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Turnipseed v. Apmt, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 13, 2018

DORY TURNIPSEED
v.
APMT, LLC, d/b/a TONTI MANAGEMENT

         SECTION: “J” (4)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before 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 GRANTED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff, 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. 31-1).

         Plaintiff 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.

         APPLICABLE LAW AND PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

         Determining 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.

         DISCUSSION

         I. The FAA Is Applicable

         Plaintiff 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, [1] 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).

         II. The Agreement Is Enforceable According ...


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