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Caponi v. Jetro Holdings Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 14, 2014

GERARD CAPONI, Plaintiff,
v.
JETRO HOLDINGS INC., a corporation; JETRO CASH AND CARRY ENTERPRISES, INC., a corporation; and RESTAURANT DEPOT, INC., a corporation, Defendants.

OPINION

WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge.

Defendants bring this motion to stay the action and compel arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-14 ("FAA"). Plaintiff filed an opposition which did not oppose the propriety of the arbitration itself, but opposed a clause in the arbitration agreement which could effectively saddle the plaintiff with 50% of the arbitration costs. There was no oral argument. L.Civ.R. 78.1(b). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to compel arbitration is GRANTED. Plaintiff's request to strike the fee-shifting clause as unenforceable is DENIED without prejudice.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Gerard Caponi is a former Meat Manager for Defendant Restaurant Depot. From December 22, 2008 until January 30, 2013, Caponi worked at the Hackensack Branch Deli Department of Restaurant Depot. (Certification of Shez Darden, "Darden Cert." at ¶¶ 7-8.) During the course of his employment, specifically, on February 7, 2012, Plaintiff signed an agreement to arbitrate employment disputes ("The Agreement"). (Darden Cert. at ¶ 9.)

The Agreement stated in part:

COST OF ARBITRATION

The Company will pay one hundred percent (100%) of all costs peculiar to arbitration, including without limitation AAA administrative fees, arbitrator compensation and expenses, and costs of witnesses called by the arbitrator ("Arbitration Costs"). Upon the conclusion of the arbitration hearing and based upon the evidence presented during the hearing, the arbitrator shall determine and include in the final award an order that the employee reimburse the Company for up to 50% of the Arbitration Costs. In no event shall the employee be required to reimburse the Company prohibitive costs that would effectively deny him or her a forum to vindicate his or her rights, except to the extent set forth above and unless otherwise ordered by the Arbitrator under applicable law, each party shall bear his, her or its own expenses, such as attorneys' fees, costs, and expert witness fees.

(Darden Cert., Exhibit A.)

On January 30, 2013, Caponi alleges that he became ill, notified the Assistant Manager of the illness, stepped outside, vomited, and after returning to his department, was notified that he was terminated. (Complaint at ¶¶ 5-7.)

On July 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed a one-count complaint in state court alleging violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-4.1 et seq., based on the disability or perceived disability of having the flu. ( See Complaint at ¶ 8.) Defendants removed on the basis of diversity and filed a motion to stay the case and compel arbitration. (ECF. Nos. 1, 3.)

In his opposition, Plaintiff argues that the provision regarding the cost of arbitration is unconscionable and unenforceable. (Opposition Brief at 3.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Under the FAA, if a party brings an action "referable to arbitration, " the court "shall on application of one of the parties stay the trial of action until such arbitration has been held in accordance with the terms of the agreement." 9 U.S.C. § 3. The Third Circuit has interpreted the FAA to require that "a stay, rather than a dismissal, is the required course of action when compelling ...


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