Florida cases involving disputes over the enforcement of arbitration most frequently arise out of auto sales or long term care facility contracts. These three cases from late November 2018 fit the bill. The topics are: waiver of the right to arbitration, parties to the agreement, and severance clauses. Shamelessly, one of the cases is mine.
Peter Adkins v. Memorial Motors, Inc. dba Lakeland Toyota (Second District): Plaintiff bought a car from the defendant dealership under a broad sales contract which included an arbitration clause that did not specify which arbitration rules applied. The Plaintiff independently filed his arbitration claim with the AAA which declined because the defendant had failed to pay in a prior case. Once the Defendant learned what had happened, they paid the prior bill and advised the Plaintiff he could proceed. Instead, Plaintiff filed suit claiming that the Defendant’s actions amounted to waiver of the right to arbitrate.
The Second District held that, under the Seifert test, the third prong (waiver) needed to arise from actions “in this proceeding” (emp. original). Moreover, it held that the Defendant’s failure to pay the prior arbitration bill and its effort to resolve that were not inconsistent with the right to arbitrate the instant matter. Take away: an attempt to broaden the definition of “waiver” of arbitration was not successful.
Coventry Health Care of Florida, Inc. v. Crosswinds Rehab, Inc., LLC et al. (Third District): A number of (typical) issues regarding the evasion of arbitration were raised in this action but the court focused on a single issue. One of the parties was a successor to Crosswinds and had not signed the Agreement which contained the arbitration clause. The only reference to the Agreement being binding on successors related to the other party, Coventry. Therefore the Agreement was not an enforceable and arbitration was not mandatory. Take away: in any contract, a statement that the agreement is binding on successors, heirs, etc needs to apply to all parties, not just one.
Estate of Ramsey v. Northport Health Services of Florida, LLC et al (Fifth District): in this second long term care case, the Plaintiff sought to evade arbitration despite the fact it was executed by the resident’s guardian. The Plaintiff further argued that some terms regarding applicable rules and laws should not apply due to Florida public policy. This agreement, however, included a severance clause and several prior decisions from the same court have severed the same clauses from the same agreement. Not surprisingly, the Fifth DCA followed the same approach again. Other grounds to avoid arbitration were deemed waived.