United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
T. Copenhaver, Jr. United States District Judge
is a motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, compel
arbitration, filed by defendants Hampden Coal, LLC and
Blackhawk Mining, LLC (together
“defendants”) on May 12, 2017.
John Chambers filed his complaint in the Circuit Court of
Boone County, West Virginia on December 13, 2016. See Compl.
Ex. A to Notice of Removal. Shortly after, he filed his
amended complaint on January 17, 2017, adding defendant
Hampden Coal, LLC (“Hampden Coal”) to the action.
See Am. Compl. Ex. A to Notice of Removal. Invoking this
court's diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332(a)(1), defendants timely removed the action to
this court on May 5, 2017, within thirty days after service
of the amended complaint. Notice of Removal ¶ 3.
Chambers states that he was employed with Hampden Coal from
June of 2005 until approximately December 14, 2014. Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 5, 8. In 2014, Blackhawk Mining, LLC
purchased Hampden Coal and sometime thereafter required Mr.
Chambers to sign an arbitration agreement. Pl.'s Resp.
Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Compel Arbitration (“Pl.'s
Resp.”) at 1. He alleges that defendants terminated his
employment due to his age, in violation of the West Virginia
Human Rights Act. Id. at ¶¶ 8-13; W.Va.
Code § 5-11-9. Mr. Chambers seeks compensatory damages,
unmitigated front pay, emotional distress and punitive
damages, and attorney fees and costs. Am. Compl. ¶ 18.
move the court to dismiss this action, or, in the
alternative, to compel arbitration according to a mutual
arbitration agreement that they argue is binding on Mr.
Chambers' claim under the Federal Arbitration Act
(“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1, et seq. Defs.'
Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss Compel Arbitration at 1-3
Chambers agrees that valid arbitration agreements are
governed by the FAA, but he disputes the validity and
enforceability of the agreement that he signed. Pl.'s
Resp. at 2-3. He claims that the agreement is unenforceable
because it lacks proper consideration and, by its own terms,
“specifically states that it is not a contract.”
II. Legal Standard In an action brought “upon any issue
referable to arbitration under an agreement in writing for
such arbitration” where the court is “satisfied
that the issue involved in such [action] is referable to
arbitration, ” the court shall “stay the trial of
the action until such arbitration has been had in accordance
with the terms of the agreement.” 2 U.S.C. § 3.
“A district court therefore has no choice but to grant
a motion to compel arbitration where a valid arbitration
agreement exists and the issues in a case fall within its
purview.” Adkins v. Labor Ready, Inc., 303
F.3d 496, 500 (4th Cir. 2002).
principal purpose of the FAA is to ensure that private
arbitration agreements are enforced according to their
terms.” AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion,
563 U.S. 333, 344 (2011) (internal quotations omitted). Under
the FAA, agreements to arbitrate are “valid,
irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist
in law or in equity for the revocation of any
contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2. “[G]enerally
applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, duress, or
unconscionability, may be applied to invalidate arbitration
agreements.” Doctor's Assocs. V. Casarotto, 517
U.S. 681, 687 (1996).
the arbitration agreement between Mr. Chambers and Hampden
Coal is enforceable and (2) his claim is referable to
arbitration under that agreement, then the court must compel
arbitration. 9 U.S.C. § 3; see Adkins 303 F.3d at 500.
Enforceability of Arbitration Agreement The enforceability of
an arbitration agreement is determined by the applicable
state contract law. See First Options of Chicago, Inc. v.
Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944 (1995). The parties are in
agreement that West Virginia state law controls the validity
of their arbitration agreement. Pl.'s Resp. at 2;
Defs.' Mem. at 7.
Chambers argues that the arbitration agreement he signed is
unenforceable because it lacks proper consideration due to
mistaken references to an employer other than Hampden Coal.
Pl.'s Resp. at 3. The agreement provides in relevant
Consideration. By signing this agreement, Hampden Coal and I
are exchanging promises to arbitrate any disputes arising
between us. Every individual who works for Hampden Coal must
have signed and returned this Agreement to be eligible for
employment and continued employment with Blue Diamond. Blue
Diamond's employment and continued employment of me as
well as, the benefits and compensation provided by Hampden
Coal are consideration for this Agreement. Both Hampden Coal
and I remain free to end our employment relationship at any
time, for any reason.
Arbitration Agreement of John Chambers at 3 Ex. 1 to
Defs.' Mot. Dismiss (“Chambers
Agreement”). Because “[p]laintiff has never
worked for or had any association with Blue Diamond”
and “Blue Diamond has never been plaintiff's
employer nor offered plaintiff employment, ” the
consideration “has never come to ...