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SSC Selma Operating Co. LLC v. Fikes

Supreme Court of Alabama

May 19, 2017

SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC, d/b/a Warren Manor Health and Rehabilitation Center, and SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services, LLC
v.
Jackie Fikes

         Appeal from Dallas Circuit Court (CV-16-900053)

          BOLIN, Justice.

         SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC, doing business as Warren Manor Health and Rehabilitation Center, and SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services, LLC (hereinafter collectively referred to as "the companies"), appeal from an order of the Dallas Circuit Court denying their motion to compel arbitration of a retaliatory-discharge claim filed against them by Jackie Fikes. We reverse and remand.

         Facts

         On March 4, 2016, Fikes sued the companies, seeking to recover worker's compensation benefits pursuant to the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act, § 25-5-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the worker's compensation claim"), and alleging that the companies had discharged her from her employment in violation of Ala. Code 1975, § 25-5-11.1, solely because she had filed a claim for worker's compensation benefits ("the retaliatory-discharge claim"). Fikes specifically alleged that on February 19, 2013, she suffered a work-related injury when she attempted to lift a patient while working for the companies as a certified nurse assistant; that she underwent medical treatment for her work-related injury; and that she returned to work under light-duty restrictions until March 4, 2014, at which time, she says, the companies wrongfully terminated her employment. Fikes requested in the complaint that the worker's compensation claim and the retaliatory- discharge claim be severed in order for the retaliatory-discharge claim to be tried by a jury. It does not appear from the record that the trial court severed the claims.[1] The companies moved to compel arbitration of the retaliatory-discharge claim pursuant to their employment-dispute-resolution program (hereinafter "the EDR program") under which Fikes had agreed to be bound. Fikes responded, arguing that the retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered by the EDR program. On October 12, 2016, the trial court entered an order denying the companies' motion to compel arbitration; the companies appeal pursuant to Rule 4(d), Ala. R. App. P.

         Standard of Review

"This Court's standard of review on an appeal from a trial court's order granting or denying a motion to compel arbitration is well settled. Bowen v. Security Pest Control, Inc., 879 So.2d 1139, 1141 (Ala. 2003). A direct appeal is the proper procedure by which to seek review of such an order, Rule 4(d), Ala. R. App. P., and this Court will review de novo the trial court's grant or denial of a motion to compel arbitration. Bowen, 879 So.2d at 1141. The party seeking to compel arbitration has the initial burden of proving the existence of a contract calling for arbitration and proving that the contract evidences a transaction involving interstate commerce. Polaris Sales, Inc. v. Heritage Imports, Inc., 879 So.2d 1129, 1132 (Ala. 2003). The party seeking to compel arbitration must present some evidence tending to establish its claim. Wolff Motor Co. v. White, 869 So.2d 1129, 1131 (Ala. 2003). Once the moving party meets that initial burden, the party opposing arbitration has the burden of presenting evidence tending to show that the arbitration agreement is invalid or that it does not apply to the dispute in question. Bowen, 879 So.2d at 1141. See also Title Max of Birmingham, Inc. v. Edwards, 973 So.2d 1050, 1052-53 (Ala. 2007)."

Alabama Title Loans, Inc. v. White, 80 So.3d 887, 891-92 (Ala. 2011).

         Discussion

         At the outset, it is noted that neither the companies nor Fikes disputes that the EDR program governs the arbitration of employment disputes between the companies and its employees or that the transaction--Fikes's employment by a company operating in 19 states--involves interstate commerce. The only issue before this Court is whether Fikes met her burden of demonstrating that her retaliatory-discharge claim was not covered under the EDR program. The relevant portions of the document establishing the EDR program state:

"Your decision to accept employment or to continue employment with the [companies] constitutes your agreement to be bound by the EDR Program. Likewise, the [companies] agree[] to be bound by the EDR Program. This mutual agreement to arbitrate claims means that both you and the [companies] are bound to use the EDR Program as the only means of resolving employment related disputes and to forego [sic] any right either may have to a jury trial on issues covered by the EDR Program.
"....
"The EDR Program is the process for resolving most workplace disputes between you and the [companies], including but not limited to, disputes concerning legally protected rights such as freedom from ...

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