Berent v. CMH Homes, Inc., No. E2013-01214-SC-R11-CV.

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtHOLLY KIRBY, J.
Citation466 S.W.3d 740
PartiesRichard A. Berent v. CMH Homes, Inc., et al.
Docket NumberNo. E2013-01214-SC-R11-CV.
Decision Date05 June 2015

466 S.W.3d 740

Richard A. Berent
v.
CMH Homes, Inc., et al.

No. E2013-01214-SC-R11-CV.

Supreme Court of Tennessee, AT KNOXVILLE.

November 3, 2014 Session
Filed June 5, 2015


William S. Rutchow and Jennifer S. Rusie, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, CMH Homes, Inc., and Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc.

Andrew S. Basler, Chattanooga, Tennessee, the appellee, Richard A. Berent.

Opinion

HOLLY KIRBY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SHARON G. LEE C.J., and CORNELIA A. CLARK, GARY R. WADE, and JEFFREY S. BIVINS, JJ., joined.

OPINION

HOLLY KIRBY, J.

In this appeal, we are asked to overrule established precedent regarding the circumstances under which an arbitration provision in a consumer adhesion contract is rendered unconscionable and unenforceable based on non-mutual remedies, i.e., mandating arbitration for the consumer but reserving a judicial forum for the merchant. This case involves an adhesion contract for the sale of a manufactured home. The contract includes an arbitration provision under which the sellers retain the right to seek relief in a judicial forum for limited purposes. After the buyer took possession of the home, he filed a lawsuit against the sellers for breach of contract, and the sellers filed a motion to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the motion to compel. In reliance on this Court's decision in Taylor v. Butler, 142 S.W.3d 277 (Tenn.2004), the trial court held that the non-mutuality of remedies in the arbitration provision rendered it unconscionable and invalid. The Court of Appeals affirmed, also relying on Taylor. We granted permission to appeal to address whether the ruling in Taylor is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act under the reasoning in AT & T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 131 S.Ct. 1740, 179 L.Ed.2d 742 (2011), and to address whether Taylor should be overruled or modified in light of the current majority view in other jurisdictions on the validity of arbitration contracts that include non-mutual remedies. We hold that Taylor did not adopt a per se rule that any degree of non-mutuality of remedies in an arbitration provision in an adhesion contract renders the provision unconscionable and unenforceable. Consequently, the ruling in Taylor is not preempted by federal law. In addition, after reviewing the law in other jurisdictions, we decline to overrule or modify the ruling in Taylor. Applying Taylor to the contract in this case, we conclude that the sellers' retention of a judicial forum for limited purposes does not render the arbitration agreement unconscionable. Accordingly, we reverse the decisions of the Court of Appeals and the trial court and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

Facts And Proceedings Below

In December 2010, Plaintiff/Appellee Richard A. Berent bought a manufactured home in Hamilton County, Tennessee, from Defendant/Appellant CMH Homes, Inc. The parties executed a contract setting forth the terms of the sale and the parties' obligations (hereinafter “Installment Contract”). Mr. Berent financed the home through Appellant/Defendant Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance, Inc., a subsidiary of CMH Homes. After the sale, CMH Homes assigned its rights under the Installment Contract to Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance. In this opinion, we refer to CMH Homes and Vanderbilt

466 S.W.3d 743

Mortgage and Finance collectively as the “Sellers.”

After installation of the home, Mr. Berent found that it was not installed to his satisfaction. According to Mr. Berent, the improper installation of the home resulted in drainage issues, mold, and a host of other problems. Despite his complaint, the problems were not remedied.

Frustrated, Mr. Berent decided to sue the Sellers. In December 2012, he filed a complaint against the Sellers in the Circuit Court of Hamilton County, Tennessee, alleging breach of contract, breach of express and implied warranties, fraud, and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Mr. Berent asserted in his complaint that the Installment Contract on the sale of the manufactured home was void as unconscionable.

