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Huckaba v. Ref-Chem, L.P.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 11, 2018

KIMBERLY HUCKABA, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
REF-CHEM, L.P., Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas

          Before KING, ELROD, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges.

          JENNIFER WALKER ELROD, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         Kimberly Huckaba, a former employee of Ref-Chem, L.P., appeals the district court's judgment compelling arbitration. Because the express language of the agreement at issue requires for it to be signed by both parties and because it is undisputed that Ref-Chem did not sign the agreement, we REVERSE and REMAND.

         I.

         Huckaba sued her former employer, Ref-Chem, in federal district court. Ref-Chem moved to dismiss and compel arbitration. In support of its motion, Ref-Chem provided the court with an arbitration agreement that had been signed by Huckaba. Next to Huckaba's signature is a signature block for Ref-Chem. Ref-Chem, however, did not sign the agreement.

         The agreement provides that:

The organization referred to above ("Employer") and the Employee, whose signature is affixed hereto, ("Employee"), mutually recognize that there are many advantages to using mediation and arbitration to settle any and all legal disputes and claims, including, but not limited to, all those arising from or in the course of employment. . . . In consideration of these many benefits, the mutual agreement of both parties to the binding arbitration provisions, the continuation of the employment relationship and other consideration, the sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged by Employee, the parties hereto mutually agree that this document shall govern the resolution of all claims and disputes between them.

         In addition, the agreement states that "[b]y signing this agreement the parties are giving up any right they may have to sue each other" and that the agreement "may not be changed, except in writing and signed by all parties." Along with a copy of the agreement, Ref-Chem submitted an affidavit from its human resources director. Among other things, the human resources director states that: (1) Ref-Chem kept Huckaba's signed arbitration agreement in her personnel file as a business record; and (2), pursuant to the agreement, Ref-Chem "voluntarily agreed to arbitrate any disputes between" itself and Huckaba.

         In response, Huckaba also submitted an affidavit. She testifies in her affidavit that she signed the agreement "with the expectation and intent that it would be passed on for the signature of the appropriate Ref-Chem" officer. It was her "intention that in order to be bound by the agreement to arbitrate, Ref-Chem would also have to sign the agreement and agree in writing to be bound by its terms." She states that she did not discuss the terms of the agreement with anyone, nor did she orally agree to arbitration.

         Based on the agreement, the district court granted Ref-Chem's motion to compel and dismissed the case without prejudice pending arbitration. The district court concluded that Huckaba's "continued employment after signing the Arbitration Agreement constitute[d] acceptance of that agreement by both" her and Ref-Chem. Huckaba timely appealed.

         II.

         "This court reviews de novo a district court's ruling on a motion to compel arbitration." Klein v. Nabors Drilling USA L.P., 710 F.3d 234, 236 (5th Cir. 2013). Enforcement of an arbitration agreement involves two analytical steps: (1) whether there is a valid agreement to arbitrate; and (2) whether the dispute falls within the scope of that agreement. Id.; see also Kubala v. Supreme Prod. Servs., Inc., 830 F.3d 199, 201 (5th Cir. 2016). Here, the first step is at issue.

         Determining whether there is a valid arbitration agreement is a question of state contract law and is for the court. Kubala, 830 F.3d at 202. The parties agree that Texas law applies. Texas has no presumption in favor of arbitration when determining whether a valid arbitration agreement exists. J.M. Davidson, Inc. v. Webster, 128 S.W.3d 223, 227 (Tex. 2003). Instead, the party moving to compel arbitration must show that the agreement meets all of the requisite contract elements. Id. at 228. In addition, because the validity ...


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