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Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Constantine

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

April 30, 2018

WAL-MART STORES, INC., Appellant
v.
SHANNA CONSTANTINE & JONATHAN MORGAN, Appellees

          On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 1 Kaufman County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 96652-CC

          Before Justices Lang-Miers, Fillmore, and Stoddart

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELIZABETH LANG-MIERS JUSTICE.

         The trial court denied the motion of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to compel arbitration of claims asserted by Shanna Constantine and Jonathan Morgan. In this accelerated appeal, we reverse the trial court's order and remand with instructions to grant Wal-Mart's motion.

         Background

         John Morgan was employed at a Wal-Mart store in Kaufman. He was at work at Wal-Mart on March 22, 2016, when Donald Coleman, who was not a Wal-Mart employee, shot and killed him. A week before the murder, Coleman threatened Morgan's life on Wal-Mart's premises, and a Kaufman police officer responded to a call reporting the incident. A Wal-Mart assistant manager was present when the police officer interviewed Morgan about the incident, and was aware that Coleman had threatened Morgan's life. Appellees Shanna Constantine and Jonathan Morgan, Morgan's daughter and son, [1] brought this suit against Wal-Mart alleging that Wal-Mart had notice of the threat on Morgan's life but failed to take any action in response. They alleged causes of action for negligence, negligent training and supervision, negligent undertaking, respondeat superior/vicarious liability, gross negligence, and wrongful death.

         Wal-Mart answered and filed a motion to compel arbitration, alleging that Morgan had agreed to arbitrate disputes with Wal-Mart, and appellees were bound by Morgan's agreement. Wal-Mart alleged that Morgan had completed the "Walmart[2] Associates, Inc. Texas Injury Care Benefit Plan Computer Based Learning Module" as part of his duties at Wal-Mart, through which he agreed to arbitrate negligence and wrongful death claims against Wal-Mart.

         In support of its motion, Wal-Mart submitted the affidavits of Amanda Griffin and Tim Osmond. Griffin is Wal-Mart's custodian of records relating to the computer-based learning ("CBL") module for Wal-Mart's "Texas Injury Care Benefit Plan" (the "Plan"). She testified that:

• all Wal-Mart employees in Texas are required to complete CBL modules;
• the CBL modules are paperless, accessed through computers at Wal-Mart locations;
• to access the CBL modules, an employee must enter his or her confidential associate identification number and password;
• once a module is completed, an electronic training record is retained which identifies the date the module was completed, the completion status, and the score if the module requires a test;
• one of the required CBL modules for Wal-Mart's Texas employees is the "Texas Injury Care Benefit Plan CBL, " which trains employees on subjects including reporting injuries, the benefits available under the Plan, and the process for receiving benefits;
• the CBL module for the Plan has a section titled "Arbitration" that "informs associates that the Plan has a mandatory arbitration process to resolve disputes other than benefit claims";
• the "Arbitration Acknowledgement" in the Plan's CBL module provides:
Arbitration Acknowledgement
I acknowledge that this Walmart and Sam's Club Texas Injury Care Benefit plan includes a mandatory policy requiring that claims or disputes relating to the cause of an on-the-job injury (that cannot otherwise be resolved between Walmart or Sam's Club and me) must be submitted to an arbitrator, rather than a judge and jury in court. I acknowledge that I have received this arbitration policy. I understand that the Company is also accepting and agreeing to comply with these arbitration requirements. All covered claims brought by my spouse, parents, children, beneficiaries, representatives, executors, administrators, guardians, heirs or assigns are also subject to the Company's arbitration policy, and any decision of an arbitrator will be final and binding on such persons and the Company.
• the employee must click a button stating "I Understand" beneath the Arbitration Acknowledgement to proceed through the Plan CBL module;
• the Plan CBL module also contains an "Important Acknowledgement" section, informing the employee that Wal-Mart's "arbitration policy may be accessed by clicking the following button, that it is important for the associate to read the policy carefully so that the associate will be aware of his or her rights and obligations regarding arbitration, and to click the button and read this policy carefully before continuing";
• the employee may not continue through the Plan CBL module without first clicking the button that accesses the arbitration policy;
• Appendix A to the Plan, entitled "Arbitration of Certain Injury Related Disputes, " informs employees that binding arbitration will be the sole and exclusive remedy for resolving work-related injury claims or disputes;
• the Plan CBL module also contains a section titled "Acknowledgement of Completion" which informs the employee that by clicking on the button below, the employee is completing the course and acknowledging that he or she has read and understood the arbitration acknowledgement and policy; and
• the Acknowledgement of Completion also informs the employee that his or her training record will be updated to show successful completion of the CBL module.

         Osmond, Wal-Mart's Manager of Regional Risk Management, ...


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