Troubling Trend, Another Court Declines to Enforce Arbitration Clause
As we’ve covered, courts sometimes decline to enforce arbitration clauses despite federal public policy favoring arbitration. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida recently continued this trend in a consumer dispute over the repossession of a Jeep Wrangler. Johnson v. Westlake Portfolio Mgmt., LLC, No. 8:20-cv-749, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 168538 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 15, 2020).
The dispute began when Mr. Gary Johnson purchased a Jeep Wrangler from a car dealer under a Retail Installment Contract. Id. at *1. The next year, his wife, Tammy Johnson, called and tried to make a payment for the Jeep Wrangler. Id. at *2. The dealer initially refused because she was not a party to the contract. Id. Eventually, however, the dealer accepted payment from Ms. Johnson, and then, repossessed the Jeep Wrangler anyway. Id. Meanwhile, the car dealer continued to call Ms. Johnson’s cell phone, “despite Ms. Johnson repeatedly informing Defendant that it was not his [Mr. Johnson’s] cell phone numbers.” Id.
Mr. and Ms. Johnson eventually sued the dealer, including asserting a TCPA claim. Id. at *4. The dealer moved to compel arbitration because the Retail Installment Contract included a clause requiring arbitration of “any claim or dispute.” Id. at *4. The Court declined to enforce arbitration against Ms. Johnson because she did not sign the contract, and equitable estoppel did not apply because her claims (including the TCPA claim) did not depend on the contract. Id. at *4. “Because these claims are independent of the [contract,] Ms. Johnson cannot be compelled to arbitrate these claims.” Id. at *7 (citing Florida precedent). And Mr. Johnson did not want to litigate in a different forum, so the Court did not compel him to arbitrate either. Id.
The takeaway here is that even an arbitration clause that governs “any and all” claims may not.