Lampo v. Amedisys Holding, LLC

Decision Date10 August 2022
Docket NumberAppellate Case No. 2019-000451,Opinion No. 5934
Parties Nicole LAMPO, Respondent, v. AMEDISYS HOLDING, LLC, and Leisa Victoria Neasbitt, Appellants.
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals

George A. Reeves, III, of Columbia, and Jason D. Keck, of Chicago IL, both of Fisher & Phillips, LLP, for Appellants.

James Paul Porter, of Cromer Babb Porter & Hicks, LLC of Columbia, for Respondent.


This appeal of an order denying a motion to compel arbitration turns on whether Nicole Lampo agreed to arbitrate disputes arising out of her employment with Amedisys Holding, LLC (Amedisys). The key question is whether, under the specific circumstances of this case, Lampo accepted the arbitration agreement by acknowledging receipt of the agreement and continuing to work at Amedisys. We conclude she did because she had actual notice of Amedisys’ offer to modify her employment agreement to include the arbitration provision. Accordingly, we reverse the denial of Amedisys’ motion to compel arbitration.


Lampo worked as a physical therapist at Amedisys from July 2013 until March 2018, when she was fired. In December 2018, Lampo sued Amedisys and Appellant Leisa V. Neasbitt, her former supervisor, alleging wrongful discharge, interference with prospective contractual relations, and defamation. In response, Amedisys moved to compel arbitration, asserting Lampo's claims against both Amedisys and Neasbitt were subject to an arbitration agreement Lampo had accepted a month after she began her employment.

In support of the motion, Amedisys included affidavits and exhibits demonstrating that on August 26, 2013, it sent an email to its employees with the subject line, "Important Policy Change – Must Read." The message contained a hyperlink, stating, "This e-mail contains important time-sensitive materials that the Company requires that you read as they could affect your legal rights. Please click here to receive them." Upon clicking the link, the following pop-up message filled the employee's screen:

By clicking "Acknowledge" below, you will be given access to the Amedisys Arbitration Program materials, which include a Cover Letter, the Dispute Resolution Agreement, and FAQs. You are required to review these materials. Please read the materials carefully. Unless you opt out of the Dispute Resolution Agreement within 30 days of todays date, you will be bound by it, which will affect your legal rights.
By clicking the "Acknowledge" button below on this screen, I acknowledge and understand that I will be given access to the materials described in the above paragraph and that I am required to review these materials.

(Emphasis in original). Upon clicking "Acknowledge," employees were automatically directed to a webpage providing descriptions and links entitled: "Arbitration Agreement," "Cover Letter," and "Frequently Asked Questions."

The arbitration agreement stated it was governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et. seq. (2018) (FAA) and applied "to any dispute arising out of or related to Employee's employment with Amedisys or termination of employment regardless of its date of accrual and survives after the employment relationship terminates." The arbitration agreement also limited the parties’ discovery to "the right to take the deposition of one individual and any expert witness designated by another party."

The agreement stated acceptance of the agreement was not a mandatory condition of employment and employees could opt out of the agreement by printing an attached opt-out form and mailing it to an address in Louisiana. The form was required to be postmarked within thirty days of "Employee's acknowledgment of receipt of this [arbitration agreement]" and "[s]hould Employee fail to opt out of this [arbitration agreement] within the 30-day period in the manner provided above, Employee's continuation of his or her employment with [Amedisys] shall constitute Employee's and [Amedisys’] mutual acceptance of the terms of this [arbitration agreement]."

Amedisys attached electronic records to its motion to compel arbitration that indicated Lampo had used her unique username and login to both open the email and click the "Acknowledge" button on the pop-up acknowledgment form on August 6, 2013, at 1:55 pm. However, Amedisys did not provide any evidence demonstrating Lampo scrolled or read through the Arbitration Agreement, Cover Letter, or Frequently Asked Questions links and documents. In her pleadings, Lampo alleged she had no actual notice of the alleged arbitration agreement because she did not recall receiving the August 26, 2013 email or reading the linked documents.

After a hearing, the circuit court denied Amedisys’ motion to compel arbitration, ruling "there is no competent record evidence of acceptance, mutual assent, or a meeting of the minds to warrant declaring the arbitration agreement enforceable." The circuit court did not separately address the issue of notice.

On appeal, Amedisys argues Lampo accepted the arbitration agreement by continuing to work at Amedisys after declining to opt-out of the arbitration agreement within thirty days.

