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T&T Rock Distribution, LLC v. Velasco

Court of Appeals of Texas, Tenth District

December 20, 2017

T&T ROCK DISTRIBUTION, LLC, Appellant
v.
RUTILIO I. VELASCO, Appellee

         From the 413th District Court Johnson County, Texas Trial Court No. DC- C201600551

          Before Chief Justice Gray, Justice Davis, and Justice Scoggins.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          AL SCOGGINS JUSTICE.

         In eleven issues, appellant, T&T Rock Distribution, LLC, complains about the trial court's denial of its motion to compel arbitration and stay litigation proceedings. We affirm.

         I. Background

         In his original petition, appellee, Rutilio I. Velasco, alleged that he sustained life-altering injuries as a result of an incident that occurred at "the Yard, which was owned, possessed, managed, operated and/or controlled by one of more of the Defendants."[1]Specifically, while working for appellant, Velasco was standing on the conveyor belt of a Superior Telestacker machine while the machine was turned off, attempting to resolve an issue with the machine. However, another worker turned the conveyor belt of the machine on while Velasco was still standing on it or near it, which caused Velasco to be thrown to the ground thirty feet below. As a result of the incident, Velasco asserted that he sustained "multiple broken bones, punctured organs, and damage to his head, neck, and face. Mr. Velasco's diagnosis is still ongoing." And because of these injuries, Velasco asserted premises-liability and negligence claims against appellant.

         Among other things, appellant filed an original answer denying the allegations contained in Velasco's original petition, as well as a motion to compel arbitration and stay litigation proceedings. In its motion to compel arbitration, appellant contended that Velasco signed an arbitration agreement, which waived his right to initiate or prosecute a lawsuit and required the arbitration of claims, including tort claims and claims arising from work-related injuries. Appellant also asserted that Velasco's injuries were covered under the arbitration agreement and that the Federal Arbitration Act applied in this case. Attached to appellant's motion to compel arbitration were copies of the arbitration agreement-one in English, which was not signed by Velasco, and what appellant refers to as a Spanish version of the arbitration agreement that was signed by Velasco. Velasco responded to appellant's motion to compel arbitration arguing that "there is no enforceable arbitration agreement in place, " among other things.

         Ultimately, after a hearing, the trial court denied appellant's motion to compel arbitration and stay litigation proceedings. This accelerated, interlocutory appeal followed. See Tex. R. App. P. 28.1(a); Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.016 (West 2015).

         II. Applicable Law

         "Generally, we review a trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion to compel arbitration under an abuse of discretion standard." Enter. Field Servs., LLC v. TOC-Rocky Mountain, Inc., 405 S.W.3d 767, 773 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2013, pet. denied). Under this standard, we defer to a trial court's factual determinations if they are supported by evidence; however, we review a trial court's legal determinations de novo. In re Labatt Food Serv., L.P., 279 S.W.3d 640, 643 (Tex. 2009) (orig. proceeding). Whether a valid arbitration agreement exists and whether the arbitration agreement is ambiguous are questions of law that we review de novo. In re D. Wilson Constr. Co., 196 S.W.3d 774, 781 (Tex. 2006) (orig. proceeding).

         A party seeking to compel arbitration must establish the existence of a valid, enforceable arbitration agreement and that the claims at issue fall within that agreement's scope. In re Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 166 S.W.3d 732, 737 (Tex. 2005) (orig. proceeding). If the movant establishes that an arbitration agreement governs the dispute, the burden shifts to the party opposing arbitration to establish a defense to the arbitration agreement. In re Provine, 312 S.W.3d 824, 829 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2009, orig. proceeding) (citing In re Oakwood Mobile Homes, Inc., 987 S.W.2d 571, 573 (Tex. 1999) (orig. proceeding)). Once the movant established a valid arbitration agreement covering the claims at issue, a trial court has no discretion to deny the motion to compel arbitration unless the opposing party proves a defense to arbitration. Id. (citing In re FirstMerit Bank, N.A., 52 S.W.3d 749, 753-54 (Tex. 2001) (orig. proceeding)).

         Because state and federal policies favor arbitration, courts must resolve any doubts about an arbitration agreement's scope in favor of arbitration. In re FirstMerit Bank, N.A., 52 S.W.3d at 753. To be subject to arbitration, the "allegations need only be factually intertwined with arbitrable claims or otherwise touch upon the subject matter of the agreement containing the arbitration provision." In re B.P. Am. Prod. Co., 97 S.W.3d 366, 371 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2003, orig. proceeding). However, no presumption of arbitrability arises until the court has found there is an enforceable arbitration agreement. In re Jebbia, 26 S.W.3d 753, 756-57 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, orig. proceeding).

         III. Analysis

         In its first ten issues, appellant makes numerous arguments to show that the trial court abused its discretion by denying appellant's motion to compel arbitration and stay litigation proceedings. Among the arguments made by appellant on appeal are that a valid arbitration agreement exists; that Velasco's claims fit within the scope of the agreement; that consideration exists to support the agreement; and that the Federal Arbitration Act applies to this agreement. At the outset, we ...


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