Results Oriented, Inc. v. Crawford

Decision Date31 July 2000
Docket Number No. A00A0540-A00A0542.
Citation245 Ga. App. 432,538 S.E.2d 73
PartiesRESULTS ORIENTED, INC. v. CRAWFORD. Cavalier Homes of Alabama, Inc. v. Crawford. Green Tree Financial Servicing Corporation v. Crawford.
CourtGeorgia Court of Appeals

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Phears & Moldovan, Victor L. Moldovan, Norcross, for appellant (case no. A00A0540).

Chambers, Mabry, McClelland & Brooks, Rex D. Smith, Ian R. Rapaport, Beth S. Reeves, Atlanta, for appellant (case no. A00A0541).

Kenney & Solomon, Thomas S. Kenney, Debbie W. Flesch, Duluth, for appellant (case no. A00A0542).

T. Michael Flinn, Carrollton, for appellee.

David A. Webster, Atlanta, amicus curiae.

ANDREWS, Presiding Judge.

The interlocutory appeals1 of Results Oriented, Inc. d/b/a Assured Housing (Assured) (mobile home retailer), Cavalier Homes of Alabama, Inc. (Cavalier) (mobile home manufacturer), and Green Tree Financial Servicing Corporation (Green Tree) (lender) were granted to consider whether, as held by the trial court in denying appellants' motions to compel arbitration, agreements to arbitrate contained in documents effecting the sale and financing of a mobile home were unconscionable and whether the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, 15 USC § 2301 et seq., precludes arbitration of warranty claims.

In opposition to the motions to compel arbitration, Ray Marlin Crawford submitted his affidavit which stated that he and his wife began looking at new mobile homes in the summer of 1997. They visited Assured's lot in Villa Rica and looked at different mobile homes, some fully set up and some not. On their second visit to the lot, Mr. Crawford advised one of the Assured representatives that he could not pay more than $500 per month. It was agreed that Assured would give Crawford $11,750 on trade-in of his old mobile home (fairly valued at $2,000) and charge more for the home so that Crawford could get more favorable financing terms and payments of $500. In response, Crawford "took some more time to think about this." The Crawfords returned to the lot again and told Don Gilbert, another Assured representative, they were ready to buy the Cavalier mobile home which they had toured on the lot. That home had been manufactured in Alabama.

Crawford described the signing of documents as follows:

[Gilbert] called us into an office to sign paperwork and had a stack of documents approximately 1 inch thick. I kind of joked "Do I have to sign all that?" Mr. Gilbert said, "Oh, its [sic] just standard documents we have in the sale of all mobile homes." Mr. Gilbert never mentioned to me any limitations or exclusions of warranties.
He did not tell me the documents required that I waive a jury trial or submit any dispute with any party to mandatory binding arbitration at my expense before a retired judge or practicing attorney in the State of Alabama. I certainly would not have agreed to waiving my legal rights had I known that such was in the documents. Mr. Gilbert placed the documents on a desk and flipped through them indicating by pointing where I was to sign or initial. I have nor [sic] recollection of the number of documents that I signed. I signed or initialed where I was told by Mr. Gilbert. While I can read, I am not a sophisticated business man and even today, after having many hours to pore over the documents, I do not understand all the language in them. I do not know that I ever received copies of the documents I signed because I did not have a copy of the "acknowledgment and agreement" form that was sent to my attorney by Mr. Lowe from Cavalier in my paperwork in my possession where we kept all the documents given to us.

Among the documents signed by Crawford were the contract of sale between Assured and Crawford, a Manufactured Home Retail Installment Contract and Security Agreement (Installment Contract) signed by Crawford and assigned by Assured to Green Tree, and an Acknowledgment and Agreement signed by Crawford as well as representatives of Assured and Green Tree. Paragraph 14 of the Installment Contract, pursuant to which Green Tree seeks to compel arbitration, states:

