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Aralar v. Scott Mcrea Automotive Group, LLLP

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

April 17, 2018

JOSEPH V. ARALAR, Plaintiff,
SCOTT MCREA AUTOMOTIVE GROUP, LLLP, A Florida Limited Liability, Defendant.



         This case comes before the Court on two post-arbitration motions. Defendant Scott McRae Automotive Group, LLLP (“McRae”)[1] filed a Motion to Confirm the Arbitration Award (Doc. 13), and Plaintiff Joseph V. Aralar (“Aralar”) acknowledges the validity of the underlying award yet filed a Motion to Vacate the Arbitration Award regarding the award's associated attorneys' fees. (Doc. 14). McRae also filed a response to Aralar's motion. (Doc. 15). Upon review of these filings, the Court is now fully advised and rules as follows.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Aralar, who worked as a service advisor in McRae's automobile service center, brought suit against his employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), alleging unpaid overtime and back wages. (Doc. 1 at 1). Pointing to the arbitration agreement that Aralar signed as a condition of employment (Doc. 5-1), McRae filed a motion to compel arbitration and dismiss (Doc. 6). Most relevant for the present action, the arbitration agreement included the following language:

If a party who has agreed to arbitrate claims under this procedure files or causes to be filed in court or state agency a complaint alleging a claim or cause of action which is subject to arbitration under this procedure, the defendant/respondent will notify the party or the party's attorney (if an attorney has entered an appearance) of the existence of the Arbitration Agreement, and request that the case be dismissed or stayed. If the party does not move to dismiss or stay the action within 10 calendar days of service, and the defendant/respondent successfully moves to dismiss or stay the case and refer it to arbitration, the defendant/respondent may submit a request for payment of fees and costs to the Arbitrator, who shall award to the defendant/ respondent and against the party the defendant/ respondent's reasonable costs and attorneys [sic] fees incurred because of the filing of the complaint.

(Doc. 6-1 at 3).

         Following fits and starts from Aralar (Doc. 9), this Court granted McRae's motion to compel arbitration on June 6, 2016, and stayed the case pending the results of the arbitration. (Doc. 10).

         On June 15, 2017, Arbitrator Robert Cowles (“Cowles”) granted McRae's motion for judgment on the pleadings, noting that Aralar's job as a service advisor was exempt from FLSA requirements.[2] (Doc. 13-5). On August 24, 2017, in accordance with the terms of the arbitration agreement, [3] Cowles awarded McRae the sum of $19, 291.58 to cover attorneys' fees and costs. (Doc 13-18). McRae filed a motion to confirm the arbitration award (Doc. 13), and Aralar filed an opposite motion to vacate the attorneys' fees from the award. (Doc. 14).


         “The Congressional policy of promoting contractually imposed arbitration requires that courts do not intrude unnecessarily into questions settled by arbitration, lest the efficiency of the arbitration process be lost.” Robbins v. Day, 954 F.2d 679, 682 (11th Cir. 1992). With that public policy rationale in mind, the Eleventh Circuit determined that “[j]udicial review of commercial arbitration awards is narrowly limited under the Federal Arbitration Act (‘FAA').” B.L. Harbert Int'l, LLC v. Hercules Steel Co., 441 F.3d 905, 909 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing 9 U.S.C. §§ 10-11). “The FAA presumes the confirmation of arbitration awards . . . and federal courts should defer to an arbitrator's decision whenever possible.” Frazier v. CitiFinancial Corp., 604 F.3d 1313 (11th Cir. 2010). (citations omitted); Cat Charter, LLC v. Schurtenberger, 646 F.3d 836, 842 (11th Cir. 2011); AIG Baker Sterling Heights, LLC v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc., 508 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 2007).

         Previously recognized non-statutory grounds for vacatur-such as that the arbitration decision was arbitrary and capricious, violated public policy or evidenced manifest disregard for the law-are no longer viable. Frazier, 604 F.3d at 1321-24 (discussing generally Hall Street Assocs., L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576 (2008)). A court's authority to vacate an arbitration decision is narrowly limited to the four circumstances outlined in the FAA: (1) where the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means; (2) where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators; (3) where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing, upon sufficient cause shown, or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy-or of any other misbehavior by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced; or (4) where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made. 9 U.S.C. § 10(a); Frazier, 604 F.3d at 1321.

         A petitioner does not clear the “high hurdle” required to vacate an award by “show[ing] that the [arbitrator] committed an error-or even a serious error.” Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int'l Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 671 (2010); see Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 569 U.S. 564, 572 (2013) (“[C]onvincing a court of an arbitrator's error-even his grave error-is not enough. So long as the arbitrator was arguably construing the contract . . . a court may not correct his mistakes under §10(a)(4).”). Rather, arbitration awards are presumed to be correct, and the burden to rebut this presumption is on the party requesting vacatur. Robbins, 954 F.2d at 684. Otherwise, the court must confirm the award. Hall Street Assocs., 552 U.S. at 587.

         In addition to the statutory bases for vacatur outlined above, a court may modify an arbitration award for any of the following three reasons: (1) Where there was an evident material miscalculation of figures or an evident material mistake in the description of any person, thing, or property referred to in the award; (2) where the arbitrators have awarded upon a matter not submitted to them, unless it is a matter not affecting the merits of the decision upon the matter submitted; or (3) where the award is imperfect in matter of form not affecting the merits of the controversy. 9 U.S.C. § 11; Frazier, 604 F.3d at 1321.

         III. ...

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