In response, the Sellers filed a motion to compel arbitration. The motion was based on the arbitration provision (“Arbitration Agreement”) contained in the Installment Contract. The Arbitration Agreement included the following two paragraphs:

A. Agreement to Arbitrate: Buyer and Seller (sometimes called the “Parties”) agree to mandatory, binding arbitration (“Arbitration”) of all disputes, claims, controversies, grievances, causes of action, including, but not limited to, common law claims, contract and warranty claims, tort claims, statutory claims, and, where applicable, administrative law claims, and any other matter in question (“Claims”) arising from or relating to this Contract, any products/goods, services, insurance, or real property (including improvements to the real property) sold or financed under this Contract, any events leading up to this Contract, the collection and servicing of this Contract, and the interpretation, scope, validity or enforceability of this Contract (with the exception of this agreement to arbitrate, the “Arbitration Agreement”). The interpretation, scope, validity, or enforceability of this Arbitration Agreement or any clause or provision herein and the arbitrability of any issue shall be determined by a court of competent jurisdiction.
....
G. Exceptions: Notwithstanding any other provision of this Arbitration Agreement, Buyer agrees that Seller may use judicial process (filing a lawsuit): (a) to enforce the security interest granted in this Contract or any related mortgage or deed of trust, and (b) to seek preliminary relief, such as a restraining order or injunctive relief, in order to preserve the existence, location, condition, or productive use of the Manufactured Home or other Collateral. Buyer and Seller also agree that this Arbitration Agreement does not apply to any Claim where the amount in controversy is less than the jurisdictional limit of the small claims court in the jurisdiction where the Buyer resides, provided, however, that the Parties agree that any such small claims Claim may only be brought on an individual basis and not as a class action. Bringing a court proceeding described in this paragraph G., however, shall not be a waiver of Seller's or Buyer's right to compel Arbitration of any other Claim that is covered by this Arbitration Agreement, including Buyer's counterclaim(s) in a suit brought by Seller.

(Underlining and emphasis in original). Thus, the parties agreed to submit to arbitration all disputes “arising from or relating to” the Installment Contract, except that neither would be required to arbitrate small claims. As a further exception, the Arbitration Agreement permitted the Sellers to file a lawsuit in court “to enforce the security interest” or “to seek preliminary

466 S.W.3d 744

relief” against Mr. Berent to preserve the manufactured home.

Mr. Berent argued against the motion to compel arbitration. He contended that the Arbitration Agreement is procedurally and substantively unconscionable and, therefore, unenforceable. In support of his argument, Mr. Berent relied primarily on this Court's decision in Taylor v. Butler. Specifically, Mr. Berent cited the holding in Taylor that the arbitration clause at issue in that case was “unconscionable and therefore void because it reserves the right to a judicial forum for [the defendant] while requiring [the plaintiff] to submit all claims to arbitration.” Taylor, 142 S.W.3d at 287.

The trial court was persuaded by Mr. Berent's argument. It entered an order holding that the Arbitration Agreement “is similar to the one struck down in Taylor and is therefore to be considered unconscionable and unenforceable.” Accordingly, the trial court denied the Sellers' motion to compel arbitration. The Sellers appealed as of right. See Tenn.Code Ann. § 29–5–319(a)(1) (2012).

The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court. Berent v. CMH Homes, Inc., No. E2013–01214–COA–R3–CV, 2014 WL 813874, at *6 (Tenn.Ct.App. Feb. 28, 2014). The intermediate appellate court noted that Taylor had twice been applied “to invalidate an arbitration provision that had a similar one-sided effect of allowing one party access to the judicial system and restricting the other party's access.” Id. at *4 (citing Brown v. Tenn. Title Loans, Inc., 216 S.W.3d 780, 786–87 (Tenn.Ct.App.2006), and McGregor v. Christian Care Ctr. of Springfield, L.L.C., No. M2009–01008–COA–R3–CV, 2010 WL 1730131, at *6–7 (Tenn.Ct.App. Apr. 29, 2010) ). Finding that the Arbitration Agreement signed by Mr. Berent had a “one-sided effect” that was “similar” to the agreements held unconscionable in Brown and McGregor, the Court of Appeals concluded that Taylor compelled a conclusion that the Arbitration Agreement is unconscionable. Berent, 2014 WL 813874, at *4.

