STADIUM MOTORCARS, LLC D/B/A CENTRAL HOUSTON NISSAN AND CENTRAL HOUSTON MOTORCARS, LLC D/B/A CENTRAL HOUSTON CADILLAC, Appellants
CHRIS SINGLETON, Appellee
Appeal from the 269th District Harris County, Texas Trial
Court Case No. 2018-35688
consists of Justices Lloyd, Goodman, and Landau.
RUSSELL LLOYD JUSTICE
Stadium Motorcars, LLC d/b/a Central Houston Nissan and
Central Houston Motorcars, LLC d/b/a Central Houston Cadillac
(collectively, "Central Nissan") appeal the trial
court's judgment confirming an arbitration award in favor
of appellee, Chris Singleton. In two issues, Central Nissan
argues that (1) arbitration awards that conflict with public
policy may be vacated on common law grounds, and (2) the
trial court erred in confirming the arbitration award because
the award conflicts with Texas's public policy as an
employment at-will state. We affirm.
is an automotive repair professional with more than twenty
years' experience in the automotive industry. In
mid-February 2016, Singleton left his job as body shop
manager at Baker Nissan, a Houston area car dealership, to
begin a new position at a different Houston area dealership,
Central Nissan. The owners of Central Nissan own other car
dealerships in the Houston area, including Central Cadillac.
Singleton signed a one-year guaranteed employment contract
with Central Nissan on February 11, 2016.
new position, Singleton's responsibilities included
opening, and later managing, a new body shop for Central
Nissan. Singleton's duties also included helping transfer
the pre-existing collision business at Central Cadillac to
the new body shop at Central Nissan.
after he was hired by Central Nissan, Singleton uncovered
evidence that employees of Central Nissan and one of its
sister companies were engaged in what he believed to be
criminal insurance fraud. The fraud involved the submission
of fraudulent claims to insurance companies for reimbursement
of repairs not actually performed. On May 2, 2016, Singleton
prepared a spreadsheet summarizing the fraudulent invoicing
practice and delivered it to his immediate supervisor.
Singleton also informed Central Nissan's owner and
controller of the ongoing fraud. Finally, Singleton advised
Central Nissan's management that he was unwilling to
participate in these activities. The following day, Central
Nissan fired Singleton. Prior to Singleton's dismissal,
no written record existed indicating Singleton had been
admonished or disciplined for poor performance, or any other
reason, by Central Nissan.
time of Singleton's hiring, Central Nissan required
Singleton to sign an agreement stipulating that any disputes
arising out of Singleton's employment must be submitted
to arbitration. The agreement further mandated that
arbitration proceedings "shall be . . . carried out in
conformity with the procedures of the Texas Arbitration
Act." In accordance with the agreement, Singleton
brought an arbitration proceeding against Central Nissan.
Singleton asserted that Central Nissan wrongfully fired him
because he refused to perform an illegal act. In submitting
to arbitration, Singleton and Central Nissan further agreed
that the "Arbitrator's award will be binding and not
subject to appeal, except for the limited grounds set forth
in Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code section
171.088." At the conclusion of the arbitration, the
arbitrator found that Central Nissan fired Singleton because
Singleton refused to participate in illegal and fraudulent
activity. As a result, the arbitrator awarded Singleton
damages totaling $334, 922.
29, 2018, Central Nissan filed a petition in district court
to vacate the arbitration award, asserting that the award was
contrary to Texas public policy because Texas is an at-will
employment state. In response, Singleton asserted a general
denial and requested the court to confirm the award and enter
a judgment against Central Nissan. On September 28, 2018, the
court confirmed the arbitration award and entered judgment in
favor of Singleton. This appeal followed.
issues, Central Nissan argues that (1) courts may review
arbitration awards on common law public policy grounds, and
(2) the trial court erred in confirming the arbitration award
because it is contrary to Texas's public policy as an
at-will employment state.
Standard of Review and Applicable Law
court's confirmation or vacatur of an arbitration award
is reviewed de novo. Forest Oil Corp. v. El Rucio Land
& Cattle Co., 446 S.W.3d 58, 75 (Tex. App.-Houston
[1st Dist.] 2014), aff'd, 518 S.W.3d 422 (Tex.
2017). Judicial review of arbitration awards is
"extraordinarily narrow" because Texas law favors
the arbitration of disputes. Id. In reviewing an
arbitration award, "courts indulge every reasonable
presumption to uphold an award, and none against it."
IQ Holdings, Inc. v. Villa D'Este Condo. Owner's
Ass'n, Inc, 509 S.W.3d 367, 372 (Tex. App.-Houston
[1st Dist.] 2014, no pet.). The review of ...