Lampo argues the circuit court correctly found she did not accept the agreement and presents three other sustaining grounds to affirm the denial of the motion to compel arbitration. First, Lampo asserts she received no actual notice of the terms of the agreement, or alternatively, she is entitled to a jury trial on the notice issue. Second, Lampo claims the arbitration agreement's restrictions on discovery render the entire arbitration agreement unconscionable and, consequently, unenforceable. Third, Lampo asserts the scope of the arbitration agreement does not cover disposition of her post-termination claims or her claims against Neasbitt.

A. Actual Notice and Continued Employment as Acceptance

We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to compel arbitration de novo, but we will not reverse factual findings of the trial court that are reasonably supported by the record. Partain v. Upstate Auto. Grp. , 386 S.C. 488, 491, 689 S.E.2d 602, 603 (2010). The FAA requires that courts treat arbitration agreements the same as all other contracts—no more, no less. Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co. , 388 U.S. 395, 404 n.12, 87 S.Ct. 1801, 18 L.Ed.2d 1270 (1967) ("[T]he purpose of Congress in 1925 was to make arbitration agreements as enforceable as other contracts, but not more so."). "Accordingly, a court must hold a party to its arbitration contract just as the court would to any other kind." Morgan v. Sundance, Inc. , ––– U.S. ––––, 142 S.Ct. 1708, 1713, 212 L.Ed.2d 753 (2022).

Because the core of the FAA is consent, arbitration may be compelled only when the parties have agreed to it. Volt Info. Scis., Inc. v. Bd. of Trustees of Leland Stanford Junior Univ. , 489 U.S. 468, 478, 109 S.Ct. 1248, 103 L.Ed.2d 488 (1989). Because arbitration under the FAA rests entirely upon consent, it is always up to the court to determine if the parties have an agreement to arbitrate. Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters , 561 U.S. 287, 296, 130 S.Ct. 2847, 177 L.Ed.2d 567 (2010). Whether the parties have formed an agreement to arbitrate is determined by applying South Carolina contract law. Wilson v. Willis , 426 S.C. 326, 336, 827 S.E.2d 167, 173 (2019).

The familiar requisites to a binding contract are a meeting of the minds of the parties as to all essential and material terms, supported by consideration. See Electro-Lab of Aiken, Inc. v. Sharp Constr. Co. of Sumter , 357 S.C. 363, 368, 593 S.E.2d 170, 173 (Ct. App. 2004) ("The necessary elements of a contract are offer, acceptance, and valuable consideration."); id. at 369, 593 S.E.2d at 173 ("Acceptance of an offer is a manifestation of assent to the terms thereof made by the offeree in a manner invited or required by the offer." (quoting Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 50 (1981) )). A party cannot assent to something he does not know about, so the law in general requires that for an offer to be effective, the responding party must have reasonable notice of the offer's terms. See Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 53 cmt. c (1981) (stating that when the offeror invites performance as acceptance, "[t]he offeree's conduct ordinarily constitutes an acceptance in such cases only if he knows of the offer"); id . ("[The offeree's] rendering of the invited performance with knowledge of the offer is a sufficient manifestation of assent."). In South Carolina, our supreme court has equated reasonable notice of an offer to modify employment contracts with actual notice. Fleming v. Borden, Inc. , 316 S.C. 452, 463, 450 S.E.2d 589, 595–96 (1994). Fleming held actual notice was required when an employer attempted to modify an employment contract with a subsequent handbook. Id. Yet, just as in Towles v. United HealthCare Corp. , we do not need to address whether Fleming ’s actual notice rule extends beyond the handbook context to all employment contract modification scenarios because, as explained below, we conclude Lampo received actual notice. 338 S.C. 29, 37–38, 524 S.E.2d 839, 844 (Ct. App. 1999).

Usually, the question of whether an employee has received actual notice is for the jury; however, an employer may conclusively prove an employee has actual notice of the terms of the employment agreement if the employee signed an acknowledgment form stating she received the agreement and promised to review it. Id. at 39–40, 524 S.E.2d at 845. This is true even if the employee has electronically signed the acknowledgment form. See S.C. Code Ann. § 26-6-70 (2007) (providing an electronic signature has the same force and effect as a signature in writing).

We find Amedisys’ email—combined with the links to the arbitration agreement, FAQs, and cover letter—was effective to communicate the...

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