Greaux v. Duensing, Civil Action No. 2014-0060

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of the Virgin Islands
Writing for the CourtLewis, Chief Judge
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 2014-0060
Decision Date29 April 2016

IRENE A. GREAUX, Plaintiff,

Civil Action No. 2014-0060


April 29, 2016

Rhea Lawrence, Esq.,
Lee J. Rohn, Esq.,
St. Croix, U.S.V.I.
For Plaintiff

Charles E. Engeman, Esq.,
Bailey A. Calhoun, Esq.,
St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.
For Defendants


Lewis, Chief Judge

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's "Notice of Objection and Appeal of Magistrate's Order [ECF Doc. 25] Granting Defendants' Motion to Stay Proceedings" (Dkt. No. 26). As discussed further below, the Court finds that Plaintiff failed to timely object to the Magistrate Judge's Order and, in any event, the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that Plaintiff's claims are within the scope of the parties' arbitration agreement is not clearly erroneous or contrary to law. Each finding provides an independent basis to deny Plaintiff's appeal, and therefore the appeal will be denied.

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On June 12, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against the law firm of Duensing, Casner, Dollison & Fitzsimmons; its successor in interest Duensing, Casner and Fitzsimmons; and Matthew Duensing, individually, (collectively "Defendants"). (Dkt. No. 1). Plaintiff alleges that while employed by Defendants "she was subject to sexual harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation" and that she was forced into "a quid pro quo sexual relationship with Matthew Duensing, her supervisor and partner at Defendant Duensing, Casner, Dollison & Fitzsimons." (Dkt. No. 26 at 2). Plaintiff alleges five separate claims: sexual harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title 10 and 24 of the Virgin Islands Code; wrongful discharge in violation of 24 V.I.C. §§ 76 et seq.; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and retaliation. (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 62-76).1 In lieu of an Answer, Defendants filed a Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Arbitration (Dkt. No. 7) asserting that the employment contract between Defendants and Plaintiff renders Plaintiff's claims subject to arbitration.

After the Motion to Stay was fully briefed, the Magistrate Judge entered an Order on September 30, 2014 granting Defendants' Motion to Stay (the "Magistrate Order"). (Dkt. No. 25). The Magistrate Order reasoned that all of Plaintiff's claims fell within the scope of the arbitration provision in the June 15, 2010, employment agreement (the "Employment Agreement"). (Id. at 4). On October 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant Notice of Objection. (Dkt. No. 26). Defendants subsequently filed their "Opposition to Plaintiff's Objection to and Appeal from Magistrate Judge's Order Granting Stay Pending Arbitration." (Dkt. No. 27).

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A. Timeliness of Plaintiff's Objection to the Magistrate Order

1. Applicable Legal Standards

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) provides, in pertinent part:

When a pretrial matter not dispositive of a party's claim or defense is referred to a magistrate judge to hear and decide, the magistrate judge must promptly conduct the required proceedings and, when appropriate, issue a written order stating the decision. A party may serve and file objections to the order within 14 days after being served with a copy. A party may not assign as error a defect in the order not timely objected to. The district judge in the case must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a) (emphasis added).

Parties wishing to object to a magistrate judge's order compelling arbitration are subject to the fourteen-day time limit set forth in Rule 72(a). Virgin Islands Water & Power Auth. v. Gen. Elec. Int'l Inc., 561 F. App'x 131, 134 (3d Cir. 2014); see also Schmidt v. Mars, Inc., CIV.A. 09-3008, 2011 WL 2421241, at *3 (D.N.J. June 13, 2011) (finding that appeal that came four months after magistrate judge's order was untimely); Bolger Publ'ns, Inc. v. Graphic Commc'ns Intern. Union Local 229, AFL-CIO, CLC, 601 F. Supp. 207, 208 (D. Minn. 1985) (finding that appeal filed four days after time period established in Rule 72 was untimely); 12 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil § 3069 (2d ed. 2011) ("Should a party fail to make timely objections, it has no right to review by the district judge of the action taken by the magistrate judge."). However, failing to timely appeal a magistrate order is not an absolute bar to review. See Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Dominick D'Andrea, Inc., 150 F.3d 245, 251 n.9 (3d Cir. 1998), (noting that the language of Rule 72(a) does not bar review by the Court of Appeals of an untimely appeal from a magistrate judge's order "when exceptional circumstances exist.").

