Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Waffle House, Inc. v. Pavesi

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

October 4, 2017

WAFFLE HOUSE, INC.
v.
PAVESI.

          MCFADDEN, P. J., BRANCH and BETHEL, JJ.

          Bethel, Judge.

         Waffle House, Inc. brings this interlocutory appeal from the trial court's denial of its motion to compel arbitration. Because the trial court erred in determining that the relevant arbitration agreement did not require arbitration of the underlying claims in this case, we reverse.

         "The standard of review from the denial of a motion to compel arbitration is whether the trial court was correct as a matter of law." D.S. Ameri Constr. Corp. v. Simpson, 271 Ga.App. 825, 826 (611 S.E.2d 103) (2005) (footnote omitted). Moreover, as this case involves the interpretation of an agreement between the parties, we note that "the construction of a contract is a matter of law for the court that is subject to de novo review." Id.

         This appeal arises from a lawsuit filed against Waffle House by Pamela Pavesi, the court-appointed guardian and custodian of Brian Mikeals. The record before us[1]indicates that in July 2010, Mikaels began working at a Waffle House restaurant which was then run by a franchisee of Waffle House. In October 2015, the restaurant where Mikaels worked was re-purchased from the franchisee by Waffle House. That day, all employees of that restaurant, including Mikaels, were notified that their employment with the franchisee had ended and that they had been hired by Waffle House on a probationary basis. Mikaels and the other employees were also notified that in order to obtain regular, non-probationary employment with Waffle House, they would be required to re-apply for employment and complete and agree to the terms of a variety of documents, including an arbitration agreement. Mikaels completed and submitted an electronic version of the documents, which included his assent to the arbitration agreement, on November 6, 2015.

         At the time, Waffle House's electronic document system was encountering a number of difficulties such that Waffle House could not contemporaneously confirm that Mikaels and others had completed the electronic paperwork, including their assent to the arbitration agreement.[2] As a result, Mikaels and others were asked to complete and sign paper versions of employment application materials, which included an arbitration agreement. Mikaels did so on November 14, 2015.

         On December 23, 2015, while at work, one of Mikaels' co-workers placed an illegal substance in his drink which caused him to suffer severe injuries. Pavesi, his court-appointed guardian and custodian, brought suit on Mikaels' behalf against Waffle House alleging claims for negligent hiring, supervision, and retention of Mikaels' co-worker who attacked him. Pavesi's lawsuit also alleged that Waffle House had been negligent in its training of its employees and managers and that it had negligently failed to keep the work premises safe. Pavesi's suit sought damages and demanded a jury trial.

         Waffle House answered the complaint and filed an emergency motion to compel arbitration. In support of its motion, Waffle House argued that the arbitration agreements signed by Mikaels on November 6 and November 14 required the claims alleged in Pavesi's suit to be handled through mandatory binding arbitration.

         Following a hearing, the trial court denied this motion. In its ruling, the trial court found that the November 14 agreement superseded the November 6 agreement because the two agreements contained materially different terms while addressing the same subject matter. Specifically, the trial court noted that the "choice of law" provisions in the two agreements were materially different.

         The November 6 agreement contained a clause providing that "[t]his Arbitration Program shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with the Federal Arbitration Act and any federal common law interpreting that Act." In contrast, the November 14 agreement contained a clause providing that the "agreement should be construed in a manner consistent with the principles and provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act . . . [T]his Agreement shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with the laws of the State of Georgia[.]"

         The November 14 agreement also provided that it was to apply to claims "arising out of any aspect of or pertaining in any way to [Mikaels'] employment[.]" The agreement further provided that "claims that are arbitrable . . . include, but are not limited to . . . tort claims[.]" The November 14 agreement also contained a merger clause, indicating that it was the "complete agreement of [Mikaels and Waffle House] on the subject of arbitration disputes[.]"

         Interpreting the choice of law provision in the November 14 agreement, the trial court determined that by providing that the agreement was to be "governed by and interpreted in accordance with the laws of the State of Georgia, " the parties had agreed that any arbitration of Mikaels' claims against Waffle House was governed by Georgia law, and that accordingly the Georgia Arbitration Code, not the Federal Arbitration Act, would apply. Further, the trial court determined that because the Georgia Arbitration Code had been interpreted to exclude personal bodily injury claims from its coverage, Mikaels could not be compelled to arbitrate his claims against Waffle House pursuant to the November 14 agreement. The trial court further ruled that Mikaels' claims were not subject to mandatory arbitration because his injuries were not the result of his employment relationship with Waffle House, and were thus not covered by the November 14 agreement.

         Following its order, the trial court filed a certificate of immediate review authorizing Waffle House to seek an interlocutory appeal. Waffle House filed an application seeking such review with this Court, which we granted.[3] This appeal followed.

         1. Waffle House first argues that the trial court erred by finding that the November 6 and November 14 agreements contained materially different terms, such that the agreements merged, with the terms of the November 14 agreement ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.