Washington Federal Court Holds Standard Business Practices Insufficient to Support Arbitration Claim

Posted on February 25th, 2013 in Courts By BuckleySandler

On February 15, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington held that a cable company could not force arbitration of a dispute by relying only on its standard business practices to support its claim that the plaintiff agreed to arbitrate. Permison v. Comcast Holdings Corp., No. C12-5714, 2013 WL 594304 (W.D. Wash. Feb. 15, 2013). A cable customer with accounts in Colorado and Washington sued the company alleging TCPA violations. The cable company sought to compel arbitration, claiming that “Welcome Kit” materials executed by the customer included an agreement to arbitrate. In support of its motion to compel arbitration with regard to the Colorado accounts, the cable company submitted an affidavit describing its standard business practice, which requires technicians to provide customers with the Welcome Kit, and obtain customer signatures on certain terms and conditions included in the Kit. The court held that reliance on standard business practices is insufficient. Instead, the court stated, the cable company must produce business records or testimony showing that the customer actually received the arbitration agreement and assented to its terms. The court noted that the cable company presented actual evidence with regard to the Washington account, but held that it is not clear whether that contract, and its arbitration clause, impact the customer’s TCPA claims because of imprecise pleading. The court denied the company’s motion to compel arbitration and granted the customer leave to clarify his claims. The court’s holding follows a recent 10th Circuit decision that affirmed a district court’s dismissal of claims based on unrefuted declarations submitted by a TV and internet service provider’s employees concerning its standard practices for entering into agreements provided to customers in writing by the installation technician at the time the services were installed.