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Chausse v. Career Education Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 20, 2017

ERIC CHAUSSE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAREER EDUCATION CORPORATION, CEC FOOD AND BEVERAGE LLC, LE CORDON BLEU COLLEGE OF CULINARY ARTS IN CHICAGO, and THE COOKING AND HOSPITALITY INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JORGE L. ALONSO United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, Eric Chausse, filed this action against Career Education Corporation, CEC Food and Beverage LLC, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago, and The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, Inc. for defendants' alleged violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C § 12181 et seq. Defendants move to compel arbitration and dismiss this action. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants defendants' motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Chausse, who is legally blind, alleges that defendants unlawfully denied him enrollment at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago (“Le Cordon Bleu”), a cooking school. (ECF No. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 1, 9, 12.) Chausse alleges that he applied to Le Cordon Bleu and defendants sent him a letter in October 2014 informing him that he was not eligible or qualified for admission because he is blind. (Id. ¶ 13.) He further alleges that defendants could have reasonably accommodated his disability. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         Defendants move to compel arbitration and dismiss this action on the basis that when plaintiff applied for admission in 2010, he entered into an Enrollment Agreement that requires arbitration of potential claims or disputes between the parties.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         Motions to compel arbitration concern venue and are properly addressed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3). Grasty v. Colo. Tech. Univ., 599 F. App'x 596, 597 (7th Cir. 2015) (citing Jackson v. Payday Fin., LLC, 764 F.3d 765, 773 (7th Cir. 2014)); Johnson v. Orkin, LLC, 556 F. App'x 543, 544 (7th Cir. 2014) (an arbitration clause is “simply a type of forum-selection clause, ” and a motion seeking dismissal based on an agreement to arbitrate therefore should be decided under Rule 12(b)(3)). The Court may consider materials outside the pleadings when evaluating such a motion. Johnson, 556 F. App'x at 544-45.

         The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) governs the enforceability of arbitration clauses in state and federal courts. Jain v. de Méré, 51 F.3d 686, 688 (7th Cir. 1995). Under the FAA, an arbitration agreement in “a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2. The Court must grant a motion to compel arbitration under the FAA where the parties have a written arbitration agreement and the asserted claims are within its scope. 9 U.S.C. §§ 3-4; Sharif v. Wellness Int'l Network, Ltd., 376 F.3d 720, 726 (7th Cir. 2004). “To determine whether a contract's arbitration clause applies to a given dispute, federal courts apply state-law principles of contract formation.” Gore v. Alltel Commc'ns, LLC, 666 F.3d 1027, 1032 (7th Cir. 2012). The parties cite Illinois law in their briefs, so the Court will apply Illinois law. See Faulkenberg v. CB Tax Franchise Sys., LP, 637 F.3d 801, 809 (7th Cir. 2011).

         In deciding a motion to compel arbitration, the court's duty is simply to determine whether the parties' dispute belongs in arbitration, not to rule on the potential merits of the underlying claim. AT & T Techs., Inc. v. Commc'ns Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 649 (1986). The party opposing arbitration bears the burden of establishing why the arbitration provision should not be enforced, Green Tree Financial Corp.-Alabama v. Randolph, 531 U.S. 79, 91-92 (2000), and “must identify a triable issue of fact concerning the existence of the agreement in order to obtain a trial on the merits of the contract, ” Tinder v. Pinkerton Security, 305 F.3d 728, 735 (7th Cir. 2002). “[T]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants contend that the Court should dismiss this action and compel arbitration of plaintiff's claim because plaintiff entered into a contract to arbitrate enrollment-related disputes and any claims related to his relationship with defendants. Defendants submit evidence that when Chausse applied to Le Cordon Bleu on September 30, 2010, he entered into a four-page written Enrollment Agreement with The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago, Inc. (the “College”), which operates Le Cordon Bleu, that contained an arbitration provision providing in pertinent part:

Any disputes, claims, or controversies between the parties to this Enrollment Agreement arising out of or relating to (i) this Enrollment Agreement; (ii) the Student's recruitment, enrollment, attendance, or education; (iii) financial aid or career service assistance by the College; (iv) any claim, no matter how described, pleaded, or styled, relating, in any manner, to any act or omission regarding the Student's relationship with the College, its employees, or with externship sites or their employees; or (v) any objection to arbitrability or the existence, scope, validity, construction, or enforceability of this Arbitration Agreement shall be resolved pursuant to this paragraph (the “Arbitration Agreement”). . . . Unless the parties agree to an alternative, the arbitration shall be administered by the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”). . . . All in-person hearings and conferences in the arbitration shall take place in a locale near the College unless the Student and the College agree otherwise. . . . Each party shall bear the expense of its own counsel, experts, witnesses, and preparation and presentation of proofs. All fees and expenses of the arbitrator and administrative fees and expenses of the arbitration shall be paid by the parties as provided by the AAA's Commercial Arbitration Rules, including the Supplementary Procedures for Consumer-Related Disputes . . . . This Arbitration Agreement will survive the termination of the Student's relationship with the College.

(ECF Nos. 11 & 11-1, Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot., Ex. 1, Decl. of Laura Rice ¶ 6 & Ex. A, Chausse Enrollment Agreement at 4.) Above plaintiff's signature, the Enrollment Agreement also states: “THIS CONTRACT CONTAINS A BINDING ARBITRATION PROVISION WHICH MAY BE ENFORCED BY THE PARTIES.” (Id. at 2.)

         Plaintiff asserts in response to defendants' motion that he is not complaining about Le Cordon Bleu's failure to accommodate him in relation to his 2010 enrollment application, but in relation to a 2014 enrollment application. He filed a declaration in which he states that he applied to Le Cordon Bleu on July 15, 2014, by submitting an online application, and “during” that application, “there was no language related to arbitration.” (ECF No. 16-1, Decl. of Eric ...


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