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Young v. Turner Specialty Services LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

July 3, 2019

KENNETH YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
TURNER SPECIALTY SERVICES, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. SCOTT COOGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before this Court is Defendant, Turner Specialty Services, LLC (“Turner's”), Motion to Dismiss and to Compel Arbitration. (Doc. 7.) The motion (doc. 7) has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. For the reasons explained more fully herein, the motion (doc. 7) is due to be granted.

         I. Background

         Defendant Turner Specialty Services, LLC (“Turner”) hired Plaintiff Kenneth Young (“Young”) in July 2012 to work at the Hunt Refining Company Site in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. After Young was hired, Turner adopted a mandatory arbitration program. In early 2013, Turner promulgated a Dispute Resolution Agreement (“DRA”) containing the terms of its arbitration program. The DRA was distributed to Turner's employees by mailing copies to the employee's home address and posting the DRA at work sites and on the company website. Pursuant to the DRA, Turner and its employees mutually “agree[d] to resolve any and all claims, disputes or controversies arising out of or related to [the employee's] employment . . . exclusively by binding arbitration. . . .” (Doc. 7-1 at Ex. 2.) Examples of claims covered by the DRA include:

claims arising under any statutes or regulations applicable to employees or applicable to the employment relationship, such as . . . the Americans with Disabilities Act (as amended), the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

(Id.)

         On August 21, 2013, Young returned his signed “Employee Handbook Receipt and Acknowledgement of Mandatory Arbitration for all Employment Disputes” (hereinafter the “Acknowledgement”). Young signed the Acknowledgment, but did not place his initials by several provisions in the Acknowledgment including the specific provision that asked him to acknowledge, agree to, and comply with the DRA. (Doc. 7-1 at Ex. 1.) However, the paragraph above the employee's signature line on the Acknowledgement states that “by my initials and signature, I accept all Company policies, rules, procedures, and regulations as a condition of employment.” (Id.) Young's employment remained at-will. (Id.)

         In January 2017, Turner revised the DRA and mailed copies of the revised DRA to all its employees. The initial paragraph of the 2017 DRA titled “Notice to New Employees/Re-Hires” states:

[a]ny individual ("Employee") who wishes to be employed by . . . Turner Specialty Services, L.L.C., . . . must read and sign the following Dispute Resolution Agreement as part of their hiring package. If you desire, you may stop the hire-in process at this point and take the time to review the Dispute Resolution Agreement, which is found below. You must, however, sign the Dispute Resolution Agreement if you wish to continue the hire-in process and if you wish to be employed by the Company. All Company employees hired on or after January 1, 2017, are required to agree to the Dispute Resolution Agreement below. Even if you do not sign the Dispute Resolution Agreement, you will be bound to it in accordance with applicable state law.

(Doc. 7-1 at Ex. 2.) (emphasis in original). The 2017 DRA grants the arbitrator “exclusive authority to resolve any dispute relating to the interpretation, applicability, or enforceability, of this DRA, including, but not limited to, any claim that any part of this DRA is unenforceable, void, or voidable.” (Id.) Young did not sign the 2017 DRA, although a copy of it was mailed to him. After Young was mailed the 2017 DRA, he continued to work for Turner through December 2017. In December 2018, Young filed this action alleging that Turner violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Family Medical and Leave Act (“FMLA”). (Doc. 1.)

         II. Standard

         In ruling on a motion to compel arbitration, this Court applies a standard similar to review of a motion for summary judgment. See In re Checking Account Overdraft Litig., 754 F.3d 1290, 1294 (11th Cir. 2014) (describing an order compelling arbitration as “summary-judgment-like” because it is “in effect a summary disposition of the issue of whether or not there has been a meeting of the minds on the agreement to arbitrate”). A motion for summary judgment is due to be granted upon a showing that “no genuine dispute as to any material fact” remains to be decided in the action and “the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is material “if, under the applicable substantive law, it might affect the outcome of the case.” Hickson Corp. v. N. Crossarm Co., 357 F.3d 1256, 1259 (11th Cir. 2004). A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists where “the nonmoving party has produced evidence such that a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its favor.” Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., Inc., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).

         III. Discussion

         Young avers that Turner's motion to compel is due to be denied because there is no evidence that Young agreed to arbitration. “The threshold question of whether an arbitration agreement exists at all is ‘simply a matter of contract.'” Bazemore v. Jefferson Capital Sys., LLC, 827 F.3d 1325, 1329 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 943 (1995)). In the absence of “such an agreement, a court cannot compel the parties to settle their dispute in an arbitral forum.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The Eleventh Circuit has consistently maintained that “state law generally ...


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