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Willard v. Dollar General Corp.

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

October 12, 2017

Chantell Willard, Plaintiff,
v.
Dollar General Corporation, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         This matter is before the court pursuant to Defendant Dollar General Corporation's (“Defendant”)[1] Motion to Dismiss, or Alternatively, to Stay Litigation and Compel Arbitration. (ECF No. 4.) Plaintiff Chantell Willard (“Plaintiff”) does not object to having this matter referred to arbitration, but requests that the case not be dismissed, and that the action be stayed pending the arbitration of Plaintiff's claims. (ECF No. 7.) For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss without prejudice (ECF No. 4).

         I. JURISDICTION

         The court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiff is a resident and citizen of South Carolina. (ECF No. 1-1 at 5.) Defendant is incorporated in Tennessee with a principal place of business in Goodlettsville, Tennessee.[2] (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 7.) The amount in controversy in this matter exceeds $75, 000.00. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 10.) Plaintiff seeks an unlimited recovery “in excess of Twenty-five Thousand Dollars ($25, 000), actual and punitive damages for legal fees and costs incurred in this action, and for such other further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.” (Id.)

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was formerly employed by Dolgencorp, LLC, until her separation on October 30, 2015. (ECF No. 4 at 2.) On September 23, 2015, while Plaintiff was working for Defendant at its retail store, an armed robbery was committed. (ECF No. 1-1 at 5 ¶ 4.) As a result of Plaintiff's injuries, she filed a Workers' Compensation Claim. (ECF No. 1-1 at 6 ¶ 5.) Plaintiff was subsequently terminated. (Id. at ¶ 6.) On October 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas for Lexington County, South Carolina, asserting claims for: (1) worker's compensation retaliation pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 41-1-80 (1986); (2) wrongful termination of employment; and (3) breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act. (ECF No. 1-1 at 5-7.)

         On November 17, 2014, Plaintiff entered into a valid and mutually-binding Dollar General Employee Arbitration Agreement (“Agreement') with Defendant, under which both parties agreed to arbitrate any claims or disputes relating to or arising out of Plaintiff's employment or termination of employment with Defendant. (ECF No. 4-1 at 2.) On October 17, 2014, Plaintiff logged into her employee account and viewed the Agreement. (Id. at 3.) Employees have the option of agreeing to the Agreement or opting out. (Id.) However, once logged in, Plaintiff was advised that she would be bound by the terms of the Agreement if she took no action within 30 days of viewing the Agreement. (Id.) This term is also stated specifically in the Agreement itself. (Id. at 4.) Over the next 30 days, Plaintiff continued to work for Defendant but took no further action regarding the Agreement. (Id.) Notably, Plaintiff did not exercise her opportunity to opt out of the Agreement during the 30 days after accessing the Agreement on her employee account. (Id.)

         Therefore, pursuant to the terms of the Agreement, Plaintiff's acceptance of the Agreement was auto-submitted on November 17, 2014, at which time both parties became bound by its terms.[3] (Id.) Regarding the parties' agreement to arbitrate, the Agreement states:

You agree that, with the exception of certain excluded claims described below, any legal claims or disputes that you may have against Dollar General, its parent and subsidiary corporations, employees, officers and directors arising out of your employment with Dollar General or termination of employment with Dollar General (“Covered Claim” or “Covered Claims”) will be addressed in the manner described in this Agreement. You also understand that any Covered Claims that Dollar General may have against you related to your employment will be addressed in the manner described in this Agreement.
The procedures in this Agreement will be the exclusive means of resolving Covered Claims relating to or arising out of your employment or termination of employment with Dollar General, whether brought by you or Dollar General. This includes, but is not limited to, claims alleging violations of wage and hour laws, state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, claims for defamation or violation of confidentiality obligations, claims for wrongful termination, tort claims, and claims alleging violation of any other state or federal laws, except claims that are prohibited by law from being decided in arbitration, and those claims specifically excluded in the paragraph below.[4]

(Id. at 6-7.) Further, the Agreement expressly states that “workers' compensation discrimination and retaliation claims are Covered Claims.” (Id. at 7.)

         On March 10, 2017, Defendant removed the action to this court, indicating its intention to compel arbitration in Defendant's Answers to Local Civil Rule 26.01 Interrogatories. (ECF Nos. 1, 2.) On March 17, 2017, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, or Alternatively, to Stay Litigation and Compel Arbitration, asserting that: (1) arbitration is favored and mandatory, and (2) Plaintiff must arbitrate her claims because they are covered by a valid and enforceable agreement. (ECF No. 4.)

         On April 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendant's Motion, asserting that she had no objection to have the matter referred to arbitration, but requested that the case not be dismissed, and that the action be stayed pending the arbitration of Plaintiff's claims. (ECF No. 7.) On April 17, 2017, Defendant filed a Reply to Plaintiff's response, asserting the case should be dismissed, not stayed, because there is “no dispute that all of Plaintiff's employment-related claims are encompassed by a valid and mutually-binding arbitration agreement.” (ECF No. 9.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         “The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16 (2006), [5] governs the rights and responsibilities of the parties with respect to an arbitration agreement.” Forrester v. Penn Lyon Homes, Inc., 553 F.3d 340, 342 (4th Cir. 2009). “Under the [FAA], a party may demand a stay of federal judicial proceedings pending exercise of a contractual right to have the subject matter of the federal action decided by arbitration, unless the party seeking arbitration is ‘in default' of that right.” Microstrategy, Inc. v. Lauricia, 268 F.3d 244, 249 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). The FAA reflects “a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements . . . .” Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983). “Pursuant to the liberal policy, any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues should be resolved in favor of arbitration, whether the problem at hand is the construction of the contract language itself or an allegation of waiver, delay, or a like defense to arbitrability.” Id. at 24-25. To that end, “the heavy presumption of arbitrability requires that when the scope of the arbitration clause is open to question, a court must decide the question in favor of arbitration.” Pe ...


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