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Keller v. T-Mobile

United States District Court, D. Kansas

January 25, 2018

ERIC DAVID KELLER, Plaintiff,
v.
T-MOBILE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          CARLOS MURGUIA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court upon plaintiff's Motion to Remove Case from Arbitration and Proceed with a Case Management Order or in the Alternative, Motion to Compel a New Arbitration Proceeding. (Doc. 16). Plaintiff Eric David Keller filed this case claiming defendant T-Mobile failed to timely investigate and resolve a fraud claim on plaintiff's account. The case proceeded to arbitration, with an award for defendant. Plaintiff seeks to remove the case from arbitration or, alternatively to compel a new arbitration, due to bias of the arbitrator and unfairness in the hearing. The court denies plaintiff's motion for the reasons discussed below.

         I. Background

         On January 12, 2016, plaintiff filed a petition against defendant in Douglas County District Court. Plaintiff is a Kansas citizen and defendant is a corporation of Delaware and Washington. Plaintiff claims that defendant allowed someone other than plaintiff to open an account in plaintiff's name and then failed to resolve the fraud report or investigate in a timely matter. Defendant removed the case to federal court and moved to enforce the contract's arbitration clause. Plaintiff subsequently agreed to arbitration. At plaintiff's request, the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) assigned an arbitrator and the case proceeded to arbitration.

         The AAA appointed Bradley Haddock to serve as arbitrator for the case. Arbitrator Haddock received the filings of the claims in the case. Arbitrator Haddock then proceeded to a scheduling conference, which both parties attended telephonically. At the conference, the parties set a deadline of July 12, 2017, for exchange of exhibits and other evidence. On July 12, 2017, defendant provided exhibits and all other evidence being used at the arbitration. Plaintiff did not provide any exhibits or other evidence by the deadline.

         During the arbitration proceedings, plaintiff challenged Arbitrator Haddock's impartiality twice. Both times, the accusations were deemed baseless. Plaintiff first requested a new arbitrator from AAA because he believed Arbitrator Haddock was biased. On May 3, 2017, AAA denied plaintiff's request. Then, on June 13, 2017, Arbitrator Haddock denied plaintiff's direct request to excuse himself as arbitrator. Plaintiff claimed Arbitrator Haddock's history of representing large, capitalist businesses would bias Arbitrator Haddock against a small plaintiff like him. He did not provide evidence of this bias besides Arbitrator Haddock's clientele history. Additionally, plaintiff claims in the present motion-but not in the previous two challenges-that one of plaintiff's family members struck Arbitrator Haddock's car in a drunk driving incident and, therefore, Arbitrator Haddock cannot remain unbiased. But plaintiff provides no evidence for this claim in this motion.

         Plaintiff and defendant proceeded to arbitration before Arbitrator Haddock. The arbitrator held an evidentiary hearing on August 2, 2017. Plaintiff could not attend due to “unforeseen circumstances” at the prison where plaintiff is housed. The circumstances involved another inmate. The following day, plaintiff informed Arbitrator Haddock and defendant that he could not attend the hearing and requested a new hearing. Despite this, Arbitrator Haddock entered an award in favor of defendant. Plaintiff now asks this court for relief on grounds of arbitrator bias and unfairness in the hearing.

         II. Pro Se Standard

         Where a plaintiff proceeds pro se, the court construes his filings liberally and holds them to less stringent standards than pleadings filed by lawyers. Barnett v. Corr. Corp of Am., 441 F. App'x 600, 601 (10th Cir. 2011). Pro se plaintiffs are nevertheless required to follow the federal and local rules of practice and the court does not assume the role of advocating for plaintiff. United States v. Porath, 553 F. App'x 802, 803 (10th Cir. 2014).

         III. Discussion

         A. Defendant's motion to remove the case from arbitration is denied.

         Plaintiff, in both the disputed contract and by stipulation to the court, agreed to arbitration. Plaintiff now argues that arbitration should have never occurred. However, plaintiff stipulated to arbitration in a document filed with the court, and no reason exists to set aside this stipulation. Once parties enter into agreement to arbitrate, the entire contract is submitted to arbitration to render a decision. Ormsbee Dev. Co. v. Grace, 668 F.2d 1140, 1146 (10th Cir. 1982). Therefore, this court will not displace the agreement to arbitrate.

         B. Defendant's motion to compel a new arbitration proceeding is denied as no grounds under the Federal Arbitration Act exist for vacating the arbitration order.

         The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) applies to this arbitration, even if the contract is fraudulent. The FAA applies for two reasons. First, the disputed contract terms specify the contract affects interstate commerce and, therefore, the FAA applies. However, even if this term was not present, the FAA would still apply. The FAA applies if arbitration agreements involve interstate commerce. 9 U.S.C.A § 2; Volt Info. Servs., Inc. v. Bd. of Trs. of Leland Stanford Junior Univ., 489 U.S. 468, 475 (1989). Plaintiff is a Kansas citizen and defendant is a corporation of Delaware and Washington. By nature, the cell phone agreement involves interstate commerce. Assuming that plaintiff is correct and the contract is fraudulent, that does not invalidate the agreement to arbitrate. If plaintiff claims the entire contract was fraudulent, rather than just the arbitration agreement, then plaintiff's fraud argument is left for the arbitrators to decide rather than the courts. Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. ...


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