14. ARBITRATION: All disputes, claims or controversies arising from or relating to this Contract or the parties thereto shall be resolved by binding arbitration by one arbitrator selected by you [seller or assignee after assignment] with my [buyer] consent. This agreement is made pursuant to a transaction in interstate commerce and shall be governed by the Federal Arbitration Act at 9 U.S.C. Section 1. Judgment upon the award rendered may be entered in any court having jurisdiction. The parties agree and understand that they choose arbitration instead of litigation to resolve disputes. The parties understand that they have a right to litigate disputes in court, but that they prefer to resolve their disputes through arbitration, except as provided herein. THE PARTIES VOLUNTARILY AND KNOWINGLY WAIVE ANY RIGHT THEY HAVE TO A JURY TRIAL EITHER PURSUANT TO ARBITRATION UNDER THIS CLAUSE OR PURSUANT TO A COURT ACTION BY YOU (AS PROVIDED HEREIN). The parties agree and understand that all disputes arising under case law, statutory law and all other laws including, but not limited to, all contract, tort and property disputes will be subject to binding arbitration in accord with this Contract. The parties agree that the arbitrator shall have all powers provided by law, the Contract and the agreement of the parties. These powers shall include all legal and equitable remedies including, but not limited to, money damages, declaratory relief and injunctive relief. Notwithstanding anything hereunto the contrary, you [Green Tree] retain an option to use judicial (filing a lawsuit) or non-judicial relief to enforce a security agreement relating to the Manufactured Home secured in a transaction underlying this arbitration agreement, to enforce the monetary obligation secured by the Manufactured Home or to foreclose on the Manufactured Home. The institution and maintenance of a lawsuit to foreclose upon any collateral, to obtain a monetary judgment or to enforce the security agreement shall not constitute a waiver of the right of any party to compel arbitration regarding any other dispute or remedy subject to arbitration in this Contract, including the filing of a counterclaim in a suit brought by you pursuant to this provision.

The portions of the clause which are capitalized are also in bold print in the Contract. Paragraph 14 is the last numbered paragraph in the Installment Contract, and a portion of it is printed on the same page as Crawford's signature. Immediately above his signature, in large bold type, is "NOTICE TO BUYER: 1. DO NOT SIGN THIS CONTRACT BEFORE YOU READ IT OR IF IT CONTAINS ANY BLANK SPACES. 2. YOU ARE ENTITLED TO A COPY OF

THIS CONTRACT YOU SIGN. KEEP IT TO PROTECT YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS."

Sections (d), (e), and (f) of Paragraph 1 of the Acknowledgment and Agreement, signed by Crawford, Assured, and Cavalier, state that Assured is not an agent of Cavalier but dealt with Crawford as an independent party; that Crawford has received a packet of materials, including the Manufacturer's Warranty; and that "[a]ll warranty claims against MANUFACTURER... are to be handled as provided in the MANUFACTURER'S Warranty which PURCHASER has read and understands or will read and be familiar with." Paragraph 10,2 titled "ARBITRATION," provides that:

All parties acknowledge and agree that this Agreement and the performance of the transactions contemplated hereby evidence transactions which involve a substantial nexus with interstate commerce. Accordingly, any dispute, controversy or claim of any kind or nature which has arisen or may arise between the parties, their successors, assigns, heirs, representatives, parent companies, divisions, subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, employees, agents, and contractors (including any dispute, controversy or claim relating to the validity of this arbitration clause), whether arising out of past, present or future dealings between the parties, their successors, assigns, heirs, representatives, parent companies, divisions, subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, employees, agents and contractors shall be governed by the Federal Arbitration Act and shall be settled by arbitration in accordance with the Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association, and judgment upon the award rendered by the arbitrator may be entered in any court having jurisdiction thereof. Such arbitration proceedings shall be held at the principal place of business of the Manufacturer or at such location as shall be designated by Manufacturer, and shall be heard by an arbitrator who is either a (i) retired judge or (ii) practicing attorney who has conducted more than three (3) arbitrations during the preceding five (5) years. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, it is the intention of the parties to resolve by binding arbitration, as provided herein, all past, present, and future disputes, whether in tort, contract or otherwise, concerning or related to (i) the manufactured home, its sale, warranty, set up, repair, installation, manufacture, financing, insurance, [and] its condition, (ii) the validity of this Agreement, and (iii) any other dealings, business or otherwise, between the parties, their successors, assigns, [and] heirs.... The parties understand and agree that the arbitrator shall have all powers provided by law, and may award any legal or equitable relief, including, without limitation, money damages, declaratory relief and injunctive relief; provided, however, that the arbitrator will have no power to award punitive damages or other damages not measured by the prevailing party's actual damages. EACH OF THE PARTIES HERETO WAIVES ANY RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL WITH RESPECT TO ANY CONTROVERSY BETWEEN THE PARTIES, THEIR SUCCESSORS, ASSIGNS, HEIRS, REPRESENTATIVES, PARENT COMPANIES,
...

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