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Farrow Road Dental Group, P.A. v. AT&T, Corp.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

September 22, 2017

Farrow Road Dental Group, P.A. and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
AT&T Corp., and Bellsouth Telecommunications, LLC d/b/a AT&T Southeast or d/b/a AT&T South Carolina, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION (ECF NO. 17)

          CAMERON MCGOWAN CURRIE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Through this putative nationwide class action, Plaintiff Farrow Road Dental Group, P.A. (“Farrow Road”) seeks recovery from Defendants AT&T Corp. and Bellsouth Telecommunications[1] (collectively “AT&T”) for damages arising out of the parties' former business relationship. That relationship was governed, at least in part, by a Business Service Agreement (“BSA”). See ECF No. 17-2 at 6-19.

         The matter is before the court on AT&T's motion to compel arbitration as to all claims and to stay the action pending arbitration. ECF No. 17. This motion relies on an arbitration clause found in the BSA. For the reasons set forth below, AT&T's motion is granted. Plaintiff must pursue its claims in arbitration.

         THE COMPLAINT

         Farrow Road is a dental practice that utilized AT&T for its phone service from 2006 to 2015. ECF No. 1-1, Compl. at ¶ 7; ECF No. 17-2, Decl. of Candace Johnson, at ¶ 4. In 2011, Farrow Road ordered one line of service from AT&T. ECF No. 17 at ¶ 4. As is its practice, AT&T mailed an order confirmation letter and BSA to Farrow Road. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. In 2014, Farrow Road renewed its current phone line and added four more lines of service. Id. at 8. Again, AT&T mailed the order confirmation letter and BSA to Farrow Road. Id.

         In September of 2015, Farrow Road requested all five telephone numbers then in service with AT&T be transferred to another service provider, Time Warner Cable. Compl. at ¶ 7. AT&T disconnected the phone numbers or “otherwise failed to properly port the numbers.” Id. at ¶ 8. Therefore, Farrow Road's existing patients and potential patients contacting Farrow Road through its phone numbers received an automatic message the numbers were no longer in service, and advised callers to “press 1 now” to be connected to a “new” dentist. Id. This directed existing and new patients to dentists other than Farrow Road. Id. This message was received by callers from September 2015 to January 28, 2016. Id. at ¶ 9.

         Based on AT&T's alleged failure to properly disconnect, transfer, and/or port the telephone lines, Plaintiffs assert four causes of action: negligence, fraud, fraudulent concealment, and negligence per se in violation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Id.

         ARBITRATION CLAUSE

         On the first page of the BSA, the last sentence of the first paragraph notes, in all capital letters, THIS CONTRACT CONTAINS AN ARBITRATION PROVISION WHICH MAY BE ENFORCED BY THE PARTIES. ECF No. 17-2 at 13. The arbitration clause on which AT&T relies reads as follows:

8. Arbitration.
a. AT&T and You agree to exercise best efforts to resolve all disputes and claims between us through good faith negotiation. AT&T and You further agree that any such dispute or claim that cannot be resolved through negotiations shall be resolved by binding arbitration administered by the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) under its Commercial Arbitration Rules in effect at the time the dispute is submitted for resolution (the “Rules”), as may be modified by this Agreement. This agreement to arbitrate is intended to be broadly interpreted. YOU AGREE THAT, BY ENTERING INTO THIS AGREEMENT, YOU AND AT&T ARE EACH WAIVING THE RIGHT TO A TRIAL BY JURY OR TO PARTICIPATE IN A CLASS ACTION.

Id. at 17. Further, the BSA notes

e. The arbitrator may award injunctive relief only in favor of the individual party seeking relief and only to the extent necessary to provide relief warranted by that party's individual claim. YOU AGREE THAT, BY ENTERING INTO THIS AGREEMENT, YOU AND AT&T ARE EACH WAIVING THE RIGHT TO A TRIAL BY JURY OR TO PARTICIPATE IN A CLASS ACTION. AT&T AND YOU AGREE THAT EACH MAY BRING CLAIMS AGAINST THE OTHER ONLY IN AN INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND NOT AS A PLAINTIFF OR CLASS MEMBER IN ANY PURPORTED CLASS OR REPRESENTATIVE PROCEEDING. Furthermore, unless You and AT&T agree otherwise, the arbitrator may not consolidate more than one person's claims, and may not otherwise preside over any ...

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