SCI Alabama Funeral Services, LLC, d/b/a Elmwood Cemetery and Mausoleum, et al.
from Jefferson Circuit Court (CV-16-903234)
Alabama Funeral Services, LLC, d/b/a Elmwood Cemetery and
Mausoleum ("SCI"); Service Corporation
International; SCI Funeral Services, LLC; Elmwood Cemetery
Co.; Phyllis Pesseackey; and Jonathan Wheatley (hereinafter
referred to collectively as "the defendants")
appeal from an order denying their motion to compel
arbitration. The circuit court denied the motion to compel
because it concluded that the relevant arbitration provision
is unconscionable and thus unenforceable. We conclude that
the arbitration provision is not unconscionable, and we
reverse and remand.
2004, Johnnie Hinton ("Johnnie") signed a contract
with SCI to purchase the interment rights to two burial
spaces in Elmwood Cemetery. The contract contains an
arbitration provision stating that "any claim" that
Johnnie "may have" against SCI must be resolved by
arbitration. The arbitration provision further provides that
"also applies to any claim or dispute between or among
the seller, you as the purchaser, any person who claims to be
a third party beneficiary of this agreement, any of the
seller's employees or agents, any of the seller's
parent, subsidiary, or affiliate corporations, and any of the
employees or agents of those parent, subsidiary or affiliate
August 2016, Johnnie's husband, Nathaniel Hinton, passed
away. Johnnie began to make arrangements to have Nathaniel
buried in one of the two burial spaces to which she had
acquired interment rights in 2004. SCI then informed Johnnie
that someone else had mistakenly been buried in
Nathaniel's space. According to Johnnie's complaint,
the space she acquired for Nathaniel is next to the space
where her father is buried. At Johnnie's request, SCI
disinterred the deceased who was buried in the space Johnnie
had acquired and buried him elsewhere so that Nathaniel could
be buried in the space; Nathaniel was subsequently buried
September 2016, Johnnie sued SCI and the other defendants,
alleging breach of contract and several other claims. Johnnie
alleged that the corporate defendants were either owners,
subsidiaries, or affiliates of each other and that the
noncorporate defendants were employees at Elmwood Cemetery.
defendants moved to compel arbitration, citing the
arbitration provision in the contract. Johnnie argued that
the arbitration provision is unenforceable because, she said,
the contract does not evidence a transaction affecting
interstate commerce and the arbitration provision is
unconscionable. The circuit court denied the motion to
compel, concluding that the arbitration provision is
unconscionable. The circuit court based its denial of the
motion to compel on the ground of unconscionability alone.
The defendants appealed to this Court under Rule 4(d), Ala.
R. App. P., which allows an appeal from an order 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)
"Vann v. First Cmty. Credit Corp., 834 So.2d
751, 753 (Ala. ...