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Allen v. Hartford Fire Insurance Co.

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

August 25, 2017



          Roy B. Dalton, Judge

         In this action, Plaintiffs Cordell Allen, Alia Clark, Patricia Dearth, Chris DePierro, Jessica Leighton, Jessica Perez, Jamie Rivera, Layfon Rosu, Marissa Shimko, and Carol Somers (“Named Plaintiffs”) seek relief under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated employees. (Doc. 11.) As such, Plaintiffs moved to conditionally certify a collective class of disability claims analysts employed by Defendant Hartford Fire Insurance Company (“The Hartford”). (Doc. 51 (“Motion to Certify”).)[1]

         In the present motion, The Hartford moves to dismiss the claims of four Named Plaintiffs and ten opt-in plaintiffs for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 96 (“MTD”); see also Doc. 132.)[2] Specifically, the MTD argues that the Court does not have jurisdiction over these claims because the employees agreed to submit employment-related disputes to arbitration. (Doc. 96.) Plaintiffs oppose the motion. (Docs. 123, 133.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the MTD is due to be granted.

         I. Background

         The Hartford's arbitration policy covers all employees: (1) who received a written offer of employment on or before March 7, 2017; and (2) whose first day of work was on or after April 1, 2012. (“New Hires”). (Doc. 96-3 (“Arbitration Policy”).) According to an affidavit submitted by compliance officer Maria Q. Fazzino (“Ms. Fazzino”), “The Hartford requires new employees to review and agree to comply with an Arbitration Policy and a New Hire Agreement.” (Doc. 96-1, ¶¶ 1, 2.) “When an employee certifies that he or she has reviewed and agreed to comply with the Arbitration Policy and New Hire Agreement, he or she receives a Certificate of Completion, which includes their name and the date and time they completed the process.” (Id. ¶ 4.) “A Certificate of Completion is also stored electronically by The Hartford.” (Id.)

         To support their MTD, The Hartford has produced copies of Certificates of Completion certifying that Scott Agnew, Cordell Allen, Antonia Britt, Bretton Scott Brown, Alia Clark, Melissa Cooper, Chris DePierro, Yanique Dixon, Jessica Leighton, Michael Milton, Monica Tinsley, and Jordan Watkins (“Arbitration New Hires”) reviewed and agreed to comply with the Arbitration Policy and The New Hire Agreement. (Doc. 96-1, ¶ 4; see also Docs. 96-7, 96-8, 96-9, 96-10, 96-11, 96-12, 96-13, 96-14, 96-15, 96-16, 96-17, 96-18.)

         Additionally, on August 19, 2015, The Hartford offered other employees the option of agreeing to the Arbitration Policy in exchange for one additional day of paid time off (“PTO Offer”).[3] (Doc. 96-1, ¶ 6.) Hence The Hartford's Arbitration Policy also covers employees who accepted the PTO Offer. (See Doc. 96, pp. 4-5.)

         In her affidavit, Ms. Fazzino avers that the process by which employees selected whether to agree to the PTO Offer was electronic. (Doc. 96-1, ¶ 7.) “After accepting or declining participation in the Arbitration Policy, each employee who responded to the offer received an Arbitration Policy Certification stating whether they chose to agree to the Arbitration Policy and the date on which they made their choice.” (Id. ¶ 8.) Baronda Staten (“Ms. Staten”) and Steven Wright (“Mr. Wright”) assented to the Arbitration Policy by accepting the PTO Offer and electronically checking a box that read “Yes I have read, understand and agree to comply with the Arbitration Policy.” (Docs. 96-24, 96-25.) Based on the foregoing, The Hartford requests that the Court dismiss the claims of the Arbitration New Hires, Ms. Staten, and Mr. Wright for lack of jurisdiction. (Doc. 96.) In their response, Plaintiffs argue that the arbitration agreements are unenforceable because The Hartford knowingly misclassified employees as exempt and engaged in misconduct during the pendency of Monserrate. (Docs. 123, 133.) Notwithstanding Plaintiffs' claims of misconduct, the Court finds that MTD is due to be granted.

         II. Legal Standards

         Under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), “courts must rigorously enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms.” Am. Express Co. v. Italian Colors Rest., 133 S.Ct. 2304, 2309 (2013). Upon the motion of any party to a valid arbitration agreement, courts must stay or dismiss litigation of all claims that fall within the agreement's scope and compel arbitration according to the agreement's terms. See 9 U.S.C. §§ 3-4. Several courts within this District have treated motions to dismiss in favor of arbitration as motions challenging subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).[4]

         Arbitration agreements are presumptively valid and enforceable. See 9 U.S.C. § 2. However, arbitration under the FAA is ultimately “a matter of consent, not coercion, ” Volt Info. Scis., Inc. v. Bd. of Trs. of Leland Stanford Jr. Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 479 (1989), and parties opposing arbitration can challenge the formation and validity of a contract containing an arbitration clause. Specifically, the Eleventh Circuit recognizes “three distinct types of challenges to a contract containing an arbitration clause”: (1) challenges to the formation, or “the very existence, ” of the contract; (2) challenges “to the validity of the arbitration clause standing alone”; and (3) challenges “to the validity of the contract as a whole.” Wiand v. Schneiderman, 778 F.3d 917, 924 (11th Cir. 2015).

         Nonetheless, under a delegation provision “parties may agree to commit even threshold determinations to an arbitrator, such as whether an arbitration agreement is enforceable.” Parnell, 804 F.3d at 1146.

         III. Analysis A. Choice of Law

         “When deciding whether the parties agreed to arbitrate a certain matter (including arbitrability), courts generally . . . should apply ordinary state-law principles that govern the formation of contracts.” First Options of Chi., Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944 (1995). The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has added an important qualification: “[c]ourts should not assume that the parties agreed to arbitrate arbitrability unless there is clear and ...

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