SAWGRASS FORD, INC., a Florida for-profit corporation, Appellant,
BRYAN VARGAS, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Appellee.
final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
of a non-final order from the Circuit Court for the
Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, Broward County; William W.
Haury, Jr., Judge; L.T. Case No. CACE 14-004416 (13).
Geralyn M. Passaro and Angela M. Swenka of Litchfield Cavo
LLP, Fort Lauderdale, for appellant.
Martin Saenz and Ilona Demenina Anderson of Saenz &
Anderson, PLLC, Aventura, and David C. LaValle of Zipris
Lavalle, P.A., Miami, for appellee.
Ford, Inc. ("Sawgrass") appeals a non-final order
granting a motion to compel arbitration. The trial court
ordered arbitration to maintain procedural fairness to both
sides. Because the doctrine of equitable estoppel supports
the court's ruling, we affirm.
March 2014, Bryan Vargas filed a complaint against Sawgrass
and individual employee defendants seeking to litigate a
class action based upon violations of the Florida Minimum
Wage Act, section 448.110, Florida Statutes (2014), and
alleging an individual claim of retaliation.
December 2014, Vargas's counsel, on behalf of another
Sawgrass employee, filed a federal action against the same
defendants, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards
Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., arising from the same
wage payment practices. In that case, Sawgrass successfully
moved to compel arbitration. The parties agree the federal
suit is substantially similar to this state action and
involves essentially the same arbitration agreements signed
by Vargas and the putative class members.
December 2014, Vargas moved for class certification in this
state case. Later that month, Sawgrass filed a memorandum in
opposition but did not raise any issue regarding arbitration.
Sawgrass did not answer the complaint, but discovery and
other litigation, including motions to dismiss and motions
for summary judgment, continued for months. Shortly before
the December 2015 hearing on class certification, Sawgrass
alleged for the first time that the putative class members
should be compelled to arbitrate their wage claim. The court
denied the motion for class certification without prejudice
and allowed limited class discovery so that Vargas could
determine whether putative class members signed valid
confirming that all employees signed arbitration agreements,
Vargas moved to compel arbitration. The trial court initially
denied his motion. Vargas moved for clarification or
reconsideration. He argued in part that he could not have
sought arbitration of the class claim until he confirmed that
all employees were subject to arbitration. He also argued
that Sawgrass's delay in raising an arbitration defense
could bar claims of some putative class members because the
statute of limitations has run.
hearing on his motion for clarification or reconsideration,
Vargas asked the court to either certify the class and find
that Sawgrass waived its right to arbitrate, or let them all
go to arbitration. The court asked Sawgrass if it would
prefer to bring the class into the litigation or go to
arbitration. Sawgrass wanted to proceed with litigation only
as to Vargas and wanted to preserve its right to arbitrate
with the putative class. Sawgrass claimed it would have been
estopped from seeking arbitration as to Vargas because it did
not seek arbitration when it filed a county court action
against him for violation of a non-compete agreement. The
county court action was subsequently consolidated with
Vargas's complaint. Sawgrass maintained that Vargas could
not serve as the class representative because he had waived
his right to arbitration by litigating this case for two
further review and in the interest of maintaining procedural
fairness as to both sides, " the trial court granted
reconsideration and granted Vargas's motion to compel
arbitration. This appeal follows. The trial court
subsequently denied a stay, and this case was assigned to the
same arbitrator who is hearing the similar federal action.
argues that the trial court erred by compelling arbitration
between Vargas and Sawgrass because Vargas waived
order granting or denying a motion to compel arbitration is
reviewed de novo." Best v. Educ.163457
Affiliates, Inc., 82 So.3d 143, 145 (Fla. ...