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Gomez v. PDS Tech, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 19, 2018

HERMAN GOMEZ, Plaintiff,
PDS TECH, INC.; AVIALL SERVICES, INC.; JOHN VOGT and JOHN DOES 1-5 and 6-10, Defendants.


          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.:

         Plaintiff Herman Gomez brings this action against PDS Tech, Inc. (“PDS”), Aviall Services, Inc. (“Aviall”) and John Vogt (collectively “Defendants”), alleging violations of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), in connection with his purported unlawful retaliatory discharge from employment. This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion to compel arbitration and dismiss Plaintiff's complaint (the “Complaint”) pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1, et seq. There was no oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.


         Plaintiff is a New Jersey resident and former employee of Defendants. Notice of Removal, Ex. A, Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1-1 [hereinafter “Compl.”]. Defendant PDS is a staffing agency that conducts business in New Jersey. Id. ¶¶ 2, 7. Defendant Aviall is a corporation with a place of business in Parsippany, New Jersey. Id. ¶ 3. Defendant Vogt is an employee of Aviall. Id. ¶¶ 4, 9.

         In April 2017, PDS contacted Plaintiff and asked if he was interested in a position as an assembly technician with its client Aviall. Id. ¶¶ 6-8. Plaintiff responded affirmatively and PDS submitted his resume to Aviall, who subsequently interviewed him and hired him on the spot. Id. ¶¶ 8, 10-11. Plaintiff began working at Aviall later that month. Id. ¶ 12. Two days after he started, Plaintiff complained to Vogt about various issues that he felt created an unlawful safety violation in the workplace. Id. ¶¶ 16-19. Plaintiff also informed PDS of his concerns. Id. ¶ 26. Approximately a week thereafter, PDS advised Plaintiff that Aviall had terminated his employment. Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff filed the instant suit in New Jersey Superior Court, which Defendants subsequently removed to this Court in December 2017. Id.; Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1.

         Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint and compel arbitration. Mem. of Law in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. (“Defs.' Mem.”) 1, ECF No. 12-1. Defendants argue first that federal law governs the arbitration clause in the employment agreement (the “Agreement”) Plaintiff entered into with PDS and that the Agreement covers Plaintiff's CEPA claims. See id. at 2-6. Defendants next argue that the Agreement covers Plaintiff's claims against Aviall and Vogt because they are intended third-party beneficiaries to the Agreement despite the fact that they are non-signatories. See id. at 9-10.

         Plaintiff opposes, arguing first that the Agreement is unenforceable because the general waiver of employment-related claims found in the arbitration clause is not a clear and unambiguous waiver of Plaintiff's CEPA claims.[1] See Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. (“Pl.'s Opp'n”) 5-6, ECF No. 15. Plaintiff further argues that the clause is unenforceable because it does not establish the arbitration forum. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff finally submits that the arbitration clause lacks specific reference to CEPA, further rendering it unenforceable. Id. at 7-8.

         In their reply brief, Defendants respond that the FAA provides for an arbitration forum when contractual language is silent thereto. Defs.' Reply in Supp. of Their Mot. (“Defs.' Reply”) 1-4, ECF No. 16. Defendants further argue that the arbitration clause sufficiently identifies the statutory claims covered by the Agreement. Id. at 5-8. Defendants submit that Plaintiff's CEPA claims fall within the scope of the Agreement. Id. at 8-10. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff concedes that Aviall and Vogt are third-party beneficiaries to the Agreement. Id. at 10-11.


         The FAA “creates a body of federal substantive law establishing and governing the duty to honor agreements to arbitrate disputes” and expresses “a strong federal policy in favor of resolving disputes through arbitration.” See Century Indem. Co. v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's, London, 584 F.3d 513, 522 (3d Cir. 2009). “Before compelling a party to arbitrate pursuant to the FAA, a court must determine that (1) there is an agreement to arbitrate and (2) the dispute at issue falls within the scope of that agreement.” Id. at 523. “To determine whether the parties have agreed to arbitrate, [courts] apply ‘ordinary state-law principles that govern the formation of contracts.'” Id. at 524 (quoting First Options of Chi., Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944 (1995)). “[O]nce a court has found that there is a valid agreement to arbitrate, . . . the determination of whether a particular dispute is within the class of those disputes governed by the arbitration clause . . . is a matter of federal law.” See id. (quotation omitted). In making such a determination, “‘there is a presumption of arbitrability[:] an order to arbitrate the particular grievance should not be denied unless it may be said with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute.'” Id. (quoting AT&T Techs., Inc. v. Commc'ns Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 650 (1986)).

         Courts in the Third Circuit apply two different standards when considering a motion to compel arbitration. “[W]hen it is apparent, based on ‘the face of a complaint, and documents relied upon in the complaint, ' that certain of a party's claims ‘are subject to an enforceable arbitration clause, a motion to compel arbitration should be considered under a Rule 12(b)(6) standard without discovery's delay.'” Guidotti v. Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, L.L.C., 716 F.3d 764, 776 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Somerset Consulting, LLC v. United Capital Lenders, LLC, 832 F.Supp.2d 474, 482 (E.D. Pa. 2011)). “But if the complaint and its supporting documents are unclear regarding the agreement to arbitrate, or if the plaintiff has responded to a motion to compel arbitration with additional facts sufficient to place the agreement to arbitrate in issue, then ‘the parties should be entitled to discovery on the question of arbitrability before a court entertains further briefing on [the] question.” Id. (quoting same). Under such circumstances, courts apply a summary judgment standard. See id.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998).


         Plaintiff has not responded with additional facts that place the agreement to arbitrate in issue and the Court, therefore, applies the Rule 12(b)(6) standard to Defendants' motion. The Agreement is unquestionably subject to federal law by virtue of the fact that Defendant PDS is a Washington corporation with business operations in many states, which Plaintiff does not contest. See Decl. of J. Surely (“Surely Decl.”) ¶ 2, ECF No. 12-2. “A nexus to interstate commerce is found when citizens of different states engage in performance of contractual obligations in one of those states because such a contract necessitates interstate travel of both personnel and payments.” Alfa ...

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