Sixth Circuit Affirms Ruling That Arbitrator Is to Determine Arbitrability of Employment Dispute Between Franchise Employees and Domino’s

Carlton Fields
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Carlton Fields

The plaintiffs filed a class action against Domino’s, alleging that the company’s franchise agreement violated federal antitrust law as well as state law. Domino’s moved to compel arbitration, and the plaintiffs opposed on the basis that Domino’s couldn’t enforce the arbitration agreements because Domino’s hadn’t signed the agreements; only their franchises had. However, incorporation of the AAA rules in the plaintiffs’ agreements provided “clear and unmistakable” evidence that the parties agreed to arbitrate “arbitrability.”

The plaintiff offered several arguments against such conclusion: (1) the arbitration agreement incorporates the AAA rules only as to claims that fall within the scope of the agreement; (2) the relevant AAA rule addresses only the “existence, scope, or validity” of his agreement, not whether non-signatories may enforce arbitration agreements under the FAA; (3) even if the relevant AAA rule gives arbitrators the power to decide the question of “arbitrability,” it does not give them the exclusive power to do so; (4) Sixth Circuit precedent has held, in certain instances, that incorporation of the AAA rules does not provide “clear and unmistakable” evidence that the parties agreed to arbitrate “arbitrability”; (5) the incorporation of the AAA rules is not “clear and unmistakable” evidence that the parties agreed to arbitrate “arbitrability”; and (6) a ruling for Domino’s would mean that anyone could force him to arbitrate “arbitrability” no matter how frivolous the argument for arbitration. The circuit court did not find these arguments availing and affirmed the Eastern District of Michigan’s ruling referring the matter to arbitration.

Blanton v. Domino’s Pizza Franchising LLC, No. 19-2388 (6th Cir. June 17, 2020).

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