United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable John J. Tuchi, United States District Judge.
issue is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and Compel
Arbitration (Doc. 30, Mot.), to which Plaintiff filed a
Response (Doc. 35, Resp.) and Defendants filed a Reply
(Doc. 37, Reply). Because the parties' briefs were
adequate for the Court to resolve the issues raised in
Defendants' Motion, the Court declined to hold oral
argument on the briefs. See LRCiv 7.2(f). For the
reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendants' Motion.
is a former Fire Chief of the Northern Arizona Consolidated
Fire District #1 (“NACFD”). Mike Collins, Erik
Berg, Carl Hays, John Bryant, and Jim Bailey (together,
“Board Members”), were members of NACFD's
Board of Directors during the period in which the events
leading to this action took place. (Doc. 1, Compl.)
cause of action stems from the termination of his contract of
employment as Fire Chief in May 2018. He alleges that, while
he was on temporary medical leave, the Board Members held an
unauthorized and illegal meeting in which they voted to
terminate him prior to the expiration of his contractual
employment term, which was set to either lapse or renew in
December 2018. (Compl. at 3.) In connection with this meeting
and his resulting termination, Plaintiff alleges nine counts
against either NACFD, the Board Members, or both: (1)
wrongful termination; (2) breach of contract; (3) breach of
good faith and fair dealing; (4) defamation; (5) intentional
infliction of emotional distress; (6) respondeat
superior; (7) conspiracy; (8) intentional interference
with contractual relations; and (9) violation of due process
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
and the NACFD, through Chairperson Patricia Lewin, signed an
employment agreement (“the Agreement”) embodying
the terms of Plaintiff's employment as Fire Chief.
(See Mot. Ex. A.) The Agreement contained an
arbitration clause, which is the subject Defendants'
Motion. In relevant part, the provision states: “The
parties to this Agreement agree to resolve all disputes
arising out of or relating to this Agreement through
arbitration to the extent allowed by law. In any event, the
parties hereto waive any rights to a trial by jury.”
(Mot. Ex. A at 6.)
to this provision, Defendants moved this Court to either
dismiss the action in accordance with the arbitration
provision or, alternatively, stay the case and compel
arbitration. The Court subsequently requested supplemental
briefing from the parties to aid in resolution of
Defendants' Motion. (Doc. 38.) Both parties submitted
additional briefing. (Docs 39, 40.) The Court now grants the
Motion and dismisses the claims against Defendants.
resolve a motion to compel arbitration under the Federal
Arbitration Act, a district court must determine (1) whether
the parties entered into a valid agreement to arbitrate, and
(2) whether the arbitration agreement encompasses the dispute
at issue. Lifescan, Inc. v. Premier Diabetic Servs.,
Inc., 363 F.3d 1010, 1012 (9th Cir. 2004). Neither party
disputes the validity of the Agreement or whether the
Agreement encompasses the dispute. The Court therefore need
not engage in discussion of those two requirements.
Accordingly, the only issue for the Court to resolve is the
threshold one: whether the Agreement is within the scope of
the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). See
9 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq. If it is, the Court
must order arbitration. Simula, Inc. v. Autoliv,
Inc., 175 F.3d 716, 720 (9th Cir. 1999).
“party resisting arbitration bears the burden of
proving that the claims at issue are unsuitable for
arbitration.” Hoffman v. Citibank,
546 F.3d 1078, 1082 (9th Cir. 2008). Any doubts concerning
the scope of an arbitration agreement should be resolved in
favor of arbitration. Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v.
Mercury Const. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983).
The Arizona Choice of Law Provision
first argues that the FAA does not apply because the
Agreement contains a choice of law provision calling for
Arizona law. Paragraph 13 of the Agreement recites:
“This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in
accordance with the laws of the state of Arizona, in full
force and effect as of the date of execution.” (Mot.
Ex. A at 6.) However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has
enunciated a strong presumption that federal
law-specifically, the FAA-supplies the rules of arbitration
that govern an agreement to arbitrate. Sovak v. Chugai
Pharm. Co., 280 F.3d 1266, 1269 (9th Cir. 2002).
“[A] general choice-of-law clause within an arbitration
provision does not trump” this presumption.
Id. at 1270. Thus, in the absence of the parties
manifesting a “clear intent” to have a
state's arbitration laws govern, the
parties' choice of law provision pertains only to the
state substantive law that governs the construction
and interpretation of the Agreement-not to its arbitrability.
Id. Because the Agreement's Arizona choice of
law provision is general and lacks a specific reference to
application of Arizona's arbitration laws, the FAA
governs the issue of arbitrability.
Scope of the FAA
almost a century ago, the FAA reflects a strong federal
policy favoring arbitration. AT&T Mobility LLC v.
Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011). The Act carries
preemptive force as well, “withdr[awing] the power of
the states to require a judicial forum for the resolution of
claims that the contracting parties agreed to resolve by
arbitration.” Southland Corp. v. Keating, 465
U.S. 1, 10 (1984). Accordingly, the statute lays out a
sweeping command of validity, irrevocability, and
enforceability of an agreement to arbitrate within “any
maritime transaction or a contract evidencing a transaction