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
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
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.
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.