BEAUMONT – A lawsuit filed against Rent-A-Center Texas LP (RAC) in connection with a dispute between an RAC employee and husband and wife customers will go to arbitration after the Court of Appeals for the 9th District of Texas at Beaumont overturned an order denying the company’s motion to compel arbitration.
The lawsuit filed by Patricia and David Bell includes allegations of assault, trespass and intentional infliction of emotional distress by the RAC employee. In addition, the Bells’ claim the company violated section 9.609 of the Texas Business and Commercial Code.
Specifically, the Bells claim an RAC employee came to their home in December 2014 to take pictures of furniture that had been rented from the company in connection with non-payment claims. The dispute arose when the employee refused to leave the Bells’ home without the furniture in question. When they told the employee to leave, the Bells allege the employee refused and pushed Patricia Bell, causing her alleged injuries. At that point, David Bell escorted the employee out of the home and called the police.
In May 2015, the Bells’ attorney sent RAC a notice of dispute, as required by the arbitration agreement, indicating the intent to arbitrate their claims against the employee. However, in November 2015, the Bells filed a lawsuit against RAC, abandoning the decision to move forward with arbitration. RAC subsequently asked the trial court to order that the matter be sent to arbitration and to dismiss the Bells’ lawsuit.
In its appeal of the arbitration denial, RAC said the 258th District Court of San Jacinto County abused its discretion by denying the company’s motion to compel arbitration. The appeals court agreed.
According to the appeals court’s ruling, the rental purchase agreement entered into by Patricia Bell in 2014 contained a consumer arbitration agreement. The appeals court said Patricia Bell signed the rental purchase agreement that included the arbitration agreement, and “there is no evidence in the record showing that Patricia exercised her right to reject the arbitration agreement.”
In support of its motion to compel arbitration and dismiss the lawsuit, RAC disputed the Bells’ argument that Patricia Bell’s assault claim and David Bell’s intentional infliction of emotional distress claim fell outside the scope of the parties’ arbitration agreement. RAC argued that the arbitration agreement specifically states that it covers any dispute or claim between the parties, including tort claims.
RAC also disputed the Bells’ argument that because David Bell did not sign the rental purchase agreement and the arbitration agreement, his claim was not subject to arbitration. According to RAC, David Bell’s claim is covered under the agreement because he is a third-party beneficiary to the items Patricia rented from RAC.
Meanwhile, the Bells argued that intentional torts, like Patricia Bell’s assault claim, are not generally part of an arbitration agreement in a business contract. The Bells also argued that David Bell is not a third-party beneficiary because he was not specifically named in the contract.
“Because the arbitration agreement clearly and unmistakably provides that the arbitrator has the power to decide questions of substantive arbitrability, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion by deciding the arbitrability of the Bells’ disputes against RAC and by denying RAC’s motion to compel,” appeals court judge Steve McKeithen said in his Aug. 25 opinion.
McKeithen remanded the issue to the trial court and instructed it to order arbitration of the dispute.