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2. Analysis

The Magistrate Order was issued on September 30, 2014, and Plaintiff filed her appeal on October 17, 2014. Thus, Plaintiff filed her appeal seventeen days after the Magistrate Order was issued. (See Dkt. No. 25; Dkt No. 26). Because Rule 72(a) requires that an appeal be filed within fourteen days of a magistrate judge's order, Plaintiff's appeal is three days late. Virgin Islands Water & Power Auth., 561 Fed. App'x. at 134 ("Given that the motion to compel arbitration was properly before the Magistrate Judge, [defendant] was obligated to seek review of that order in the District Court within fourteen days of its issuance."). Plaintiff does not acknowledge that her appeal is untimely, offer any excuse for its untimeliness, or present any facts which would support a finding that exceptional circumstances exist. Accordingly, denial of Plaintiff's Notice of Objection is warranted on grounds of untimeliness.

B. Scope of the Parties' Arbitration Agreement

Even if the Court were to allow Plaintiff's untimely Notice of Objection, the Court finds that the Magistrate Judge's determination that Plaintiff's claims fall within the scope of the arbitration provision is not clearly erroneous or contrary to law.

1. Applicable Legal Standards

The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") provides that where a valid arbitration agreement exists, trial courts "shall on application of one of the parties stay the trial of the action until such arbitration has been had in accordance with the terms of the agreement," provided that the court is "satisfied that the issue involved . . . is referable to arbitration" under the parties' agreement. 9 U.S.C. § 3. Arbitration is a "matter of contract" where "litigants may freely contract to refer their dispute to arbitration." American Exp. Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, 133 S. Ct. 2304, 2309 (2013); Gov't of the V.I. v. 0.459 Acres of Land Consisting of the Following: Parcel No. 6A Estate Thomas Kings Quarter & Parcel No. 9A, Estate Thomas, V.I., 286 F. Supp. 2d 501, 511 (D.V.I.

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2003). Thus, "a court may order arbitration of a particular dispute only where the court is satisfied that the parties agreed to arbitrate that dispute." CardioNet, Inc. v. Cigna Health Corp., 751 F.3d 165, 172 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 297 (2010)) (emphasis in original).

To determine arbitrability, courts analyze two threshold questions: "(1) Did the parties seeking or resisting arbitration enter into a valid arbitration agreement? (2) Does the dispute between those parties fall with the language of the arbitration agreement?" Id. (quoting John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Olick, 151 F.3d 132, 137 (3d Cir. 1998)) (quotations omitted). There is a presumption of arbitrability in that courts "must resolve any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable issues . . . in favor of arbitration." Id. (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Const. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1983)) (quotations omitted). However, this presumption of arbitrability "applies only where an arbitration agreement is ambiguous about whether it covers the dispute at hand. Otherwise, the plain language of the contract controls." Id. at 173.

"A district judge may only set aside an order of a magistrate concerning a nondispositive matter where the order has been shown to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Grider v. Keystone Health Plan Cent., Inc., 580 F.3d 119, 146 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Snow Machines, Inc. v. Hedco, Inc., 838 F.2d 718, 727 (3d Cir. 1988)). "[A] reviewing court can upset a [magistrate's] finding of fact, even when supported by some evidence, but only if the court has the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Clarke v. Marriot Int'l, Inc., No. CIV 1:08-CV-00086, 2010 WL 1657340, at *2 (D.V.I. Apr. 23, 2010) (quoting Haines v. Liggett Group, Inc., 975 F.2d 81, 92 (3d Cir. 1992)). "A magistrate's finding...

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