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Allen v. Brookdale Senior Living

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

June 18, 2019

RITA ALLEN, Plaintiff,
v.
BROOKDALE SENIOR LIVING; and JOSEPH ADAMS, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION TO DISMISS AND COMPEL ARBITRATION

          TILMAN E. SELF, III, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Plaintiff Rita Allen seeks damages arising from injuries she allegedly suffered while working as a licensed professional nurse for Defendant Brookdale Senior Living (“Brookdale”) from January of 2016 until her termination on March 11');">11, 2019. Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, arguing that the claims are covered by a binding arbitration agreement. Having reviewed the agreement and the parties' arguments, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and Compel Arbitration [Doc. 10] and STAYS this case pending the conclusion of arbitration.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff worked for Brookdale from January 4, 2016 to March 11');">11, 2019, when she was terminated. [Doc. 1, ¶¶ 14, 55]. During that time, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants wrongfully denied or interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (“FMLA”), and that Defendants terminated her in retaliation for requesting and taking FMLA leave. [Doc. 1, ¶¶ 65, 70, 76, 82]. She also claims that Defendants intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her by “inhumanely and cruelly” forcing her to “work without any days off, ” to “[forgo] surgery for their personal convenience, ” and to “work while ill, ” while also berating, abusing, and humiliating her to the point that she wished to voluntarily admit herself to a mental health hospital. [Id. at ¶¶ 89-92]. Finally, Plaintiff claims that Brookdale negligently retained its executive director, Defendant Joseph Adams (“Adams”), despite knowing of his “abusive, cruel and inhuman treatment” of Plaintiff, which included threatening to “terminate her at his pleasure, ” increasing Plaintiff's duties “to overly burdensome, onerous levels, ” and occasionally ordering Plaintiff to work 36 hours straight. [Id. at ¶¶ 26, 28, 29, 99, 100]. Plaintiff seeks statutory and compensatory damages in addition to reinstatement, attorney's fees, and expenses as a result of these alleged violations.

         On August 10, 2016, Plaintiff executed a document titled “Brookdale Dispute Resolution Agreement” (the “Agreement”) that was also executed by Brookdale's Executive Vice President Glenn O. Maul. [Doc. 10-2]. Pursuant to the terms of the Agreement, Plaintiff and Brookdale agreed, in pertinent part, that

any legal dispute arising out of or related to [Plaintiff's] employment (including, without limitation, those arising from the Application for Employment, my employment, or the termination of my employment) must be resolved using final and binding arbitration and not by a court or jury trial. That includes any legal dispute that has to do with . . . training, discipling, termination, . . . discrimination, harassment, retaliation, . . . [and] any claims that come about through the . . . Family and Medical Leave Act.

[Id. at ¶ 1] (emphasis in original).

         Although Plaintiff's counsel initially agreed to arbitrate Plaintiff's claims in compliance with the Agreement, for some unknown reason, the parties failed to reach an agreement on a joint stipulation of dismissal. See [Doc. 10-3, pp. 5, 10-15]. Accordingly, Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss and compel arbitration, to which Plaintiff now inexplicably objects despite her counsel's previous written agreement. [Docs. 10, 11');">11]. In response to the motion, Plaintiff argues that Adams may not invoke the Agreement because he was not a party to it. Plaintiff further contends that Defendants waived their right to arbitrate by failing to do so before terminating her employment. And finally, Plaintiff contends that if the Court compels arbitration, it should stay the case rather than dismiss it.

         The Court disagrees with Plaintiff's first two arguments and finds, as explained below, that the Agreement is valid and enforceable by both Defendants and that Defendants have not waived their rights under the Agreement. However, because the Court construes Plaintiff's argument that the case should be stayed rather than dismissed as an application for a stay, the Court agrees that the proper course is to stay and administratively close this case until the arbitration has concluded.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) provides that written agreements to arbitrate disputes arising out of transactions involving interstate commerce are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2. Under the FAA, if a suit is brought in federal court “upon any issue referable to arbitration under an agreement in writing for such arbitration, ” then the court must stay the action pending arbitration upon application of one of the parties and “upon being satisfied that the issue involved in such suit or proceeding is referable to arbitration under such an agreement.” 9 U.S.C. § 3.

         Arbitration is a matter of contract, and the Court must not compel arbitration of disputes that the parties did not agree to arbitrate. See, e.g., AT&T Techs., Inc. v. Commc'ns Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 648 (1986). The determination of whether there is a valid arbitration agreement between the parties is controlled “by the ‘ordinary state-law principles that govern the formation of contracts.'” Dye v. Tamko Bldg. Prod., Inc., 908 F.3d 675, 680 n.4 (11');">11th Cir. 2018) (quoting Bazemore v. Jefferson Capital Sys., LLC, 1325');">827 F.3d 1325, 1329 (11');">11th Cir. 2016)).

         B. The Agreement's Enforceability ...


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