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Sullivan v. PNC Bank, N.A.

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

October 3, 2019

STEPHANIE S. SULLIVAN, Plaintiff,
v.
PNC BANK, N.A., ABSOLUTE RECOVERY SERVICES, INC., JOHN DOE CORPORATION, and JOHN DOE's 1 and 2, Defendants.

          ORDER

          VIRGINIA M. HERNANDEZ COVINGTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on consideration of Defendant PNC Bank's Motion to Compel Arbitration and to Stay Claims Pending Arbitration (Doc. # 19), filed on August 22, 2019. Plaintiff Stephanie S. Sullivan responded in opposition on August 29, 2019. (Doc. # 20). PNC Bank replied on September 9, 2019. (Doc. # 25). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is denied.

         I. Background

         On August 19, 2014, Sullivan entered into a finance agreement to purchase a used 2012 Hyundai automobile from Hyundai of Bradenton. (Doc. # 1-2 at 4). The finance agreement was later assigned to PNC. (Id. at 2, 5; Doc. # 19 at 2). Sullivan eventually fell behind on her payments to PNC and the car was repossessed. (Doc. # 1-2 at 5).

         Sullivan then initiated this action in state court on June 26, 2019, bringing claims arising from that repossession. (Id. at 1). Specifically, the Complaint asserts claims for violations of the Uniform Commercial Code, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as for trespass to chattels, negligence, battery, and assault. (Id. at 7-16). PNC removed the case to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction on August 1, 2019. (Doc. # 3).

         PNC now seeks to compel arbitration based on an arbitration provision in the finance agreement and to stay all claims pending arbitration. (Doc. # 19). Defendant Absolute Recovery Services, Inc. adopted and joined in PNC's Motion on September 5, 2019. (Doc. # 22). Sullivan has responded to the Motion (Doc. # 20), and PNC has replied. (Doc. # 25). The Motion is ripe for review.

         II. Discussion

         In determining whether to refer a matter to arbitration, a court must conduct a two-step inquiry. Klay v. All Defendants, 389 F.3d 1191, 1200 (11th Cir. 2004). First, the court must determine whether the parties agreed to arbitrate. Id. Second, the court must decide whether any “legal constraints external to the parties' agreement foreclosed arbitration.” Id. Only the first step is relevant here.

         PNC argues that the case must be arbitrated pursuant to the terms of the finance agreement. (Doc. # 19). The finance agreement, a two-page document, includes an arbitration provision at the bottom of the second page. The arbitration provision provides in relevant part:

Any claim or dispute, whether in contract, tort, statute or otherwise (including the Interpretation and scope of this Arbitration Provision, and the arbitrability of the claim or dispute), between you and us or our employees, agents, successors or assigns, which arises out of or relates to your credit application, purchase or condition of this vehicle, this contract or nay resulting transaction or relationship (including any such relationship with third parties who do not sign this contract) shall, at your or our election, be resolved by neutral, binding arbitration and not by court action.

(Doc. # 1-2 at 23). There is no signature line beneath the arbitration provision. (Id.). But on the first page of the finance agreement, there is a separate “agreement to arbitrate” provision with a signature line below it. (Id. at 21). This separate provision provides in pertinent part:

Agreement to Arbitrate. By signing below, you agree that, pursuant to the Arbitration Provision on the reverse side of this contract, you or we may elect to resolve any dispute by neutral, binding arbitration and not by a court action. See the Arbitration Provision for additional information concerning the agreement to arbitrate.

(Id.).

         Sullivan argues she did not agree to arbitrate her claims because she never signed the agreement to arbitrate provision. (Doc. # 20 at 4). This Court agrees. PNC's ...


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