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Wood v. Palisades Collection

July 22, 2010

DANE T. WOOD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PALISADES COLLECTION, LLC ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chesler, D.J.

OPINION

This matter comes before this Court on the motion to compel arbitration and stay all proceedings pending completion of arbitration by Defendant Palisades Collection, LLC ("Palisades"). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

This case arises out of a dispute over the practices of a collection agency in regard to credit card collections. On September 8, 2009, Plaintiff Dane T. Wood filed a class action Complaint which alleged that Palisades engaged in collection practices which violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692. The Complaint alleges that Palisades attempted to collect from Plaintiff on a credit card account it had purchased from "Chase," which had originated with "First USA." (Compl. ¶ 17.) In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks to represent a class of Plaintiffs with addresses in the state of Kansas who received certain telephone calls from Palisades in connection with the collection of a debt.

On November 3, 2009, Defendant filed the instant motion. Defendant argues that Plaintiff must pursue his claims in arbitration because an applicable contractual provision specifies binding arbitration as the only means for resolving any related controversy. Plaintiff opposes the motion.

On March 24, 2010, the Court heard oral argument on the motion. At oral argument, the Court Ordered supplemental briefing on choice of law issues, and set the matter for an evidentiary hearing on the question of the existence of any applicable arbitration agreement. The evidentiary hearing was held on May 24, 2010. The parties submitted further, additional rounds of briefing both before and after the evidentiary hearing.

ANALYSIS

I. Did the parties enter into an agreement to arbitrate?

"A party to a valid and enforceable arbitration agreement is entitled to a stay of federal court proceedings pending arbitration as well as an order compelling such arbitration." Alexander v. Anthony Int'l, L.P., 341 F.3d 256, 263 (3d Cir. 2003). Before entering such an order, the Court must "ascertain whether the parties entered a valid agreement to arbitrate." Id. at 264. The parties in the instant case dispute the existence of an arbitration agreement.

"A district court decides a motion to compel arbitration under the same standard it applies to a motion for summary judgment. The party opposing arbitration is given the benefit of all reasonable doubts and inferences that may arise." Kaneff v. Del. Title Loans, Inc., 587 F.3d 616, 620 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). "Only when there is no genuine issue of fact concerning the formation of the agreement should the court decide as a matter of law that the parties did or did not enter into such an agreement." Par-Knit Mills, Inc. v. Stockbridge Fabrics Co., 636 F.2d 51, 54 (3d Cir. 1980).

"An unequivocal denial that the agreement had been made, accompanied by supporting affidavits," ordinarily suffices to raise a triable factual dispute. Id. at 55. Plaintiff disputes the existence of an arbitration agreement on various grounds, but none rises to the level of an unequivocal denial.

Defendant contends that, while Plaintiff first opened the account with First USA, the account was later purchased from First USA by Chase Bank, which subsequently sold it to Defendant Palisades.

At the evidentiary hearing, Palisades offered the testimony of Steven Braun, its Director of Litigation. Braun testified, in brief, that Wood's credit card account had been purchased from Chase Bank. Palisades then offered the testimony of Anthony Demczak, an employee of Chase Bank USA, N.A. (the "Bank"). In brief, Demczak testified that he was employed as an Operations Manager and that he had reviewed the credit card account records for Plaintiff that had been created and maintained for the Bank. Demczak stated that, based on those records, he had obtained the original cardholder agreement, as well as all subsequent amendments to that agreement, which, given the Bank's customary business practices, would have been mailed to Plaintiff. Plaintiff agrees that he opened the credit card account in question, and he raises no dispute over whether the Bank had his valid address on file at all relevant times. Nor does he challenge the inference that the relevant documents were in fact mailed to him, and received by him.

In brief, examination of the original agreement shows that it contains an arbitration provision, and examination of the subsequent amendments does not show that any amendment ever eliminated the arbitration provision. Rather, it appears that the amendment identified with the code "ADV810," mailed to Plaintiff on August 5, 2003, contains an amended arbitration provision. (Demczak Decl. Ex. D.) The present litigation comes within the scope of that provision, as it is a dispute ...


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