Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC, d/b/a GCR Tires & Service
from Tuscaloosa Circuit Court (CV-16-901086)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
"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 ...