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Larkin v. Day

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

May 15, 2019




         Defendants move to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration. (ECF Nos. 29 & 34.) Plaintiffs urge this Court to deny the motion to dismiss and to maintain jurisdiction over their claims by arguing that the contract containing the arbitration clause is void. (ECF No. 48.) For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' request to compel arbitration as to Chad Larkin's claims. But the Court DENIES the Motion to Dismiss on Genny Larkin's claims.


         Plaintiffs Chad and Genny Larkin sued Jonathan Day (“Day”), Pilgrim Films & Television, L.L.C., d/b/a Pilgrim Media Group and Operations (“Pilgrim”), and Discovery, Inc. (“Discovery”) for harm suffered during the filming of “Street Outlaws Memphis.” (ECF No. 1.) Street Outlaws Memphis is a television show produced by Pilgrim for Discovery. (Id. at PageID 3.) The show purports to portray illegal street-racing in and around Memphis, Tennessee. (Id.) Day hosts the show and he, along with the other “Memphis Street Outlaws, ” invite outside racers to compete in street racing events. (Id.) Chad Larkin (“Mr. Larkin”) was one of those outside racers who allegedly participated in September 2017. (Id. at PageID 4- 5.) To increase the show's drama and ratings, Defendants allegedly encouraged the Memphis Street Outlaws and the outside racers to act angry and “talk trash” to one another. (Id. at PageID 5-6.)

         Unsurprisingly, the theatrics allegedly turned real when Mr. Larkin's taunts got under Day's skin. (Id.) Tensions ran high as one of the Memphis Street Outlaws “jumped the start signal”[1] and the outside racer chose not to follow, leading to a victory for the outside racer and a disqualification for the Memphis Street Outlaw. (Id. at PageID 6-7.) The Complaint claims that Mr. Larkin began to taunt Day and the Memphis Street Outlaws--as requested by the production staff. (Id. at PageID 7.) In response Day and “Bounty Hunter, ” a member of the Memphis Street Outlaws, allegedly attacked Mr. Larkin. (Id. at PageID 9-10.) Mr. Larkin alleges suffered extensive bodily injuries during the attack. (Id.) Genny Larkin (“Mrs. Larkin”), alleges that she also suffered physical and emotional injuries when a female member of the Memphis Street Outlaws attacked her when she tried to help her husband. (Id. at PageID 10.) This attack undergirds the Complaint.

         Defendants counter these allegations by arguing that this Court should enforce the Arbitration Provision in the Appearance Release (the “Release”) Mr. Larkin signed when he arrived at the filming location. (Id. at PageID 72-73.) By contrast, Plaintiffs argue that the Arbitration Provision is not enforceable because the Release is void. (ECF No. 48 at PageID 153.) In fact, they assert that the Release as a whole (including the Arbitration Provision) is void because it is an agreement to commit illegal activities. (Id.) Plaintiffs assert also that the Arbitration Provision is not severable from the Release and, importantly, that this Court should determine whether the Release is valid rather the arbitrator making that decision. (Id.) On the other hand, Defendants argue that, at a minimum, the Arbitration Provision is severable and that the Larkins' claims-including the validity of the Release should be referred to arbitration.


         The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) is the starting point for this Motion. Congress enacted the FAA “to overcome judicial resistance to arbitration.” Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 400, 443 (2006). The FAA provides a way for one to petition a court to compel arbitration under a contract. See 9 U.S.C. § 4. Before compelling arbitration, the court first determines whether the parties agreed to arbitrate. Stout v. J.D. Byrider, 228 F.3d 709, 714 (6th Cir. 2000). Next, the court decides the scope of that agreement. Id. Finally, the court must decide whether to stay the remainder of the case if not all the claims are referred to arbitration. Id.

         Section 2 of the FAA reflects the Act's breadth. This section states:

A written provision in . . . a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract . . . shall be 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. The Supreme Court has interpreted this provision as “reflecting both a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration” and the “fundamental principle that arbitration is a matter of contract.” AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted). So courts place arbitration agreements on “equal footing with other contracts.” Rent-A-Ctr., W., Inc. v. Jackson, 561 U.S. 63, 67 (2010). This “ensures that private arbitration agreements are enforced according to their terms.” Volt Info. Scis., Inc. v. Bd. of Trs. of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 469 (1989). And the FAA is a body of federal substantive law that preempts state laws. Southland Corp. v. Keating, 465 U.S. 1, 12-13 (1984).

         Despite the FAA's broad reach, a savings clause in § 2 “permits agreements to arbitrate to be invalidated by ‘generally applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, duress, or unconscionability,' but not by defenses that apply only to arbitration or that derive their meaning from the fact that an agreement to arbitrate is at issue.” Concepcion, 563 U.S. at 339 (quoting Doctor's Associates, Inc. v. Casarotto, 517 U.S. 681, 687 (1996)). Parties challenging an arbitration provision under this savings clause may do so in two ways.

         First, one can challenge the validity of the arbitration clause itself. Cardegna, 546 U.S. at 444. A challenge singling out the arbitration clause itself, such as fraud in the inducement to arbitrate, raises “an issue which goes to the ‘making' of the agreement to arbitrate, '” which falls within the courts authority to decide. Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395, 403-04 (1967). In effect, these disputes concern the applicability of the FAA to the parties' contract. See id. at 404.

         The second challenge is to the enforceability or validity of the contract as a whole. Id. That said, arbitrators, not the courts, decide challenges to the contract's validity or enforceability apart from challenges to the formation of the contract. See Cardegna, 546 U.S. at 445-46; Fazio v. Lehman Bros., Inc., 340 F.3d 386, 393 (6th Cir. 2003); Day v. Fortune HiTech Marketing, Inc., 536 Fed.Appx. 600, 604 (6th Cir. 2013). This is because, “as a matter of substantive federal law, an arbitration provision is severable from the remainder of the contract.” Cardegna. at 445-46. So a defective contract may still ...

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