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Milestone v. Citrus Specialty Group, Inc.

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

November 12, 2019




         Upon due consideration of the Defendants' joint motion to compel arbitration (Dkt. 16), the supporting declaration and exhibit (Dkt. 17), the response in opposition (Dkt. 20), and the entire file, the Court grants the motion.


         In September 2019, before this lawsuit was filed, Plaintiff's employer Citrus Specialty Group, Inc. (“Citrus Specialty”) filed an arbitration proceeding against her in connection with her early resignation. Dkt. 17-1 ¶ 7. Plaintiff then filed this action, also in September 2019, for interference and retaliation under the Family Medical Leave Act of (“FLMA”) against Citrus Specialty as well as HCA Physician Services, Inc. (“HPS”) and Citrus Memorial Hospital, Inc. (“Citrus Hospital”). Dkt. 1. She later amended the complaint to add claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”) for sex discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation, and the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) for sex and handicap discrimination and denial of reasonable accommodation. Dkt. 15. Neither complaint alleges a basis for suing HPS and Citrus Hospital as employers. As pointed out by Defendants' counsel, however, a joint employer liability theory is presumed. Dkt. 16 at 2. See also Dkt. 15 ¶¶ 4, 5, 15 (“Plaintiff worked in Citrus County for Defendants. Defendants operate a hospital in Citrus County, Florida.”).

         At the outset of Plaintiff's employment, she and Citrus Specialty entered into a Physician Employment Agreement (“employment agreement”), which contains the following arbitration provision in pertinent part:

Except as to the provisions contained in [the sections pertaining to the disclosure of information and the covenant not to compete] . . . any controversy or claim arising out of or related to this Agreement, or any breach thereof, shall be settled by arbitration . . . . [T]he Parties hereby jointly and severally waive any and all right to trial by jury in any action or proceedings arising out of or relating to this Agreement or obligation hereunder.

Dkt. 17-1 ¶ 13.F. The governing law according to the employment agreement is “the state in which the Practice is located.” Dkt. 17-1 ¶ 13.E. Plaintiff's practice was in Citrus County, Florida. Dkt. 15 ¶¶ 4 & 15.


         A strong policy exists in favor of resolving disputes by arbitration. Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1983). In deciding whether to compel arbitration, the court must consider: “1) whether a valid written agreement to arbitrate exists; 2) whether an arbitrable issue exists; and 3) whether the right to arbitrate has been waived.” Williams v. Eddie Acardi Motor Co., No. 3:07-cv-782-J-32JRK, 2008 WL 686222, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 10, 2008) (citations omitted). “[I]n determining whether a binding agreement arose between the parties, courts apply the contract law of the particular state that governs the formation of the contracts.” Dasher v. RBC Bank (USA), 882 F.3d 1017, 1023 (11th Cir. 2018) (alteration in original) (citing Dasher v. RBC Bank (USA), 745 F.3d 1111, 1116 (11th Cir. 2014), which quotes First Options of Chicago Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944 (1995)). If the agreement is valid, “any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues-that is, doubts over whether an issue falls within the ambit of what the parties agreed to arbitrate-should be resolved in favor of the arbitration.” Jpay, Inc. v. Kobel, 904 F.3d 923, 929 (11th Cir. 2018) (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp., 460 U.S. at 24-25) (internal quotation marks omitted).


         The agreement to arbitrate is valid. By the plain terms of the employment agreement, the governing law is Florida because the Plaintiff's medical practice was in Florida. The parties do not appear to dispute either the governing law or the agreement's validity. Dkt. 20 at 2 (“Plaintiff does not dispute that she entered into an arbitration agreement with Defendant.”).

         Scope of Arbitrable Claims

         The next question, which is contested, is whether FLMA, Title VII, ADA, and FCRA claims are arbitrable under the contract terms. Plaintiff contends that her claims do not “aris[e] out of or relate[] to” the employment agreement because she has not alleged a breach of contract, i.e., “any breach thereof.” Dkt. 20 at 3-4. As independent of the employment agreement, Plaintiff argues, the statutory claims are not based on, and therefore do not arise out of or relate to, the Defendants' performance of contractual duties.

         Contrary to Plaintiff's assertions, however, the arbitration clause in the employment agreement clearly governs the issues raised in all the claims.[1] The Eleventh Circuit held that for arbitration clauses, the terms “arising out of” and “related to” are broad, but limit arbitration to issues that have a “direct relationship the dispute and the performance of duties specified by the contract.” Doe v. Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd., 657 F.3d 1204, 1218-19 (11th Cir. 2011). In Doe, the Court held the claims that were ‚Äúdependent on her status as a seaman employed by the cruise line and the rights that she derives from that employment ...

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