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Curatola v. Titlemax of Tennessee, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

June 6, 2018

VINCENT CURATOLA, INDIVIDUALLY ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, Plaintiff,
v.
TITLEMAX OF TENNESSEE, INC. and TMX FINANCE OF TENNESSEE, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER REJECTING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S ORDER AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO STAY AND TO COMPEL ARBITRATION

          J. DANIEL BREEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Before the Court are the “Objections to [the June 8, 2017] Order of the Magistrate Judge” by Defendants, TitleMax of Tennessee, Inc. and TMX Finance of Tennessee, Inc. (collectively, “TitleMax”). (Docket Entry (“D.E.”) 29; D.E. 28.) The order by Magistrate Judge Edward Bryant denied Defendants' motion to stay this action and to compel Plaintiff, Vincent Curatola, to submit his claims to individual arbitration. (D.E. 28; D.E. 14.)

         On October 4, 2016, Plaintiff, a former store manager for TitleMax in Milan, Tennessee, individually filed an “opt-in” collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) on behalf of himself and “all persons who[] at any time during the past three years and up until the date of entry of judgment are or were employed by Defendants and who worked overtime without compensation.” 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.; (D.E. 1 at PageID 1, 3, 5). He also included a claim for unjust enrichment under Tennessee common law. (D.E. 1 at PageID 6.) Specifically, Curatola alleged that TitleMax required him “to clock in at 8:30 am and to clock out at 6:15 pm, ” though he “was regularly required to work ‘off-the-clock' prior to 8:30 am and after 6:15 pm, ” and that his “supervisor would regularly deduct approximately five (5) to ten (10) hours per week of work from Plaintiff's timecard.” (Id. at PageID 3.) Plaintiff asserted that he “complained to Defendant TMX's Human Resources Generalist, Clay Hall, regarding” these issues, but while “Mr. Hall acknowledged that Plaintiff was entitled to receive backpay, ” he “refused to fully compensate Plaintiff for all unpaid hours he worked.” (Id. at PageID 4.)

         On November 18, 2016, Defendants filed their motion to stay and to compel individual arbitration, (D.E. 14), which the Court referred to Magistrate Judge Bryant, (D.E. 15). On December 1, 2016, Curatola filed a response, (D.E. 18), and TitleMax replied four days later, (D.E. 19; see D.E. 20). Following a hearing on June 1, 2017, (D.E. 27), the magistrate judge denied Defendants' motion, concluding that “the Sixth[] Circuit's finding in [NLRB v.] Alternative Entertainment that the right to concerted activity is a substantive right, [1] and the [National Labor Relations Board's (“NLRB”)] decision in On Assignment, which is due Chevron deference, that requiring employees to opt out of an arbitration agreement that otherwise waives the right to collective action interferes with an employee's exercise of rights provided under the [National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”)], control.” (D.E. 28 at PageID 152 (noting that “[t]he existence of an opt-out provision does not salvage an otherwise unenforceable class action waiver, as it impermissibly interferes with employees' rights to concerted action”)); see Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984); Alt. Entm't, 858 F.3d 393; On Assignment Staffing Servs., Inc., 362 N.L.R.B. 189, 2015 WL 5113231 (Aug. 27, 2015), rev'd per curiam, No. 15-60642, 2016 WL 3685206 (5th Cir. June 6, 2016). Furthermore, “finding that this provision of the parties' contract is illegal, ” Judge Bryant concluded that “the only available and appropriate remedy is to entirely invalidate the Arbitration Agreement, allowing Plaintiff to pursue his collective action claims in this judicial forum.” (D.E. 28 at PageID 152-53.)

