's request to compel arbitration of the
Rudolph-North American Claims, it will stay all proceedings as to these claims, pending the
outcome of arbitration.
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Third-Party Defendant
North American Capacity Insurance Company's "Motion to Compel Arbitration and Brief in
Support" (ECF No. 22) is GRATNED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion is
GRANTED as to North American's request to compel arbitration of Christian Ulises Ruiz,
Rudolph Chevrolet, LLC, and Rudolph Automotive, LLC's claims against North American and
DENIED as to North American's all other requests.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Christian Ulises Ruiz, Rudolph Chevrolet, LLC,
and Rudolph Automotive, LLC MUST SUBMIT to arbitration their claims against North
American in accordance with the applicable provisions of the North American Policy. All
proceedings in this case regarding these claims are hereby STAYED, pending the outcome of
arbitration. Christian Ulises Ruiz, Rudolph Chevrolet, LLC, and Rudolph Automotive, LLC, and
North American (collectively, the arbitration parties) SHALL MOVE to lift the stay within 30
days after the conclusion of arbitration. In the event that arbitration is not concluded within one
year from the date of entry of this Opinion and Order, the arbitration parties SHALL FILE a
status report with the Court every sixty (60) days until arbitration is concluded.
So ORDERED and SIGNED this
day of June 2017.
DAVI C. GU DERRAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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