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Inc. v. Crawford

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

February 28, 2018

20/20 COMMUNICATIONS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
LENNOX CRAWFORD, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN McBRYDE United State District Judge.

         Came on for consideration the complaint and motion of plaintiff, 20/20 Communications, Inc., to vacate arbitration award. The court, having considered the complaint and motion, the answer and response of defendant, Lennox Crawford, the reply, the record, and applicable authorities, finds that the motion should be denied and.the clause construction award (as hereinafter defined) upheld.

         I.

         Nature of the Case

         This is an action to set aside the October 18, 2017 Clause Construction Award (the "award") entered against plaintiff and in favor of defendant in AAA Case No. 01-16-0001-8118 (the "arbitration"). Plaintiff says that the parties' dispute is over the proper scope of the arbitration, contending that the arbitrator erred in determining that the parties' Mutual Arbitration Agreement ("MAA") permits class arbitration. In particular, it alleges that the award conflicts with Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v, AnimalFeeds Int'1 Corp., 559 U.S. 662 (2010), and its progeny. In addition, plaintiff urges that the arbitrator overstepped his authority by striking the MAA's class waiver provision.

         II.

         Background

         Plaintiff employed defendant as a field sales manager. In connection with his employment, defendant entered into a number of agreements with plaintiff, including the MAA. Doc.[1] 1 at 4. Defendant commenced the underlying arbitration on May 13, 2016, by filing an arbitration submission alleging violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-19 ("FLSA"). Doc. 17 at 2-8. On August 11, 2016, defendant amended his submission to clarify that he sought to proceed with a collective action. Id. at 12-21.

         On August 31, 2016, plaintiff filed in this court an action styled "2 0/2 0 Communications, Inc. v. Blevins, et al., " which was assigned Case No. 4:16-CV-810-A (the "Blevins action").[2] Blevins Doc.[3] 1. In that case, plaintiff alleged that each of the defendants, including defendant here, had filed an arbitration proceeding alleging violation of the FLSA and recently amended to state class claims. Plaintiff alleged that the MAA between plaintiff and each defendant foreclosed class and collective arbitration. It sought a declaration that the court and not the arbitrators was to determine whether class arbitration was available and it sought injunctive relief to prohibit defendants from pursuing class arbitration of claims. Id. Plaintiff filed in the Blevins action a motion for temporary restraining order, Blevins Doc. 27, which was denied. Blevins Doc. 35. The court also denied plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunctive relief. Blevins Doc. 52. Plaintiff filed an interlocutory appeal and the court ordered that the case be closed administratively pending such appeal. Blevins Doc. 56. The interlocutory appeal has been dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, Blevins Docs. 57, 58, and the parties to that action have filed a motion to reopen the case. Blevins Doc. 59.

         By opinion and order issued January 13, 2017, the arbitrator ruled that he had jurisdiction to determine the arbitrability of the issues presented. Doc. 4 at 11-20. The arbitrator made reference to the rulings in the Blevins action in denying plaintiff's motion for stay. Id. at 17. As stated, on October 18, 2017, the arbitrator entered the award in favor of defendant, holding that the MAA must be read to permit class/collective arbitration. Id. at 2-9. The arbitrator granted a thirty-day stay to give the parties an opportunity to seek judicial review, id. at 9, and plaintiff filed this action.

         III.

         Applicable Legal Principles

         Under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16 ("FAA"), a court may vacate an award only in very unusual circumstances. Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 569 U.S. 564, 568 (2013). Review of an arbitration award is exceedingly deferential, with courts resolving any doubt or uncertainty in favor of upholding the award. Brabham v. A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 376 F.3d 377, 385 n.9 (5th Cir. 2004); Action Indus., Inc. v. U.S. Fidelity & Guar. Ins. Co., 358 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2004). The party challenging the award bears a heavy burden. Cooper v. WestEnd Capital Mqtnt ., L.L.C., 832 F.3d 534, 545 (5th Cir. 2016). The sole question for the court is ...


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