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CFL Pizza LLC v. Hammack

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

February 1, 2017

CFL PIZZA LLC, Plaintiff,



         This case is before the Court on: the Petition to Compel Arbitration in Accordance With Agreement (Doc. 1) filed by CFL Pizza LLC; the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 6) filed by Walter Hammack; and the Motion to Compel Single Claimant Arbitration (Doc. 31) filed by CFL Pizza.[1] As explained below, the petition and both motions are denied.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Hammack formerly worked for CFL Pizza as a delivery driver in Volusia County, Florida. In connection with that employment, Hammack signed an Agreement to Arbitrate providing that "CFL Pizza and I agree to use confidential binding arbitration[] instead of going to court for any claims that arise between me and CFL Pizza, " including, without limitation, any claims "concerning compensation, employment, ... or termination of employment." (Doc. 1-1 at 1). The Agreement to Arbitrate further provides that "[i]n any arbitration, the then prevailing employment dispute resolution rules of the American Arbitration Association will apply"; that "any and all claims subject to arbitration shall be instituted only in an individual capacity, and not as a representative plaintiff on behalf of any purported class, collective or consolidated action"; and that "[i]t is the parties' intent to the fullest extent permitted by law to waive any and all rights to the application of class or collective action procedures or remedies to arbitration proceedings conducted under this Agreement." (Id.).

         On April 6, 2016, Hammack filed a Statement of Claim with the American Arbitration Association "individually and on behalf of all other similarly situated persons, " seeking unpaid minimum wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act. (Doc. 1 ¶ 12). Two months later, CFL Pizza filed in this Court its Petition to Compel Arbitration in Accordance With Agreement (Doc. 1), arguing that Hammack "intends to pursue a collective action with the arbitrator" and that "Hammack's efforts to pursue arbitration on a collective basis amount[] to an effort to deprive CFL Pizza of its contractual rights under the Agreement to Arbitrate." (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 16 & 19). CFL Pizza seeks "an order compelling Hammack to submit his . . . claims to single-claimant arbitration in accordance with the terms provided for in the Agreement to Arbitrate." (Id. ¶ 21).

         Hammack then moved to dismiss CFL Pizza's petition for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted, and after CFL Pizza responded and Hammack replied, CFL Pizza filed a Motion to Compel Single Claimant Arbitration (Doc. 31). In that motion, CFL Pizza asserts that Hammack intends "to seek a ruling from the arbitrator permitting [him] to pursue a class or collective action" and argues that "the court, not the arbitrator, should decide whether an express class/collective action waiver in an arbitration agreement is enforceable and whether a claimant must proceed with single-claimant arbitration." (Doc. 31 at 3). Hammack has responded to that motion, (Doc. 32), and ail of these filings are now before the Court, [2]

         II. Discussion

         A. Hammack's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 6)

         In its Petition (Doc. 1), CFL Pizza cites section 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act, which provides that "[a] party aggrieved by the alleged failure, neglect, or refusal of another to arbitrate under a written agreement for arbitration may petition any United States district court... for an order directing that such arbitration proceed in the manner provided for in such agreement." 9 U.S.C. § 4.[3] Hammack asserts in his motion to dismiss that CFL Pizza's claim to enforce arbitration "is not cognizable" for various reasons, citing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and standards governing Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. This motion must be denied.

         The Federal Arbitration Act provides that "[a]ny application to the court hereunder shall be made and heard in the manner provided by law for the making and hearing of motions, except as otherwise herein expressly provided." 9 U.S.C. § 6. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply to proceedings under the Federal Arbitration Act "except as [the Federal Arbitration Act] provide[s] for other procedures." Fed.R.Civ.P. 81(a)(6)(B). Because CFL Pizza's petition is to be heard as a motion, Hammack's 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is not the appropriate vehicle for attacking it. Cf. O.R. Sec, Inc. v. Profl Planning Assocs., Inc., 857 F.2d 742, 745 (11th Cir. 1988) (noting that the plaintiff "misconstrue[d] the procedures which the district courts must follow when considering a request to vacate an arbitration award" and explaining that "[t]he manner in which an action to vacate an arbitration award is made is obviously important, for the nature of the proceeding affects the burdens of the various parties as well as the rule of decision to be applied"). CFL's petition, along with its Motion to Compel Single Claimant Arbitration (Doc. 31), will be resolved on the merits, with all of the parties' filings construed as briefing on the issues . raised. See Id. at 746 ("The fact that this motion [to vacate arbitration award] came before the district court on [a motion to dismiss a complaint] does not affect our disposition of the case.... The memoranda of both parties submitted to the district court adequately briefed the issue of whether the arbitration award in question should have been vacated."), [4]

         B. CFL Pizza's Petition (Doc. 1) and Motion (Doc. 31)

         CFL Pizza seeks two rulings in its filings: first, that the court, not the arbitrator, should decide whether the class/collective action waiver in the Agreement to Arbitrate is enforceable, and second, that the waiver is indeed enforceable. Because, under the circumstances of this case, the Court disagrees with CFL Pizza's position on the first issue, the Court does not reach the second question. Here, the parties' agreement, by its own terms, forecloses the relief sought by CFL Pizza.

         "The [Federal Arbitration Act] reflects the fundamental principle that arbitration is a matter of contract." Rent-A-Center. W.. inc. v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63, 67 (2010). Consistent with the Act, "courts must 'rigorously enforce' arbitration agreements according to their terms, including terms that 'specify with whom [the parties] choose to arbitrate their disputes' and 'the rules under which that arbitration will be conducted.'" Am. Express Co. v. Italian Colors Rest.. 133 S.Ct. 2304, 2309 (2013) (alteration in original) (citations and emphasis omitted).

         "'[Procedural questions which grow out of the dispute and bear on its final disposition' are presumptively not for the judge, but for an arbitrator, to decide." Howsam v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc.. 537 U.S. 79, 84 (2002) (quoting John Wiley & Sons. Inc. v. Livingston. 376 U.S. 543, 557 (1964)). On the other hand, questions of "arbitrability"- "which 'include certain gateway matters, such as whether parties have a valid arbitration agreement at all or whether a concededly binding arbitration clause applies to a certain type of controversy-are presumptively for courts, " rather than arbitrators, to decide. Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter. 133 S.Ct. 2064, 2068 n.2 (2013) (quoting Green Tree Fin. Corp. v. Bazzle. 539 U.S. 444, 452 (2003)). But, even gateway questions of arbitrability are for the arbitrator and not the court where the parties "clearly and unmistakably [so] provide" in their agreement. AT & T Techs., Inc. v. Commc'ns Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 649 (1986). This is so, again, because arbitration is a matter of contract; [j]ust as the arbitrability of the merits of a dispute depends upon whether the parties ...

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