         Following Defendants' June 22, 2017 objections to the magistrate judge's order, (D.E. 29), Plaintiff submitted a response, (D.E. 32), to which TitleMax replied, (D.E. 35). Additionally, the parties each filed notices of supplemental authority, (D.E. 38; D.E. 36), after two district courts reached near-opposite conclusions regarding the applicability of Alternative Entertainment to FLSA claims. See Hubbard v. Dolgencorp, L.L.C., No. 1:17-cv-1133-STA-egb, 2017 WL 4323588 (W.D. Tenn. Sept. 28, 2017), appeal docketed, No. 17-6293 (6th Cir. Nov. 1, 2017); Doe #1 v. Déjà Vu Consulting, Inc., No. 3:17-cv-00040, 2017 WL 3837730 (M.D. Tenn. Sept. 1, 2017).

         Plaintiff and Defendants primarily dispute the enforceability of a class and collective action waiver in their August 3, 2015 Arbitration Agreement (“AA”) due to its 60-day opt-out language, as well as whether the collective action waiver is severable or renders the entire AA unenforceable. The AA requires employees and TitleMax to arbitrate all “Arbitrable Claims, ” including “claims for wages or other compensation due; claims for breach of any contract or covenant (express or implied); . . . and claims for violation of any federal, state, or other governmental law, statute, regulation, or ordinance.”[2] (D.E. 14-1 at PageID 42.) Under the heading “Claims Not Covered by the Agreement, ” the AA provides as follows:

To the maximum extent permitted by law, the Parties hereby waive any right to bring on behalf of persons other than themselves, or to otherwise participate with other persons in, any class or collective action against the other Party (the “Class Action Waiver”). The Parties understand, however, that to the maximum extent permitted by law they retain the right to bring Arbitrable Claims in arbitration for themselves (and only themselves) as individuals against the other Party.
Although the Parties agree that Employee will not be retaliated against, disciplined, or threatened with discipline as a result of Employee filing or participating in a class, collective, or representative action or claim under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act in any forum, the Company may lawfully seek enforcement of this Agreement and the Class Action Waiver under the [Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”)] and seek dismissal of such class, collective, or representative actions or claims.
The Class Action Waiver shall be severable in any case in which the action is filed as an individual action and severance is necessary to ensure that the individual action proceeds in arbitration.

(D.E. 14-1 at PageID 43 (emphasis in original).) Several pages later, the following paragraphs appear under “Right to Opt Out of Arbitration”:

Arbitration is not a mandatory requirement of Employee's employment, and therefore Employee understands that Employee may submit a form stating that Employee wishes to opt out and not be subject to this Agreement. If Employee wants to opt out, Employee understands and agrees that Employee must submit a signed and dated “Arbitration Opt Out Form” (“Form”) that can be obtained from the Legal department either by written request mailed to Attn: General Counsel at 15 Bull St., Suite 200, Savannah, GA 31401, or by email at Legal@titlemax.com. In order to be effective, the signed and dated Form must be received by the Legal department within sixty (60) days of Employee's execution of this Agreement, and it will only be effective upon written confirmation of receipt by the Legal department. If Employee does not receive written confirmation of receipt within ten (10) days of sending the Form, Employee must contact the Legal department to obtain the written confirmation of receipt.
If Employee timely opts out as provided in this section, Employee may pursue available legal remedies without regard to this Agreement. If Employee does not timely opt out as provided in this section, continuing employment and the Parties' mutual agreement to arbitrate constitute mutual acceptance of the terms of this Agreement by the Parties. Employee has the right to consult with counsel of Employee's choice concerning this Agreement.

(D.E. 14-1 at PageID 47 (emphasis in original).)

         On May 21, 2018, after the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Epic Sys. Corp. v. Lewis, Defendants filed a notice of the decision, asserting that Lewis “decided the issues before this Court in favor of TitleMax” by “uph[o]ld[ing] the enforceability of class and collective waivers in arbitration agreements” and by “abrogat[ing] Alternative Entertainment.” (D.E. 40 at PageID 234-35); see Epic Sys. Corp. v. Lewis, Nos. 16-285, 16-300, 16-307, 2018 WL 2292444, at *1 (U.S. May 21, 2018); Alt. Entm't, 858 F.3d 393.

         II. ...


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