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Walker v. Dillard's, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 20, 2019

DILLARD'S, INC., a Delaware Corporation; GUY BRADY, and BRIAN HUDSON, Defendants.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Dillard's, Inc.'s Motion to Compel Arbitration and Dismiss Plaintiffs' Claims with Prejudice or in the Alternative, Stay Proceedings [Doc. 12]. The Court, having considered the motions, briefs, and relevant law, and being otherwise fully informed, finds that the motion is well-taken and will be granted.


         Dillard's has an intranet program whereby its employees are required to electronically execute an agreement to arbitrate. Doc. 12-1 at ¶¶ 4-5. Specifically, an employee logs on to the Dillard's intranet by entering his User ID or Associate Identification Number ("AIN"), and his password. Id. at 6. The employee is presented with Dillard's Rules of Arbitration and Agreement to Arbitrate Legal Claims (collectively, the "Arbitration Agreement"). Id. at ¶ 7. To electronically agree to and sign the Arbitration Agreement, an employee scrolls through the Arbitration Agreement, and then clicks "I agree," and enters his AIN and password. Id. at ¶ 9. Dillard's maintains records of its employees' electronically executed arbitration agreements on its intranet. Id. at ¶ 12.

         Plaintiff Jon Walker was employed as a maintenance engineer at Dillard's Store 921, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from approximately March 24, 1998 through December 3, 2015. Doc. 12-1 at ¶ 15; Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 2. Although he does not recall electronically signing an agreement to arbitrate, Doc. 16 at ¶ 3, Dillard's has submitted to the Court an Arbitration Agreement dated July 6, 2011, containing Mr. Walker's electronic signature, AIN, and password. Doc. 12-1, Ex. 1. Additionally, Dillard's has submitted two prior versions of its Arbitration Agreement, one dated August 22, 2001, which contains Mr. Walker's handwritten signature, and one dated November 30, 2005, which contains Mr. Walker's electronic signature. Doc. 18-2, Exs. A-B.

         The 2011 Arbitration Agreement containing Mr. Walker's electronic signature provides that "the Company and the Associate agree that the procedures provided in these Rules will be the sole method used to resolve any dispute over Legal Claims arising between them." Doc. 12-1, Ex. 1 at 1. "Legal Claim" is defined as "a claim which would be recognized by a court of competent jurisdiction as stating a claim which would be remediable under existing law in that jurisdiction." Id. at 9. The Arbitration Agreement further states that Legal Claims include "any common law claims" and "personal injuries." Id. at 2. Under the heading, "Enforcement," the Arbitration Agreement provides: "Any dispute over a Legal Claim concerning this Agreement - the way it was formed, its applicability, meaning, enforceability, or any claim that all or part of this Agreement is void or voidable - is subject to arbitration under this Agreement." Id. at 8.

         On the final page of the Arbitration Agreement, entitled "Agreement to Arbitrate Legal Claims," there is a heading in bold, capital letters and underlined, that reads:


Id. at 12. The first paragraph below this heading states: "This Agreement contains the rules and procedures that Dillard's, Inc. and associates must follow to resolve any disputes between them over Legal Claims." Id. The last line of the document states "WE AGREE TO ARBITRATE OUR LEGAL CLAIMS AND TO ABIDE BY THE RULES OF ARBITRATION:" Id. Immediately following the last line are the electronic "authorized signature" of Paul J. Schroeder, on behalf of "the Company", and the electronic signature of Mr. Walker, as the "Associate." Id.

         On August 11, 2015, while at work, Mr. Walker was electrocuted and, as a result, fell from a ladder. Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 33. As a result of Mr. Walker's injuries, Mr. Walker and his wife, Pamela Walker, commenced the instant action by filing their Complaint for Damages on April 26, 2017 in the Second Judicial District Court of the State of New Mexico, County of Bernalillo. Doc. 1-1. Plaintiffs named as Defendants Dillard's and Guy Brady and Brian Hudson, both managerial employees of Dillard's. Id. at ¶ 5. The Complaint alleges claims of negligence and negligence per se, Delgado v. Phelps Dodge Chino, Inc., loss of consortium, and conspiracy, seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and seeks to hold Defendants jointly and severally liable. Doc. 1-1. After being served with the Complaint on May 24, 2017, on June 19, 2017, Dillard's removed the action to this Court. Doc. 1. To date, neither Mr. Brady nor Mr. Hudson have been served with the Complaint.

         On the instant motion, Dillard's requests that the Court compel Plaintiffs to arbitrate their claims against it. Plaintiff opposes the motion.


         The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") applies to arbitration provisions in "a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce." 9 U.S.C. § 2. Under the FAA, such arbitration provisions "are valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract." 9 U.S.C. § 2. Section 2 of the FAA creates "a substantive rule applicable in state as well as federal courts." Southland Corp. v. Keating, 465 U.S. 1, 16 (1984). To implement this substantive rule, "a party may apply to a federal court for a stay of the trial in an action 'upon any issue referable to arbitration under an agreement in writing for such arbitration." 9 U.S.C. § 3. Describing the FAA as "a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration," the Supreme Court has emphasized "the fundamental principle that arbitration is a matter of contract," and, accordingly, that "courts must place arbitration agreements on an equal footing with other contracts . . . and enforce them according to their terms." AT&T Mobility LLC v. Conception, 131 S.Ct. 1740, 1745 (2011).

         The FAA, however, "was not enacted to force parties to arbitrate in the absence of an agreement." Avedon Eng'g, Inc. v. Seatex,126 F.3d 1279, 1286 (10th Cir. 1997). Rather, Congress' concern "was to enforce private agreements into which parties had entered." Id. Accordingly, "[t]he existence of an agreement to arbitrate is a threshold matter ...

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