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Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC v. Adams

Supreme Court of Alabama

March 16, 2018

Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC, d/b/a GCR Tires & Service
v.
Ottis Adams

         Appeal from Tuscaloosa Circuit Court (CV-16-901086)

          SELLERS, Justice.

         Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC, d/b/a GCR Tires & Service ("Bridgestone"), appeals from a judgment of the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court denying Bridgestone's motion to compel arbitration of an employment-related dispute. We reverse the trial court's judgment.

         I.

         The record indicates that Ottis Adams began working as a sales representative for Bridgestone or a related entity in May 2006 and that he resigned or his employment was terminated in August 2016. It is not entirely clear what entity actually hired Adams in 2006. One affidavit Bridgestone submitted to the trial court implies that Bridgestone hired Adams. Another affidavit and other materials, however, suggest that Adams was hired by an entity called BFS Retail and Commercial Operations, LLC ("BFS"). For his part, Adams asserts that he was hired by BFS in 2006 but that he was an employee of Bridgestone when his employment ended in 2016.

         Bridgestone submitted materials to the trial court indicating that, when Adams was hired in 2006, BFS was conducting business under the name GCR Tires & Service. Those materials also indicate that, in 2008, Bridgestone began using the GCR Tires & Service name and that, at that time, Bridgestone and BFS were owned by the same corporate parent. BFS changed its name in 2009, but the newly named entity and Bridgestone remained owned by the same corporate parent. Thus, it appears that, although Adams may have changed employers, his new employer was an affiliate, a related company, or a sister company of BFS.

         At some point at or around the time he was hired, Adams signed a document entitled "New Employee Agreement and Acknowledgment of the Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc. Employee Dispute Resolution Plan" ("the agreement"), which states that Adams agreed to the terms of the employee-dispute-resolution-plan, which is fully titled "BFS Retail & Commercial Operations, LLC, Employee Dispute Resolution Plan" ("the EDR Plan"). The agreement states further that Adams waives his right to resolve disputes covered by the EDR Plan through means other than those set forth in the EDR Plan.

         The EDR Plan contains an arbitration provision. Although Adams argues that another provision in the EDR Plan excludes the claims he now asserts from arbitration, he concedes that parties who are bound by the plan "agreed to submit most employment disputes to arbitration."[1]

         After leaving Bridgestone in 2016, Adams became employed by McGriff Tire Company, Inc. ("McGriff"). At some point thereafter, McGriff's principal, Barry McGriff, received a letter written on the letterhead of Bridgestone's corporate parent. The letter asserted that Adams had signed a noncompetition and nonsolicitation agreement with his previous employer, that his employment with McGriff violated that agreement, and that Adams allegedly had violated a duty of loyalty by selling tires for McGriff while still employed by Bridgestone. The letter also suggested that Adams may have disclosed, or might disclose, "confidential information and trade secrets." The letter stated that Bridgestone was planning to commence legal action against Adams and concluded with a suggestion that McGriff might be named as a defendant in that action if the matter was not resolved. Adams asserts that, because of the accusations in the letter, McGriff terminated his employment.

         Adams sued Bridgestone and related entities. In his complaint, he alleged that Bridgestone or a related entity had interfered with his business relationship with McGriff and had defamed him via the letter to Barry McGriff. Adams subsequently voluntarily dismissed all defendants except Bridgestone.

         Bridgestone filed an answer and a counterclaim. In its counterclaim, Bridgestone averred that Adams, while still employed by Bridgestone, had taken actions for McGriff's benefit and had "feigned acceptance" of an employment agreement he never actually signed that included a noncompetition provision.[2] Although Bridgestone did not mention arbitration or the EDR Plan in its answer or counterclaim, approximately three months after filing those pleadings, it amended its answer to assert arbitration as a defense, and it filed a motion to compel arbitration of all claims pursuant to the terms of the EDR Plan. The trial court denied Bridgestone's motion to compel, and Bridgestone appealed.

         It appears that, after Bridgestone appealed, Adams attempted to proceed with further discovery. Bridgestone filed a motion requesting the trial court to enter an order staying further discovery pending appeal, which Adams opposed. The trial court denied Bridgestone's motion to stay.

         II.

"This Court reviews de novo the denial of a motion to compel arbitration. Parkway Dodge, Inc. v. Yarbrough, 779 So.2d 1205 (Ala. 2000). A motion to compel arbitration is analogous to a motion for a 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. '[A]fter 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.' Jim Burke Automotive, Inc. v. Beavers, 674 So.2d 1260, 1265 n.1 (Ala. 1995) (opinion on application for rehearing)."

Fleetwood Enters., Inc. v. Bruno, 784 So.2d 277, 280 (Ala. 2000) (emphasis omitted). It is undisputed that the EDR Plan contains an arbitration provision and that the plan evidences a transaction affecting interstate commerce. The dispute is whether the arbitration ...


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