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Johnson v. Rent-A-Center -- Tort Case Reluctantly Allowing Arbitration of Gateway Issue of Arbitrability

Delegation provision of arbitration agreement supported finding that arbitrability of a matter was for the arbitrator to decide.  Court of Appeals acknowledged that it cannot ovrerrule a United States Supreme Court decision and adhered to the Court's logic in Rent-A-Center West, Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63 (2010), that absent a specific challenge to the delegation provision, any determination as to the conscionability of the arbitration agreement as a whole must be left to the arbitrator.

Note re underlying facts of tort case (unrelated to the issues on appeal): A man dressed as a Rent-A-Center employee entered plaintiff's home via subterfuge and proceeded to beat and rob plaintiff. Plaintiff sought damages for negligent hiring/supervision of the employee and failure to warn of the danger posed by the employee. 

Court Summary:

Appellants Rent-A-Center and Kelli Stangle appeal from an order entered in the Circuit Court of Jackson County denying their Motion to Compel Arbitration and Stay Action in a tort case filed against them by Kenneth Johnson. Appellants’ motion to compel arbitration asserted that the issue of whether Johnson’s claims should be subject to the arbitration agreements at issue was an issue that must be determined by an arbitrator, rather than the court, under the express terms of the arbitration agreements between the parties. They further argued that, even if the court could properly determine the issue of arbitrability, the claims asserted in Johnson’s petition were, indeed, arbitrable under the broad terms of the arbitration agreements. The trial court ultimately found that the Johnson’s claims were not arbitrable and denied the motion on that basis without addressing the threshold issue of whether the court or an arbitrator should be determining the question of arbitrability.


Division One holds:

(1) Where an arbitration agreement contains a written provision agreeing to arbitrate gateway questions of arbitrability, the United States Supreme Court in Rent-A-Center v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63, 130 S.Ct. 2772, 177 L. Ed. 2d 403 (2010), has held that, unless the party opposing arbitration has challenged the delegation provision specifically, that provision is severable from the arbitration agreement as a whole and must be treated as valid and enforced, leaving any challenge to the validity of the arbitration agreement as a whole to the arbitrator. In other words, even when a litigant has specifically challenged the validity of an agreement to arbitrate, he must submit that challenge to the arbitrator unless he has lodged an objection to the particular line in the agreement that purports to assign such challenges to the arbitrator.

(2) Regardless of whether this Court agrees with the reasoning expressed therein, we are bound by the Supreme Court’s decision in Jackson and have no authority to overrule that decision.

(3) The arbitration agreements in the case at bar clearly and explicitly provide that the arbitrator has exclusive authority to resolve any dispute related to arbitrability and the scope of the agreements.

(4) Because Respondent did not assert any specific challenge to the delegation provisions contained in the arbitration agreements, under Jackson, the trial court erred in denying Appellant’s motion to compel arbitration so that an arbitrator can determine the threshold issues of arbitrability involved in this case.

Download Johnson v. Rent-a-Center

© Copyright 2022 Armstrong Teasdale LLP. All rights reserved National Law Review, Volume IV, Number 309

About this Author

Laura A. Bentele, Litigation Attorney, Armstrong Teasdale, Law firm

Laura Bentele is an associate attorney in the Litigation group practicing in the areas of complex commercial litigation and white collar criminal defense. To achieve optimal outcomes, Laura anticipates clients’ strategic and practical business considerations. Committed to effective case management, she is versed in all phases of discovery, trial preparation and negotiation of settlements with opposing counsel. Laura strives to maintain open avenues of communication to ensure that clients receive representation that meets their business needs.