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Wilder v. John Youngblood Motors, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

November 27, 2017

STEPHANIE WILDER, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
JOHN YOUNGBLOOD MOTORS, INC., d/b/a YOUNGBLOOD NISSAN, Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY Honorable Mark A. Powell, Associate Circuit Judge.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM W. FRANCIS, JR., J.

         John Youngblood Motors, Inc., d/b/a Youngblood Nissan ("Youngblood") challenges an Order denying its motion to compel arbitration. In two points on appeal, Youngblood argues that the trial court erred in denying its motion to compel arbitration because: (1) the arbitration agreement was supported by sufficient consideration, and (2) federal law and arbitration policy require the enforcement of the arbitration agreement. Finding no merit to either point, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Stephanie Wilder ("Wilder") was hired by Youngblood on January 29, 2015, with her first day of work being February 2, 2015. On February 2, 2015, Wilder and a representative of Youngblood signed an "Agreement for Binding Arbitration" ("Arbitration Agreement").

         The Arbitration Agreement states, in relevant part, that:

This Agreement to submit matters to binding arbitration is a condition of [Wilder]'s at-will employment with [Youngblood], [Youngblood]'s employment of [Wilder], [Wilder]'s receipt of the compensation now and hereafter paid to [Wilder] by [Youngblood], [Wilder], [Youngblood] and Co-Employee (collectively "Parties") agree:
The Parties agree pursuant to this Agreement that final and binding arbitration is the sole and exclusive means to resolve any and or all claims or disputes between each other, and they each waive the right to resolve any claim or dispute by filing a lawsuit or other civil action or proceeding against each other, including waiving the right to a jury trial or court trial unless otherwise provided herein.
This Agreement does not cover [Wilder]'s claims, rights or causes of action for unemployment benefits, workers' compensation benefits, and [Youngblood]'s claims for breach of trust violations, use or dissemination of confidential information, unfair competition, disclosure or use of trade secrets for which [Youngblood] may seek all appropriate relief (including, but not limited to injunctive or equitable relief) from a court of competent jurisdiction.

         The Arbitration Agreement then describes the claims to be submitted to binding and final arbitration.

         Wilder held various positions during her employment, one being the Nissan Owner Loyalty Manager. Youngblood terminated Wilder on September 20, 2016.

         On February 14, 2017, Wilder filed a "Petition" asserting a claim for wrongful termination, in violation of Missouri's public policy, for reporting what was alleged to be wire fraud by Youngblood.

         Thereafter, Youngblood filed an "Answer and Motion to Compel Arbitration" asserting that matters covered by the Arbitration Agreement included wrongful termination, wrongful demotion, and whistle blowing. On March 22, 2017, [1] Youngblood filed a "Demand for Arbitration" with the American Arbitration Association on the claims asserted by Wilder.

         Wilder filed suggestions in opposition to Youngblood's motion to compel arbitration arguing that the Arbitration Agreement "is unsupported by any consideration, and is, therefore, invalid because [Wilder]'s employment relationship with [Youngblood] was 'at-will', and the agreement lacks mutuality of obligation." Wilder also argued that the Arbitration Agreement was "unconscionable" because she was pressured to sign the Arbitration Agreement without sufficient time to fully read and understand the terms of the Arbitration Agreement.[2] Youngblood filed a response to Wilder's suggestions in opposition to the motion to compel arbitration, with Wilder then filing a sur-reply.

         On June 8, 2017, a hearing was held on Youngblood's motion to compel arbitration. The trial court took the matter under advisement and issued its Order on June 21, 2017. In its Order, the trial court found that "at-will employment, in and of itself, does not provide consideration for this arbitration agreement." In addition, the trial court found that Youngblood was:

exempt from arbitrating certain claims where Wilder would be required to arbitrate those same claims. This exception allows Youngblood to avoid arbitrating the claims it is most likely to bring against Wilder. At the same time, Wilder would be required to arbitrate all legally arbitrable claims she may have against Youngblood. Therefore, the arbitration agreement lacks a mutuality of promise and is devoid of consideration.

         The trial court concluded that Youngblood "failed to meet its burden of proving the existence of a validly formed arbitration agreement[, ]" and overruled Youngblood's motion to compel arbitration. This appeal followed.

         In two points on appeal, Youngblood asserts:

I. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN REFUSING TO GRANT APPELLANT'S MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION OF THE DISPUTES BETWEEN APPELLANT YOUNGBLOOD AND RESPONDENT WILDER, BECAUSE THE TRIAL COURT WAS REQUIRED TO DO SO UNDER 9 U.S.C. § 3, 9 U.S.C. § 4, § 435.355.1 AND § 435.355.4, RSMO., GIVEN THE AGREEMENT FOR BINDING ARBITRATION EXECUTED BY THE PARTIES COVERED WILDER'S CLAIMS AND IT WAS ENFORCEABLE, IN THAT THE AGREEMENT FOR BINDING ARBITRATION WAS SUPPORTED BY CONSIDERATION.
II. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN REFUSING TO GRANT APPELLANT'S MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION OF THE DISPUTES BETWEEN APPELLANT YOUNGBLOOD AND RESPONDENT WILDER, BECAUSE THE TRIAL COURT WAS REQUIRED TO DO SO UNDER FEDERAL POLICY EXPRESSED IN 9 U.S.C.2 et. seq., GIVEN THE AGREEMENT FOR BINDING ARBITRATION WAS ENFORCEABLE BASED UPON AT WILL EMPLOYMENT, IN THAT PROVIDING AT WILL EMPLOYMENT AS SUFFICIENT CONSIDERATION IN SOME EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENTS, BUT NOT FOR AN ARBITRATION AGREEMENT, VIOLATES FEDERAL POLICY BY IMPERMISSABLY [SIC] INTERFERRING [SIC] WITH ITS POLICY FAVORING ARBITRATION AGREEMENTS.
Standard of Review
Whether arbitration can be compelled under the terms of an employment agreement is a question of contract law that we review de novo. Generally, when faced with a motion to compel arbitration, we must consider three factors: first, whether a valid arbitration agreement exists; second, whether the specific dispute falls within the scope of the agreement; and third, whether the agreement is subject to revocation under applicable principles of contract law. The party seeking to compel arbitration has the burden of proving the existence of a valid and enforceable arbitration agreement.

Jimenez v. Cintas Corp., 475 S.W.3d 679, 683 (Mo.App. E.D. 2015).

         Analysis

         Appealable Order

         As a preliminary matter, we note that this appeal arises from an Order denying Youngblood's motion to compel arbitration. As a general rule, "a final judgment is a prerequisite to appellate review." Sanford v. CenturyTel of Missouri, LLC, 490 S.W.3d 717, 719 (Mo. banc 2016) (internal quotation and citation omitted). However, an exception to this rule is that "[a]n order denying a motion to compel arbitration is subject to immediate interlocutory appeal under § 435.440, RSMo."[3] State ex rel. Alst v. Harrell, 528 S.W.3d 442, 445 (Mo.App. W.D. 2017) ...


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