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Barksdale v. Backyard Products, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

October 3, 2019

CAMILLE BARKSDALE, individually and on behalf of all others Plaintiffs,
v.
BACKYARD PRODCUTS, LLC d/b/a BACKYARD STORAGE SOLUTIONS, LLC; BACKYARD SERVICES, LLC; HEARTLAND INDUSTRIES, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION AND DISMISS, OR ALTERNATIVELY, TO STAY PROCCEEDINGS

          GREG KAYS, JUDGE

         This putative class action alleges violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”). Plaintiff Camille Barksdale (“Plaintiff”) asserts that after she applied for employment with Defendants Backyard Products, LLC d/b/a Backyard Storage Solutions, LLC; Backyard Services, LLC; and Heartland Industries (collectively “Defendants”), Defendants ordered her credit report without her consent, or without providing her with the appropriate disclosure, both of which are FCRA violations.

         Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Compel Plaintiff to Arbitrate Claims on an Individualized Basis and Dismiss or, Alternatively, Stay this Proceeding Pending Completion of the Arbitration (Doc. 12). Because the purported arbitration agreement lacks mutual assent due to Defendants failure to sign it, no agreement exists under Missouri law. The motion is DENIED.

         Background

          The following facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff applied to work for Defendants in October 2018. A representative of Defendants gave her a packet of pre-hire paperwork to complete, including an Installation Agreement (“the Agreement”). After Plaintiff completed and returned the pre-hire paperwork, Defendants ordered her Consumer Report from First Advantage. Plaintiff alleges Defendants did not provide her with the proper disclosure, or obtain her authorization, before obtaining the report.

         Paragraph nine of the Agreement, titled “Other, ” contains a provision in which the parties agree to arbitrate “any dispute or claim involving this Agreement” under the rules of the American Arbitration Association. Installation Agreement, § 9.1 (Doc. 13-1). At the end of the Agreement, under the phrase “ACCEPTED and AGREED” in bold, are two signature blocks, one for a Defendants' representative to sign and one for the “Contractor” (the job applicant), to sign. It is undisputed that Plaintiff signed the Agreement, but a representative of the Defendants did not.

         Plaintiff filed the Petition (Doc. 1, pp. 7-22) in the Circuit Court of Clinton County, Missouri, and Defendants timely removed the case to federal court.

         Standard

          Under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., arbitration agreements are “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. When presented with a motion to compel arbitration, a federal court asks “only (1) whether there is a valid arbitration agreement and (2) whether the particular dispute falls within the terms of that agreement.” Robinson v. EOR-ARK, LLC, 841 F.3d 781, 783-84 (8th Cir. 2016) (citations and quotations omitted). If the answer to both questions is yes, the court must order arbitration. Id.

         Validity turns on the application of state contract law. Torres v. Simpatico, Inc., 781 F.3d 963, 968 (8th Cir. 2015). “The elements required to form a valid contract in Missouri[1] are offer, acceptance, and bargained for consideration.” Frye v. Speedway Chevrolet Cadillac, 321 S.W.3d 429, 436 (Mo.Ct.App. 2010) (citations and quotations omitted). The party moving to compel arbitration bears the burden of proving these elements. Clemmons v. Kansas City Chiefs Football Club, Inc., 397 S.W.3d 503, 506 (Mo.Ct.App. 2013).

         Discussion

          Plaintiff contends the Agreement is not valid because the parties did not mutually assent. Defendants respond that the Agreement is valid, and that under the AAA's rules-which were incorporated into the Agreement-the question whether a contract was formed or is enforceable is for the arbitrator to answer, not the Court.

         I. There was not mutual assent to arbitration.

         “Offer and acceptance requires a mutual agreement.” Baier v. Darden Rests., 420 S.W.3d 733, 738 (Mo.Ct.App. 2014). “A mutual agreement is reached when the minds of the contracting parties meet upon and assent to the same thing in the same sense at the same time.” Youngs v. Conley, 505 S.W.3d 305, 314 (Mo.Ct.App. 2016) (citations, quotations, and alterations omitted). “A meeting of the minds occurs when there is a definite offer and an unequivocal acceptance.” Id. (citations and quotations omitted) (emphasis in original). Under Missouri law, a “party's signature on a contract remains the common, though not exclusive, method of demonstrating agreement.” Baier, 420 S.W.3d at ...


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