Arbitration: Where's the Agreement with the Plaintiff?

Fox v. The Rehabilitation & Wellness Centre of Dallas, LLC, et al.
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-21-00904-CV (June 5, 2023)
Justices Molberg (Opinion), Partida-Kipness, and Carlyle
Roger Fox brought wrongful death and survivor claims on behalf of his deceased wife, Karen. Defendants moved to compel arbitration based on an agreement signed by Roger—not Karen. The trial court granted Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration and dismissed all claims.

The issue before the Court was simple: Did Defendants “meet their initial evidentiary burden to prove the existence of a valid, enforceable arbitration agreement?” No, they did not.

The Court noted that the trial court did not hold an evidentiary hearing, did not consider any affidavits, and did not admit any evidence into the record. Instead, the only items before it were unauthenticated documents attached to the filings. Although the parties apparently ignored this evidentiary problem in both the trial court and on appeal, which would have been dispositive had he raised it, the Court recognized another fundamental problem: there was no evidence that Roger signed the agreement on Karen’s behalf. Therefore, even assuming the contract had been authenticated and admitted, Defendants did not meet their burden under principles of contract law and agency, which require the agent’s (Roger’s) authority to be established through the principal’s (Karen’s) conduct. Roger’s signature, accompanied by language in the agreement purportedly stating Roger was acting as Karen’s agent, did not suffice.

The Court thus reversed the order compelling arbitration and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.
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