United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is a Motion to Compel Arbitration
(Rec. Doc. 26) filed by Defendant, APMT,
LLC, doing business as “Tonti Management.”
Plaintiff has filed an opposition (Rec. Doc. 27) and
Defendant filed a reply (Rec. Doc. 31). Having considered the
Motion, the legal memoranda, and the applicable law, the
Court finds that the Motion should be
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
a Louisiana resident, complains that her lessor, Defendant,
violated the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et
seq. (“FHA”), by denying her request for an
allegedly reasonable accommodation-allowing her dog, Sasha,
to live with her in her apartment, despite Sasha's
non-compliance with Defendant's weight restriction for
pets. Defendant is Tonti Management, a Louisiana LLC that
operates and manages 14 properties and over 3, 000 apartments
in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. (Rec. Doc. 31). The apartment
where Plaintiff lived, Sunlake, is a multi-family apartment
community with a total of 1, 058 apartments. (Rec. Doc.
claims she suffers from an anxiety disorder that worsened to
the point where she became a danger to herself. Plaintiff
alleges the decline in her mental health was due at least in
part to the dispute that ensued with Defendant over
Defendant's pet policy. (Rec. Doc. 24). After Plaintiff
filed suit, Defendant motioned this Court to compel
arbitration and to stay this proceeding per an arbitration
agreement attached to the lease agreement.
LAW AND PARTIES' ARGUMENTS
whether parties should be compelled to arbitrate is a
two-step determination: first the Court must find whether a
valid arbitration agreement exists and second, whether there
is any federal statute or policy that renders the claims not
subject to arbitration. Banc One Acceptance Corp. v.
Hill, 367 F.3d 426, 429 (5th Cir. 2004). The first step
is further divided into two inquiries: (1) whether the
parties agreed to arbitrate and (2) whether the parties'
dispute falls within the scope of the arbitration agreement.
Id. “Whenever the scope of an arbitration
clause is fairly debatable or reasonably in doubt, the court
should decide the question of construction in favor of
arbitration.” Woodmen of the World Life Ins.
Soc'y/Omaha Woodmen Life Ins. Soc'y v. JRY, 320
Fed.Appx. 216 (5th Cir. 2009). In challenging the first step,
Plaintiff argues that there is no valid arbitration agreement
in this case because (1) the Federal Arbitration Act
(“FAA”) “applies exclusively to contracts
regarding transactions involving commerce” and a
residential lease, such as this one, does not involve
interstate commerce and (2) that the arbitration clause
should be struck as adhesive and unconscionable.
The FAA Is Applicable
states correctly that the FAA applies only to contracts
regarding transactions involved in maritime or interstate
commerce. 9 U.S.C. § 1-2. Plaintiff, citing several
district court opinions,  argues that a residential lease, such
as the one involved here, “does not in any way involve
commerce.” (Rec. Doc. 27 at 3). The Supreme Court has
found that in drafting the FAA, it was Congress's intent
to exercise its “commerce power to the full.”
Allied-Bruce Terminix Companies, Inc. v. Dobson, 513
U.S. 265, 277 (1995). Therefore, Plaintiff's argument is
essentially that the rental market for multi-unit apartment
buildings is beyond Congress's regulatory reach. This is
a proposition the Supreme Court has summarily rejected:
The rental of real estate is unquestionably such an activity
[affecting interstate commerce]. We need not rely on the
connection between the market for residential units and
“the interstate movement of people, ” to
recognize that the local rental of an apartment unit is
merely an element of a much broader commercial market in
rental properties. The congressional power to regulate the
class of activities that constitute the rental market for
real estate includes the power to regulate individual
activity within that class.
Russell v. United States, 471 U.S. 858, 862 (1985);
see also Groome Res. Ltd., L.L.C. v. Par. of
Jefferson, 234 F.3d 192, 206 (5th Cir. 2000). The FAA
applies here so long as there is a valid agreement to
arbitrate. However, even if this Court found that the FAA did
not apply, that finding would have little effect in this case
because a strong presumption in the enforceability of
arbitration agreements exists under Louisiana law, as well as
federal law. Aguillard v. Auction Mgt. Corp., 908
So.2d 1, 18 (La. 2005).
The Agreement Is Enforceable According ...