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Garcia v. J&J, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

November 7, 2019

JOSE GARCIA, LEDVIN ALARCON, and all others similarly situated under 219 U.S.C. § 216b, Plaintiffs,
v.
J&J, INC., d/b/a EAGLE PAINTING, JANET S. FIELD and JOHN H. FIELD, Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO STAY PROCEEDINGS AND COMPEL ARBITRATION AND FOR EVIDENTIARY HEARING AND/OR ORAL ARGUMENT

          BETH BLOOM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendant J&J Inc.'s (“Defendant” or “Eagle Painting”) Motion to Stay Proceedings and Compel Arbitration as to Opt-In Plaintiffs, Walter J. Contreras and Jonathan “Quincy” Oliver, and accompanying request for hearing, ECF Nos. [88], and [89], (together, the “Motion”). The Court has carefully reviewed the Motion, all opposing and supporting submissions, the record in this case and the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Garcia and Alarcon filed this action, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, alleging that Defendants failed to provide overtime compensation in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Garcia and Alarcon were employed by Defendants as painters and allege that they were deprived of overtime compensation in accordance with the FLSA on more than one occasion. Garcia and Alarcon sought, and were granted, conditional certification under the FLSA. ECF No. [32]. Contreras and Oliver (together, “Plaintiffs”) are two individuals who have opted in as plaintiffs in this case. See ECF Nos. [46], [52]. In the Motion, Eagle Painting requests that the Court compel arbitration of Contreras' and Oliver's FLSA claims pursuant to the terms of an Independent Contractor Agreement (“Agreement”) signed by each of them. See ECF Nos. [88-1], [88-2].

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The presence of a valid arbitration provision raises a strong presumption of enforcement. See Mitsubishi Motors Corp. v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., 473 U.S. 614, 630-31 (1985) (stressing that the enforcement of a mutually agreed upon arbitration or forum-selection serves as an “indispensable precondition to the achievement of the orderliness and predictability essential to any international business transaction”). Indeed, the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1, et seq. “embodies a ‘liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements.'” Hemispherx Biopharma, Inc. v. Johannesburg Consol. Invs., 553 F.3d 1351, 1366 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem. Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983)). Accordingly, the FAA requires courts to “rigorously enforce agreements to arbitrate.” Brandon, Jones, Sandall, Zeide, Kohn, Chalal & Musso, P.A. v. MedPartners, Inc., 312 F.3d 1349, 1357-58 (11th Cir. 2002) abrogated on other grounds by Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Cent. Pension Fund of Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs & Participating Employers, 134 S.Ct. 773 (2014) (quoting Mitsubishi Motors, 473 U.S. at 625-26); Hemispherx, 553 F.3d at 1366 (“The role of the courts is to rigorously enforce agreements to arbitrate.”) (internal citation and quotation omitted). Under the FAA, a written agreement to arbitrate is “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2.

         Despite the courts' proclivity for enforcement, a party will not be required to arbitrate where the party has not agreed to do so. Nat'l Auto Lenders, Inc. v. SysLOCATE, Inc., 686 F.Supp.2d 1318, 1322 (S.D. Fla. 2010) aff'd, 433 Fed.Appx. 842 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing United Steelworkers of Am. v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582 (1960)). “Under federal law, arbitration is a matter of consent, not coercion.” World Rentals & Sales, LLC v. Volvo Constr. Equip. Rents, Inc., 517 F.3d 1240, 1244 (11th Cir. 2008). It is axiomatic that the determination of whether parties have agreed to submit a dispute to arbitration is an issue of law subject to judicial resolution. See Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 296 (2010). Generally, this determination requires the district court to apply standard principles of contract garnered from the applicable state law. First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 939 (1995) (citation omitted); see also P&S Bus. Machs., Inc. v. Canon USA, Inc., 331 F.3d 804, 807 (11th Cir. 2003).

         When presented with a motion to compel arbitration, a district court will consider three factors: (1) whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists; (2) whether an arbitrable issue exists; and (3) whether the right to arbitrate was waived. Nat'l Auto Lenders, 686 F.Supp.2d at 1322 (citation omitted); see also Sims v. Clarendon Nat. Ins. Co., 336 F.Supp.2d 1311, 1326 (S.D. Fla. 2004) (citing Marine Envtl. Partners, Inc. v. Johnson, 863 So.2d 423, 426 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003); and Seifert v. U.S. Home Corp., 750 So.2d 633 (Fla. 1999)) (“Under both federal and Florida law, there are three factors for the court to consider in determining a party's right to arbitrate: (1) a written agreement exists between the parties containing an arbitration clause; (2) an arbitrable issue exists; and (3) the right to arbitration has not been waived.”).

         “By its terms, the [FAA] leaves no room for the exercise of discretion by a district court, but instead mandates that district courts shall direct the parties to proceed to arbitration on issues as to which an arbitration agreement has been signed.” Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v. Byrd, 470 U.S. 213, 213 (1985) (emphasis in original). Thus, if the aforementioned criteria are met, the Court is required to issue an order compelling arbitration. John B. Goodman Ltd. P'ship v. THF Constr., Inc., 321 F.3d 1094, 1095 (11th Cir. 2003) (“Under the FAA, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., a district court must grant a motion to compel arbitration if it is satisfied that the parties actually agreed to arbitrate the dispute.”).

         III. DISCUSSION

         At the outset, the Court notes that the parties do not dispute that the Agreements relied upon by Defendant are between Plaintiffs' respective corporations-Contreras Painting & Remodeling, Inc. and Q's Elite Services, Inc.-and Defendant. In pertinent part, the Agreements state the following:

Contractor and Company agree that final and binding arbitration will be the exclusive means of resolving any disputes between Contractor and Company. [. . .] Contractor and Company agree to bring any disputes in arbitration on an individual basis only and not as a class or other collective action basis.

ECF No. [88-1] at 4 ¶ 13; ECF No. [88-2] at 4 ¶ 13. The Agreements explicitly define the terms “Contractor” as Contreras' and Oliver's respective corporations, and “Company” as Defendant Eagle Painting. ECF No. [88-1] at 1; ECF Non. [88-2] at 2. Accordingly, the arbitration clause of the Agreements is expressly limited to disputes between Plaintiffs' corporations and Defendant, and the Court will not compel arbitration of Contreras' and Oliver's individual claims against Defendant. See World Rentals & Sales, LLC, 517 F.3d at 1245-46 (declining to compel arbitration between signatory and non-signatory where defined terms in agreement did not include non-signatory). Had the parties intended to bind the Plaintiffs individually, the Agreements could have expressly stated as such. However, the Agreements do not and, therefore, Plaintiffs have not agreed to arbitrate their individual claims.[1]

         Nevertheless, in the Motion, Defendant's principal argument that Contreras and Oliver individually must arbitrate their FLSA claims is that they should be bound by the arbitration provision contained in the Agreements with their corporations because they are agents or alter egos of their corporations. Defendant also argues that Contreras and Oliver should be equitably estopped from refusing to comply with the ...


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