Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Dallas COA Compels Arbitration in Injured Nurse’s Lawsuit Against Former Employer

Originally published by Beth Graham.

Texas’ Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas has ordered an injured nurse’s lawsuit filed against his former employer to arbitration.  In Corinth Investor Holdings, LLC v. Bennett, No. 05-15-00944-CV (Tex. App.  5th, July 7, 2016), a registered nurse, Bennett, was injured while working for a Texas health care facility that is a nonsubscriber to the workers’ compensation system.  Instead, the employer, Corinth, operates an “Employee Injury Benefit Plan” that includes a revocable agreement to arbitrate any disputes under the Federal Arbitration Act.  The terms of the binding arbitration agreement state an employee may revoke his or her consent to engage in arbitral proceedings so long as the worker has not received any benefits under the plan.  In order to revoke the document, a worker must submit his or her request in writing via certified mail.

Following his workplace accident, Bennett received compensation under the terms of Corinth’s Employee Injury Benefit Plan.  Approximately one year after he was hurt, however, Bennett attempted to revoke the agreement to arbitrate by sending an email to Corinth’s human resources department.  He also apparently posted a copy of his attempt to revoke the contract in various locations throughout his workplace including a bulletin board and an elevator bank.

Eventually, Bennett’s employment with Corinth was terminated and he filed a lawsuit against the company in Dallas County.  In his complaint, Bennett accused Corinth of failing “to provide a reasonably safe work place; to properly instruct, supervise, and train supervisory employees; to supply reasonably safe and suitable equipment, tools, and appliances; and to establish reasonably safe rules and regulations.”  Corinth responded to the lawsuit by filing a motion to compel arbitration.

Following an evidentiary hearing related to Bennett’s alleged revocation of the arbitration agreement, the 193rd Judicial District Court declared the dispute non-arbitratable.  As a result, the trial court denied Corinth’s motion.  The company then filed an interlocutory appeal with Texas’ Fifth District.

On appeal, the Dallas court only examined Corinth’s claim that Bennett was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing before reversing the lower court.  The appellate court stated:

In the instant case, it was uncontested that there was a valid, enforceable arbitration agreement. Bennett, as noted previously, raised several defensive theories in an effort to escape arbitration. He failed, however, to present any affidavits or other such admissible evidence to support his contentions. In re Hospitality Emp. Group, 234 S.W.3d at 835; Prudential Sec. Inc., 860 S.W.2d at 597. Therefore, since Bennett never properly controverted Corinth’s assertion of a valid arbitration agreement, he was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing and could not prevail on his defenses. See Prudential Sec. Inc., 860 S.W.2d at 597.

Ultimately, Texas’ Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas reversed the trial court’s order denying Corinth’s motion and remanded the case with instructions to compel the dispute to arbitration.

Photo credit: phalinn via / CC BY

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.

from Texas Bar Today
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