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[W] Hialeah Automotive, LLC v. Basulto

October 15, 2008; withdrawn and opinion filed January 28, 2009

HIALEAH AUTOMOTIVE, LLC, D/B/A POTAMKIN DODGE, APPELLANT,
v.
ROBERTO BASULTO AND RAQUEL GONZALEZ, APPELLEES.



An Appeal from a non-final order from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Thomas S. Wilson, Jr., Judge. Lower Tribunal No. 05-5556.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cope, J.

Before GERSTEN, C.J., and COPE and SUAREZ, JJ.

This is an appeal of an order denying a motion to compel arbitration of claims brought against an automobile dealer. We affirm.

I.

In 2004, Roberto Basulto and Raquel Gonzalez, who are husband and wife ("the buyers"), purchased a new 2005 Dodge Caravan from Hialeah Automotive, LLC, which does business as Potamkin Dodge ("the dealer"). The buyers alleged that while at the dealership, the dealer had the buyers sign the contract in blank, with the representation that the agreed-upon numbers would be filled in. The buyers alleged that when the dealership completed the sales contract, it allowed them a lower trade-in allowance than the amount which had been agreed on. The dealer refused to correct the situation. After negotiations proved unsuccessful, the buyers returned the van to the dealership (having driven a total of seven miles) and demanded the return of their trade-in. The trade-in had been sold.

The buyers brought suit alleging fraud in the inducement and violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act ("FDUTPA"). See Ch. 501, pt. II, Fla. Stat. (2004). The buyers also sought rescission of the arbitration agreements they had signed, and rescission of the loan agreement.

The dealer moved to compel arbitration. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing at which the buyers and representatives of the dealer testified. The trial court ruled that (a) the arbitration agreements were unconscionable; (b) the agreements were written so as to defeat the remedial purpose of the FDUTPA; and (c) the request for public injunctive relief under the FDUTPA was not a remedy an arbitrator could enforce and oversee. The dealer has appealed.

II.

An arbitration agreement is, very simply, one in which the parties have agreed to submit their dispute to an arbitrator (or panel of arbitrators) instead of a judge. 1 Larry E. Edmonson, Domke on Commercial Arbitration, § 1:1, at 1-1, 1-2 (2007) (hereinafter Domke). It is the substitution of one decision-maker in place of another.

By agreeing to arbitrate, a party does not give up substantive rights afforded by statute or common law. The party only agrees to submit the dispute to "resolution in an arbitral, rather than a judicial forum." Mitsubishi Motors Corp. v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., 473 U.S. 614, 628 (1985) (statutory claim); 1 Domke, supra, § 23:10, at 23-23.

A.

We turn first to the parties' "Agreement to Arbitrate Disputes" (the "Agreement"). This one-page, stand-alone Agreement called for the arbitration of any dispute concerning the sale of the vehicle, regardless of the theory of liability asserted. It contained a Florida choice of law provision.*fn1

Where, as here, the parties execute an arbitration agreement in a transaction involving interstate commerce, the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., is implicated. See Volt Info. Scis., Inc. v. Bd of Trs., 489 U.S. 468, 474-79 (1989); see also Preston v. Ferrer, 128 S.Ct. 978 (2008); Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440 (2006); Powertel, Inc. v. Bexley, 743 So. 2d 570, 573 (Fla. 1st DCA 1999).

Parties are allowed to choose state law for "the rules under which . . . arbitration will be conducted." Volt, 489 U.S. at 479. By their Florida choice of law, the parties have specified the procedures of the Florida Arbitration Code as being applicable to this transaction. See Ch. 682, Fla. Stat. (2004). While this is permissible, the arbitration agreements in this case ...


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