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Bevel v. Marine Group, LLC

Supreme Court of Alabama

March 3, 2017

Timothy Bevel
v.
Marine Group, LLC, et al.

         Appeal from Marshall Circuit Court (CV-16-900022).

          BRYAN, Justice.

         Timothy Bevel appeals from an order granting a motion to compel arbitration. We reverse and remand.

         In March 2015, Bevel financed the purchase of a used Bennington brand boat and a Yamaha brand boat motor from Guntersville Boat Mart, Inc., and he rented a boat slip on Lake Guntersville to dock the boat. The sale and boat-slip rental are documented by a one-page bill of sale, which contains an arbitration provision. According to Bevel, the boat was seized several months after the transaction for allegedly defaulting on payments on the boat and boat-slip rental. Bevel disputes that he owed those payments.

         Bevel sued Guntersville Boat Mart and related entities Marine Group, LLC, d/b/a Boat Mart, and JD & L Enterprises, Inc. In his complaint, Bevel asserted several claims, including breach of contract. The defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration, citing the arbitration provision in the bill of sale. Bevel argued that his claims were not subject to the arbitration provision in the bill of sale because, he said, he had not actually agreed to that provision. Bevel noted that he had not initialed a box directly below the arbitration provision, although he had signed or initialed the document in other places. Following a hearing, the trial court granted the motion to compel arbitration. Bevel appealed to this Court under Rule 4(d), Ala. R. App. P., which authorizes an appeal from an order either granting or denying a motion to compel arbitration.

"'This Court's review of an order granting or denying a motion to compel arbitration is de novo. ...'
"United Wisconsin Life Ins. Co. v. Tankersley, 880 So.2d 385, 389 (Ala. 2003). Furthermore:
"'"A motion to compel arbitration is analogous to a motion for summary judgment. TranSouth Fin. Corp. v. Bell, 739 So.2d 1110, 1114 (Ala. 1999). The party seeking to compel arbitration has the burden of proving the existence of a contract calling for arbitration and proving that that contract evidences a transaction affecting interstate commerce. Id. 'After a motion to compel arbitration has been made and supported, the burden is on the non-movant to present evidence that the supposed arbitration agreement is not valid or does not apply to the dispute in question.'"
"'Fleetwood Enters., Inc. v. Bruno, 784 So.2d 277, 280 (Ala. 2000) (quoting Jim Burke Auto., Inc. v. Beavers, 674 So.2d 1260, 1265 n. 1 (Ala. 1995) (emphasis omitted)).'
"Vann v. First Cmty. Credit Corp., 834 So.2d 751, 753 (Ala. 2002)."

Cartwright v. Maitland, 30 So.3d 405, 408-09 (Ala. 2009).

         Bevel argues that the trial court erred in granting the motion to compel arbitration because, he says, he did not agree to the arbitration provision in the bill of sale. Thus, he argues, the arbitration provision never became part of the contract between the parties. Bevel's argument focuses on what he did and did not initial or sign on the one-page bill of sale.

         Bevel signed or initialed the bill of sale in two places -- he initialed a box indicating that the boat was being sold "as is, " and he signed on a line at the bottom of the document regarding his receipt of the boat and the acknowledgment of the boat's condition. He did not, however, initial the box under the arbitration provision, and he did not initial the box under the trade-in section (the sale did not involve a trade-in). The arbitration provision is on the bottom half of the bill of sale. Directly below the arbitration provision, on the left side of the document, is an indented box for the purchaser's initials. Bevel, however, did not initial that box. Also below the arbitration provision, on the right side of the document but slightly lower than the left-side box, is an indented box for the purchaser's initials labeled "BOAT SOLD AS IS"; Bevel did initial that box. Directly below the two boxes is the following text concerning Bevel's receipt of the boat and the boat's condition:

"I have received all of the above listed in good condition and accept final delivery.
"The purchaser herein acknowledges that this vehicle may have had mechanical and/or body repair. Said vehicle may have suffered damage during production, transit, while in the possession of a prior owner, or in the possession of the seller. The seller makes no representations as to ...

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