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Stover v. Valley Rubber, LLC

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

September 19, 2019




         The plaintiff, Kelvin R. Stover, filed a complaint on October 29, 2018, against his former employer, defendant Valley Rubber, LLC (“Valley”), alleging various civil rights violations during his employment with the company. (Doc. 1). On January 9, 2019, the defendant filed a motion to compel arbitration and to stay the current proceedings pending arbitration. (Doc. 6). The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for review. For the reasons below, the Court finds that Valley’s Motion to Compel Arbitration and Stay the Proceedings Pending Arbitration (Doc. 6) is due to be denied.

         I. Background

         At issue in the present motion is the validity of an arbitration agreement that Stover signed on July 20, 2017, before beginning his employment with Valley. See (Docs. 7-1 and 7-2). Thus, a detailed recitation of the allegations in Stover’s complaint is not necessary for purposes of this memorandum opinion. It will suffice to note that, according to his complaint, Stover began his employment with Valley in July of 2017. Stover alleged that he was subjected to a racially-hostile work environment; that he was discriminated against based on his race; and that he was harassed and retaliated against after he filed a complaint with the EEOC. Stover resigned in February of 2018, but claimed that his resignation was actually a constructive discharge. Valley is seeking to enforce the purported agreement to arbitrate these claims.

         II. The Purported Arbitration Agreement

         In its motion to compel arbitration, Valley attached two documents that were signed by Stover on July 20, 2017. The first document, entitled “Binding Arbitration Agreement, ” provides, in pertinent part, that Stover agreed to “resolve any and all disputes related in any manner whatsoever to his/her employment at Valley Rubber, LLC by binding arbitration pursuant to the applicable rules of the American Arbitration Association.” (Doc. 7-1, at 1). That document also provided that

[d]isputes related to employment include, but are not limited to, claims or charges based upon federal or state statutes, including, but not limited to, Age Discrimination in Employment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and any other civil rights statute, The Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Labor Standards Act or other wage statues, the WARN Act, claims based upon tort or contract laws or any other federal or state law affecting employment in any manner whatsoever.

Id. Stover also signed a document contained in Valley’s employee handbook entitled “Arbitration Agreement (For New Employee).” (Doc. 19-2). That document contained similar language regarding the arbitration of employment disputes.

         Neither party has argued that Stover’s claims fall outside the scope of the purported arbitration agreement. Rather, the argument stems from the fact that neither of the above-mentioned documents bears the signature of an authorized representative from Valley. The “Binding Arbitration Agreement” contains three lines for people to place their signatures. Stover signed his name above the line indicating “Employee’s Signature.” (Doc. 7-1, at 2). Lauren Davis, Valley’s Human Resources Manager, signed her name above the line indicating “Witness.” Id. However, there is no signature above the line for “Company Representative.” Id. Similarly, Stover and Davis placed their respective signatures above the lines for “Employee’s Signature” and “Witness” on the “Arbitration Agreement (For New Employee).” (Doc. 7-2, at 3). However, there is no signature above the line for “Employer Authorized Agent’s Signature.” Id. The question this Court must answer is whether the absence of a signature from an authorized representative of Valley renders the agreement invalid.

         III. Standard of Review

         When presented with a motion to compel arbitration, “a district court, rather than a panel of arbitrators, must decide whether a challenged agreement to arbitrate is enforceable against the parties in question.” Magnolia Capital Advisors, Inc. v. Bear Stearns & Co., 272 F.App’x 782, 785 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Chastain v. Robinson-Humphrey Co., 957 F.2d 851, 854 (11th Cir. 1992)). The party opposing a motion to compel arbitration must “‘substantiate the denial of the contract with enough evidence to make the denial colorable.’” Magnolia Capital Advisors, Inc., 272 Fed.App’x at 785 (quoting Wheat, First Secs., Inc. v. Green, 993 F.2d 814, 819 (11th Cir. 1993)) (alteration in original omitted). In other words, the opposing party must “present evidence that the arbitration agreement is not valid or that it does not apply to the dispute in question, ” to create an issue regarding the enforceability of the purported arbitration agreement. See Campbell v. CitiFinancial Mortgage Co., Inc., No. CV-06-BE-0302-E, 2006 WL 8436895, at *1 (N.D. Ala. June 2, 2006) (citing Kenworth of Birmingham, Inc. v. Langley, 828 So.2d 288, 290 (Ala. 2002)). As with the inferences in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the district court should draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant. See Magnolia Cap. Advisors, Inc., 272 F.App’x at 786.

         The Eleventh Circuit applies a summary judgment standard when considering a motion to compel arbitration. The Court will decide, as a matter of law, whether the parties entered into an arbitration agreement only if “‘there is no genuine dispute as to any material’ fact concerning the formation of such an agreement.” Bazemore v. Jefferson Capital Sys., LLC, 827 F.3d 1325, 1333 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). A dispute is considered genuine if it is supported by the evidence presented or is created by evidence that is significantly probative. See Id . at 1333(citing Baloco v. Drummond Co., 767 F.3d 1229, 1246 (11th Cir. 2014)).

         The relevant facts surrounding this issue are not in dispute. Stover does not dispute that he signed the documents in question before he began his employment with Valley, and Valley does not dispute that it failed to have an authorized representative sign those documents. Additionally, the language in the relevant documents speaks for itself. Although there is a factual dispute about whether Davis, Valley’s Human Resources Manager, made certain statements to Stover about the effect of a company representative’s signature on an arbitration agreement, the Court does not need to consider those alleged statements in reaching its decision.[1]

         IV. ...

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