In the Court of Appeals, the Sellers argued against the application of Taylor, claiming that the rule established in that case is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), relying primarily on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in AT & T Mobility LLC v....

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15 practice notes
  • Wofford v. M.J. Edwards & Sons Funeral Home Inc., No. W2015-00092-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 23 Noviembre 2015
    ...is unconscionable under applicable contract principles is also a question of law, subject to de novo review.” Berent v. CMH Homes, Inc. , 466 S.W.3d 740, 745 (Tenn.2015). In contrast, “[w]hether a meeting of the minds occurred is a question of fact.” Harvey v. Turner , No. M2014–00368–COA–R......
  • Elmy v. W. Express, Inc., NO. 3:17-cv-01199
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
    • 10 Abril 2020
    ...those involved in more specific rules as to contractual capacity, fraud, and other invalidating causes [.]" Berent v. CMH Homes, Inc., 466 S.W.3d 740, 747 (Tenn. 2015) (quoting Taylor v. Butler, 142 S.W.3d 277, 285 (Tenn. 2004) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Contract § 208, cmt. a (1981))......
  • Wofford v. M. J. Edwards & Sons Funeral Home Inc., No. W2015-00092-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 23 Noviembre 2015
    ...is unconscionable under applicable contract principles is also a question of law, subject to de novo review." Berent v. CMH Homes, Inc., 466 S.W.3d 740, 745 (Tenn. 2015). In contrast, "[w]hether a meeting of the minds occurred is a question of fact." Harvey v. Turner, No. M2014-00368-COA-R3......
  • Smith v. Guard, No. M2016-01109-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 31 Marzo 2017
    ...§ 4327(b). "[T]he doctrine of preemption is rooted in the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution." Berent v. CMH Homes, Inc., 466 S.W.3d 740, 748 (Tenn. 2015). "As 'the supreme law of the land,' federal law sometimes preempts, or supplants, otherwise permissible state laws, rend......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • Wofford v. M.J. Edwards & Sons Funeral Home Inc., No. W2015-00092-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 23 Noviembre 2015
    ...is unconscionable under applicable contract principles is also a question of law, subject to de novo review.” Berent v. CMH Homes, Inc. , 466 S.W.3d 740, 745 (Tenn.2015). In contrast, “[w]hether a meeting of the minds occurred is a question of fact.” Harvey v. Turner , No. M2014–00368–COA–R......
  • Elmy v. W. Express, Inc., NO. 3:17-cv-01199
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
    • 10 Abril 2020
    ...those involved in more specific rules as to contractual capacity, fraud, and other invalidating causes [.]" Berent v. CMH Homes, Inc., 466 S.W.3d 740, 747 (Tenn. 2015) (quoting Taylor v. Butler, 142 S.W.3d 277, 285 (Tenn. 2004) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Contract § 208, cmt. a (1981))......
  • Wofford v. M. J. Edwards & Sons Funeral Home Inc., No. W2015-00092-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 23 Noviembre 2015
    ...is unconscionable under applicable contract principles is also a question of law, subject to de novo review." Berent v. CMH Homes, Inc., 466 S.W.3d 740, 745 (Tenn. 2015). In contrast, "[w]hether a meeting of the minds occurred is a question of fact." Harvey v. Turner, No. M2014-00368-COA-R3......
  • Smith v. Guard, No. M2016-01109-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 31 Marzo 2017
    ...§ 4327(b). "[T]he doctrine of preemption is rooted in the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution." Berent v. CMH Homes, Inc., 466 S.W.3d 740, 748 (Tenn. 2015). "As 'the supreme law of the land,' federal law sometimes preempts, or supplants, otherwise permissible state laws, rend......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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