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Fields v. Morgan Tire and Automotive

March 18, 2008

MARK FIELDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MORGAN TIRE AND AUTOMOTIVE, INC., ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kugler, United States District Judge

OPINION

Presently before the Court is a motion by Defendants Morgan Tire and Automotive, Inc. ("MTA") and Jay Sporn (collectively "Defendants") to dismiss, compel mediation and arbitration, and stay proceedings in the case brought by Plaintiff Mark Fields ("Plaintiff"). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants discriminated against him while he worked for MTA. For the reasons set forth below, this Court will grant Defendants' motion.

I. BACKGROUND

MTA operates an automobile tire, equipment, and service center business with locations throughout southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania. On July 1, 2002, MTA hired Plaintiff, who is African American, as a salesperson. Jay Sporn, district manager for MTA's southern New Jersey stores, supervised Fields beginning in October 2004. Plaintiff alleges that despite assurances that he would be promoted to the next available store manager position, he was continually passed over in favor of Caucasians and that finally after four years, he quit in frustration.

In September 2003, MTA instituted its EDR Plan requiring mediation and arbitration to resolve employment-related disputes between employees and the company. The cover page of the EDR Plan states in boldface capital letters the following:

The Employee Dispute Resolution Plan is the exclusive means of resolving employment-related disputes. All persons who apply for employment, accept employment, continue working for, or accept any promotions, pay increases, bonuses, or any other benefits of employment from Morgan Tire and Auto, Inc. agree to resolve all such disputes through the mediation and binding arbitration process described herein instead of through the court system. (Smith Aff. Ex. 1.) Inside the EDR Plan, it provides further:

The EDR Plan is the exclusive, final and binding means by which Disputes can be resolved. The only method by which a Party can seek relief in a court of law is in accordance with the provisions of the [Federal Arbitration] Act. Except as provided herein, the Parties shall have no right to litigate a Dispute in any other forum. Consequently, the institution of a proceeding under this plan shall be a condition precedent to the initiation of any legal action by an Employee against the Company and any such legal action shall be limited to those actions available under the Act.

On December 11, 2003, Plaintiff signed an acknowledgment attesting that he received and had the opportunity to review the EDR Plan and that it "fully defines the disputes that are covered, describes the procedures for mediation and arbitration, and sets forth the remedies I may obtain." (Defs.' Br. Ex. B.) Plaintiff states that on that day, a store manager gave him a copy of the EDR Plan and told him to sign the form immediately, "or there would be repercussions."

After leaving MTA, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that Defendants failed to promote and constructively discharged him because of his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Seeking to invoke MTA's EDR Plan, Defendants filed their motion to dismiss, compel mediation and arbitration, and stay proceedings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).

II. STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a court may dismiss an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Rule is "typically used when the claim does not involve a federal question and there is no diversity of citizenship between the parties or other basis for the federal court to exercise its limited jurisdiction"; however, it is a flexible rule that "serv[es] as a vehicle for raising various residual defenses," including motions to dismiss for failure to arbitrate. Thompson v. Nienaber, 239 F. Supp. 2d 478, 483 (D.N.J. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

The burden of persuasion rests with the plaintiff when subject matter jurisdiction is challenged under Rule 12(b)(1). Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, "the person asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of showing that the case is properly before the Court at all stages of the litigation." Packard v. Provident Nat'l Bank, 994 F.2d 1039, 1045 (3d Cir. 1993). Furthermore, "no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims." Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977).

III. DISCUSSION

The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"), 9 U.S.C. ยงยง 1-16, guarantees that any agreement to settle a dispute by arbitration in a "contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any ...


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