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Stubblefield v. Best Cars KC, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division

November 22, 2016

TIFFANY STUBBLEFIELD, ET AL., Respondents,
v.
BEST CARS KC, INC., Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CLAY COUNTY, MISSOURI THE HONORABLE JANET SUTTON, JUDGE

          Before Alok Ahuja, Presiding Judge, Victor C. Howard, Judge and James E. Welsh, Judge

          VICTOR C. HOWARD, JUDGE

         Best Cars KC, Inc. appeals from the trial court's order denying its motion to compel arbitration and stay proceedings. It contends that the trial court erred in denying its motion because the parties entered into a valid and enforceable written arbitration agreement encompassing the claims. The order is affirmed.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On April 27, 2015, Tiffany and Kenneth Stubblefield filed a petition against Best Cars asserting claims for violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and declaratory judgment arising out of an automobile sales transaction between the parties. The Stubblefields alleged that Best Cars sold them an automobile but never provided them with the title for it and later repossessed it.

         On June 5, 2015, Best Cars filed a motion to compel arbitration and stay proceedings. It asserted that the Stubblefields were bound to arbitrate the matter under the arbitration clause contained in the sales contract attached to their motion. The parties executed a one page, two-sided printed form contract. The front of the agreement contained boxes with the buyers' names, addresses, and phone numbers and information identifying the vehicle-VIN number, year, make, model, color. The purchase price of the car, fees, down payment, and total amount due were also filled in. The front page also contained a box with the provision, "THE ADDITIONAL TERMS AND CONDITIONS ON THE REVERSE SIDE OF THIS ORDER ARE INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE AND ARE A PART OF THIS ORDER." Signatures appeared at the bottom of the front side of the form beneath a sentence indicating, "BUYER HAS READ ALL PAGES OF THIS AGREEMENT AND AGREES TO ALL TERMS AND CONDITIONS IN THIS AGREEMENT." Directly above that sentence was a checkbox with the sentence, "BUYER ACKNOWLEDGES THAT IF THIS BOX IS CHECKED, THIS AGREEMENT CONTAINS AN ARBITRATION CLAUSE." The box was not checked.

         The back side of the agreement was labeled, "ADDITIONAL TERMS AND CONDITIONS." Seventeen terms and conditions were then specified. Number 17 was set off in a box at the bottom of the page. It provided, in pertinent part:

17 ARBITRATION CLAUSE. PLEASE REVIEW-IMPORTANT-AFFECTS YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS
1. EITHER YOU OR WE MAY CHOOSE TO HAVE ANY DISPUTE BETWEEN U.S. DECIDED BY ARBITRATION AND NOT IN COURT OR BY JURY TRIAL.
….
3. DISCOVERY AND RIGHTS TO APPEAL IN ARBITRATION ARE GENERALLY MORE LIMITED THAN IN A LAWSUIT, AND OTHER RIGHTS THAT YOU AND WE WOULD HAVE IN COURT MAY NOT BE AVAILABLE IN ARBITRATION.
Any claim or dispute, whether in contract, tort, statute, or otherwise (including the interpretation and scope of this clause, and the arbitrability of the claim or dispute), between you and us or our employees, agents, successors, or assigns, which arises out of or relate to your credit application, purchase or condition of this vehicle, this contract or any 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 a neutral, binding arbitration and not by a court action. Any claim or dispute is to be arbitrated by a single arbitrator on an individual basis and not as a class action. You expressly waive any right you have to arbitrate a class action. ….
Any arbitration under this Arbitration Clause shall be governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. ยง1, et seq.) and not by ...

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