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Knezovich v. DIRECTV, L.L.C.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

October 13, 2017

BRENTON R. KNEZOVICH, Plaintiff,
v.
DIRECTV, L.L.C., a California limited liability company, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION AND TO DISMISS

          MARK W. BENNETT, U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 2

         A. Background .......................................................................... 2

         B. Arguments Of The Parties ........................................................ 7

         II. LEGAL ANALYSIS ...................................................................... 10

         A. Procedure For Deciding A Motion To Compel Arbitration ............... 10

         B. Standards For Enforcement Of An Arbitration Agreement .............. 12

         C. Application Of The Standards .................................................. 15

         1. Existence of a valid agreement ........................................ 15

         a. Coercion ........................................................... 16

         b. Incorporation by reference ..................................... 17

         2. Applicability To The Dispute At Issue ................................ 21

         3. Summary ................................................................... 23

         D. Stay Or Dismissal ................................................................. 23

         III. CONCLUSION ............................................................................ 24

         Plaintiff Brenton R. Knezovich filed his Complaint And Demand For Jury Trial on April 17, 2017, asserting claims of discrimination on the basis of disability and perceived disability pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Idaho Human Rights Act (IHRA) against his former employer, defendant DIRECTV. DIRECTV responded, on August 30, 2017, by filing its Motion To Compel Arbitration And To Dismiss. That Motion is now before me.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A. Background

         Knezovich alleges in his Complaint, and his personnel file shows, that he was hired by DIRECTV as an installer on May 10, 2010. The parties agree that, on that date, Matt Nelson, the Site Manager, who had hired Knezovich, had Knezovich sign numerous documents. Knezovich avers in his Declaration that the documents he signed were in “a large stack of papers, ” and that Mr. Nelson had him sign the paperwork without explaining to Knezovich what any of it was or meant. Knezovich Declaration, ¶ 4.

         Knezovich avers,

When he turned to the “Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate Claims, ” I stopped and said, “What is this all about?” Mr. Nelson said, “If you get fired because you screw up, you can't sue us.” Mr. Nelson then said I would have to sign all of this paper work in order to get signed on with the company. I went ahead and signed it because I wanted the job.

         Knezovich Declaration, ¶ 5. Knezovich avers that the “Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate Claims, ” that Mr. Nelson asked him to sign is in his personnel file, that he understands that a copy of it has been submitted as Exhibit B with DIRECTV's Motion, that he does recall signing that document, and that it appears to be his signature on that document. Id. at ¶ 10. Thus, there is no dispute that the copy of the Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate Claims (which for simplicity I will call the Arbitration Agreement) signed by Knezovich on May 10, 2010, is the document submitted by DIRECTV as Exhibit B to its Motion.

         The Arbitration Agreement provides, in part, as follows:

Disputes which shall be submitted to binding arbitration for final resolution include; all claims or controversies, past, present or future, except claims identified in the Arbitration Procedure under the heading “Claims Not Covered by the Agreement, ” arising out of an employee's employment or its termination, that the Company may have against an employee or that an employee may have against any of the following [1] the Company; [2] its officers, directors, employees or agents in their capacity as such or otherwise, [3] the Company's parent, subsidiary and affiliated entities, [4] the benefit plans or the plans' sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, affiliates and agents, and or [5] all successors and assigns of any of them [“claims] (sic).
Claims and disputes by employees hired after January 1, 1993 shall be governed by this Agreement. Employee understands that any reference in this Agreement to the Company will be a reference only to the DIRECTV subsidiary and affiliated entities who have adopted mandatory arbitration, and all successors and assigns of any of them.
Except as set forth in the Arbitration Procedure, the decision of the Arbitrator shall be final and binding upon all parties. The parties' mutual promise to arbitrate differences, rather than litigate them before courts or other tribunals, provides adequate consideration for each other.
By entering into this Agreement, Employee does not waive his/her right to file an administrative claim or complaint with the appropriate administrative agency, but does waive his/her right to file a civil action and a jury trial, because the Agreement provides for an adequate and equal opportunity for the vindication of claims and complaints through this arbitration process.
* * *
This is the complete Agreement of the parties on the subject of arbitration of disputes [except for any arbitration agreement in connection with any pension or benefit plan]. This Agreement supersedes any prior or contemporaneous oral or written understandings on the subject. No party is relying on any representations, oral or written, specifically set forth in this Agreement (sic).
I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I HAVE READ THIS AGREEMENT AND THE ARBITRATION PROCEDURE. THAT I UNDERSTAND THEIR TERMS, AND THAT I HAVE ENTERED INTO THIS AGREEMENT VOLUNTARILY AND NOT IN RELIANCE ON ANY PROMISES OR REPRESENTATIONS BY THE COMPANY OTHER THAN THOSE CONTAINED WITHIN THE AGREEMENT AND THE ARBITRATION PROCEDURE.

Arbitration Agreement, unnumbered ¶¶ 2-5, 9-10 (brackets in original).

         Knezovich also avers that he does “not recall or believe any other documents were presented to me at the time that discussed or referenced arbitration other than the one page document entitled ‘Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate Claims.'” Knezovich Declaration at ¶ 6. Notwithstanding his signature below the acknowledgment in the last paragraph of the Arbitration Agreement and the repeated references to an “Arbitration Procedure” in the Arbitration Agreement, Knezovich contends that there was no document called “Arbitration Procedure” or “Arbitration Procedure General” in his personnel file when it was provided to his counsel by DIRECTV's counsel; that the document entitled Arbitration Procedure General, submitted by DIRECTV as Exhibit A to its Motion, was not familiar to him; that he was not given a copy of it at the time he signed the packet of documents; and that he “do[es] not believe [he] was ever given an opportunity to read or review [it] at any time.” Id. at ¶¶ 11-12. He avers that he did not receive copies of any of the documents that he signed and never saw any of them again until recently. Id. at ¶ 8.

         The Arbitration Procedure General attached to DIRECTV's Motion as Exhibit A begins with the following paragraph:

DIRECTV [the “Company”] Arbitration Procedure is intended to be an impartial, cost effective and speedy mechanism for resolving employment or other disputes between the Company and its employees. Employees may obtain final and binding arbitration of all claims in accordance with the Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate Claims [“Arbitration Agreement”] and the procedure described herein. Since January 1, 1993 all new hires of DIRECTV companies that have ...

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