OF JUDGMENT: 10/06/2015
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JEFF WEILL, SR.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JESSE MITCHELL, III JESSICA ROSHAUN
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: ANDREA LA'VERNE FORD EDNEY ADRIA
LYNN HERTWIG PATRICK PATRONAS TAFFINY SMITH STEWART
Arbitration is a contractual agreement between parties. And
only agreed-upon arbitrable disputes are subject to
arbitration. On de novo review, this Court first
determines whether an arbitration agreement is contractually
valid. If it is, we then decide whether the dispute at issue
is within the arbitration agreement's
scope. If the arbitration agreement fails to meet
both of these requirements, the dispute cannot be arbitrated.
Such is the case here.
We find the lessee and landlord, in this case, do have a
valid arbitration agreement between them as part of a lease
agreement. But the lessee's premises-liability claim-a
dispute that stems from a physical and sexual assault on the
apartment complex premises-is not within the arbitration
agreement's scope, as it does not arise under or relate
to her "occupancy and leasing of the [apartment]."
Because the dispute is outside the agreement's scope, the
trial court erred by staying proceedings and ordering
We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with
Facts and Procedural History
On the morning of April 19, 2014, Jane Doe was kidnapped by
two men while walking to her car at her apartment complex.
According to Jane, the men forced her into her car at
gunpoint, pistol-whipped her, and repeatedly raped her over
an extended time. Jane screamed for help during the attack,
which took place in the central parking lot near the leasing
office. But neither apartment-complex staff nor security
On July 7, 2014, Jane filed suit against the owners,
managers, and individual staff of Hallmark Gardens
Apartments (Hallmark), Security Engineers, Inc.
(SEI), and unknown John Does. In her complaint, Jane claimed
Hallmark and SEI were negligent in their duty to keep the
apartment complex reasonably safe. She further alleged
Hallmark and SEI were aware of dangerous conditions on or
near the complex.
Motions to Compel Arbitration
Hallmark answered Jane's complaint denying liability and
raising defenses. It also specifically sought to enforce
arbitration. Jane and Hallmark had entered a lease agreement
for "Apt. 9-C, of the Hallmark Gardens Apartments
located at 987 East Northside Drive Jackson, MS 39206 (the
'Premises')." As an addendum to her September
20, 2013 lease, Hallmark and Jane executed an arbitration
agreement on March 14, 2014, but dated it effective as of
September 20, 2013.
SEI likewise filed a motion to compel arbitration, citing the
arbitration agreement between Jane and Hallmark. Though a
nonsignatory, SEI argued its close legal relationship with
Hallmark and Jane's similar claim against it allowed it
to enforce the arbitration agreement between Hallmark and
After considering extensive briefing and holding a hearing on
the arbitration issue, the trial court granted Hallmark's
and SEI's motions. The court found the arbitration
agreement between Hallmark and Jane was valid and that
Jane's claims were within the scope of the agreement,
which both Hallmark and SEI could enforce.
Jane now appeals, arguing: (1) the arbitration agreement is
not a broad agreement without limitations; (2) her claims
fall outside the agreement's scope; and (3) enforcement
of the agreement offends public policy.
This Court reviews the grant of a motion to compel
arbitration de novo. Tupelo Auto Sales, Ltd. v.
Scott, 844 So.2d 1167, 1169 (Miss. 2003) (citing
East Ford, Inc. v. Taylor, 826 So.2d 709, 713 (Miss.
2002)). Under Mississippi's two-prong test to determine
arbitrability, this Court asks: (1) whether the parties have
agreed to arbitrate the dispute, and (2) whether legal
constraints external to the agreement prevent arbitration.
Smith ex rel. Smith v. Captain D's, LLC, 963
So.2d 1116, 1119-20 (Miss. 2007) (quoting Rogers-Dabbs
Chevrolet-Hummer v. Blakeney, 950 So.2d 170, 173 (Miss.
Jane's first two claimed errors-the arbitration clause
has limits and her claims do not fall within its scope-fall
squarely within the test's first prong. Under this prong,
this Court asks: (1) Is there a valid arbitration agreement?
And, if so, (2) does the dispute fall within the scope of the
agreement? Id. at 1120 (citing
Rogers-Dabbs, 950 So.2d at 173).
Validity of the Agreement
Jane initially argued the arbitration agreement was invalid.
But she chose not to pursue this issue on appeal.
Furthermore, we find no issue with the validity of the
agreement itself. So we focus on the next prong.