DELL WEBB COMMUNITIES, INC.; PULTEGROUP, INC., Petitioners - Appellants,
ROGER F. CARLSON; MARY JO CARLSON, Respondents - Appellees
December 9, 2015
from the United States District Court for the District of
South Carolina, at Beaufort. (9:14-cv-01877-SB). Solomon
Blatt, Jr., Senior District Judge.
Leon Widener, MCNAIR LAW FIRM, P.A., Columbia, South
Carolina, for Appellants.
S. Seekings, LEATH BOUCH & SEEKINGS, LLP, Charleston, South
Carolina, for Appellees.
Victor Rawl, Jr., Henry W. Frampton, IV, MCNAIR LAW FIRM,
P.A., Charleston, South Carolina, for Appellants.
Jefferson Leath, Jr., LEATH BOUCH & SEEKINGS, LLP,
Charleston, South Carolina; Phillip W. Segui, Jr., Amanda
Morgan Blundy, SEGUI LAW FIRM, PC, Mount Pleasant, South
Carolina, for Appellees.
TRAXLER, Chief Judge, GREGORY and DIAZ, Circuit Judges. Judge
Diaz wrote the opinion, in which Chief Judge Traxler and
Judge Gregory joined.
and Mary Jo Carlson signed a sales agreement with PulteGroup,
Inc. and its subsidiary Del Webb Communities, Inc. (together,
" Pulte" ) for the purchase of a lot and
construction of a home in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The
agreement contained an arbitration clause. This appeal stems
from the Carlsons' attempt to arbitrate class-action
claims against Pulte under the agreement, and Pulte's
efforts to limit arbitration to the claims between the three
parties. The district court held that the availability of
class arbitration under an arbitration agreement is a
procedural question for the arbitrator to decide, rather than
a question for the court.
the primary goal in enforcing an arbitration agreement is to
discern and honor party intent, and because of the
fundamental differences between bilateral and class
arbitration--which change the nature of arbitration
altogether--we hold that whether parties agree to class
arbitration is a gateway question for the court. Accordingly,
we reverse the district court's order denying Pulte's
motion for partial summary judgment, vacate the judgment
dismissing Pulte's petition, and remand the case for the
district court to determine whether the arbitration clause
permits class arbitration.
relevant facts are not in dispute. The Carlsons signed the
sales agreement at issue in March of 2002. Section 4.3 of the
agreement contains an arbitration clause that, in relevant
Any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this
Agreement or Your purchase of the Property shall be finally
settled by arbitration . . . .
After Closing, every controversy or claim arising out of or
relating to this Agreement, or the breach thereof shall be
settled by binding arbitration as provided by the South
Carolina Uniform Arbitration Act. . . . The rules of the
American Arbitration Association (AAA), published for
construction industry arbitrations, shall govern the
arbitration proceeding and the method of appointment of the
. . . .
Any party to this Agreement may bring action . . . to compel
arbitration . . . .
September 2008, the Carlsons filed suit in South Carolina
state court against Pulte and two other parties. The
complaint raised several claims, all regarding alleged
construction defects. The Carlsons later moved to amend their
complaint to add class-action allegations because their
lawsuit was one of approximately 140 like cases pending
against Pulte. The state court granted the motion over
then moved to dismiss the amended complaint, or in the
alternative, to compel bilateral arbitration of the
Carlsons' claims. The state court denied both motions,
but the South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed, finding the
Carlsons' claims subject to arbitration under the sales
agreement with Pulte. Carlson v. S.C. State Plastering,
LLC, 404 S.C. 250, 743 S.E.2d 868, 875 (S.C. Ct. App.
Carlsons subsequently filed a demand for arbitration with the
American Arbitration Association (AAA). Their ...