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Dennis v. United Van Lines, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

November 1, 2017

SAMMY DENNIS, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant United Van Lines, LLC's Motion to Compel Arbitration or Dismiss Complaint (ECF No. 16). The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is a moving van owner-operator employed as a truck driver for moving commercial and household goods. (Compl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 1; Pile Decl. ¶¶ 4, 6, ECF No. 17-1) Defendant is a licensed interstate household goods motor carrier under the federal Motor Carrier Act that operates nationally through a network of regional agents, including Holman Moving Systems ("Holman"). (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 10; Pile Decl. ¶ 3) Defendant United classifies Plaintiff as an independent contractor pursuant to a written Independent Contractor Operating Agreement ("ICOA") that Plaintiff entered into with Holman.[1] (Id. at ¶ 11; Def.'s Ex. 1, Pile Decl. ¶¶ 4, -6, ECF No. 17-1) The ICOA provides, in part:

Any dispute (including a request for preliminary relief) arising in connection with or relating to this Agreement, its terms, or its implementation, including any allegation of tort or of breach of this Agreement or of violations of the requirements of any applicable government authorities, whether local, state, federal, or foreign ... shall be fully and finally resolved by arbitration in accordance with (1) the Commercial Arbitration Rules . . . of the American Arbitration Association ("AAA"); (2) the Federal Arbitration Act (ch. 1 of tit. 9 of United States Code, with respect to which the parties agree that this Agreement is not an exempt "contract of employment") or, if the Federal Arbitration Act is held not to apply, the arbitration laws of the State of Missouri; and (3) the procedures set forth below.

(Pile Decl. Ex. A ¶ 25, ECF No. 17-2) The ICOA further provided that "the parties agree that no consolidated or class arbitration shall be conducted." (Id. at ¶ 25(b)).

         On June 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Class Action Complaint under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq., and under the Missouri Minimum Wage Law ("MMWL"), Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 290.500, et seq. Plaintiff brings the suit on behalf of himself and putative class members, who are current and former United drivers that Plaintiff alleges are improperly misclassified as independent contractors. (Compl. ¶¶ 6-8) Plaintiff contends that Defendant United failed to pay Plaintiff and the class the federal minimum wage in violation of the FLSA and the MMWL. (Id. at ¶¶ 37-60).

         On July 25, 2017, Defendant filed the present Motion to Compel Arbitration or Dismiss Complaint, arguing that the ICOA governs the relationship between Plaintiff and Holman, including the terms of Plaintiff s compensation. Defendant also contends that the ICOA provides that all disputes arising out of the ICOA must be arbitrated. Further, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff must be compelled to arbitrate his claims on an individual basis because the IOC A prohibits consolidated or class arbitrations. In the alternative, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs claims should be dismissed.[2]

         II. Legal Standard

         The Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1, et seq., '"establishes a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements.'" M.A. Mortenson Co. v. Saunders Concrete Co., Inc., 676 F.3d 1153, 1156 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Lenz v. Yellow Tramp., Inc., 431 F.3d 348, 351 (8th Cir. 2005)). "[W]hen deciding whether to compel arbitration, a court asks whether a valid agreement to arbitrate exists, and if so, whether the dispute falls within the scope of that agreement." Newspaper Guild of St. Louis, Local 36047 v. St. Louis Post Dispatch, LLC, 641 F.3d 263, 266 (8th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). "The Supreme Court has repeatedly noted that the Federal Arbitration Act was designed to combat longstanding hostility to arbitration by establishing 'a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements.'" Bob Schultz Motors, Inc. v. Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A., 334 F.3d 721, 725 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983)). "[T]he validity of the arbitration clause and its applicability to the dispute at hand are questions for the district court to decide." Id. at 726 (citation omitted). Under the FAA, any doubts regarding the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration. Lyster v. Ryan's Family Steak Houses, Inc., 239 F.3d 943, 945 (8th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). "Additionally, any 'party resisting arbitration bears the burden of proving that the claims at issue are unsuitable for arbitration.'" Owner-Operator Indep. Drivers Ass'n, Inc. v. United Van Lines, LLC, No. 4:06CV219 JCH, 2006 WL 5003366, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 15, 2006) (quoting Green Tree Fin. Corp.-Ala. v. Randolph, 531 U.S. 79, 91 (2000)).

         III. Discussion

         Under the ICOA, Plaintiff agreed to arbitrate any dispute arising in connection with or relating to the Agreement. Plaintiff argues, however, that his FLS A and State Minimum Wage Claims are not subject to arbitration because no arbitration agreement exists between Plaintiff and Defendant, the arbitration agreement does not apply to Plaintiffs statutory claims, Plaintiff is exempt from the FAA as a transportation worker, and the class action waiver in the ICOA is unenforceable. The Court will discuss each argument in turn.

         A. Enforceability of Agreement between Plaintiff and United

         Plaintiff asserts that United cannot enforce the ICOA between Plaintiff and Holman because Defendant United is not a signatory to the agreement. Defendant United maintains that it can enforce the agreement pursuant to the doctrine of equitable ...

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