Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Challenge to Contract Containing Arbitration Agreement Entitles Party to Expedited Evidentiary Hearing

In Curcio v. Sovereign Healthcare of Boynton Beach L.L.C. (4D08-1947), the Fourth DCA reversed the circuit court and held that the plaintiff was entitled to an expedited evidentiary hearing after challenging the "making of" the underlying contract that contained the arbitration agreement.
Here, plaintiff demonstrated through her written response in opposition to the motion to compel and her arguments at the nonevidentiary hearing on the motion that she disputed the “making of” the arbitration agreement. The trial court implicitly acknowledged that there were issues in dispute regarding the making of the Agreement and “retain[ed] jurisdiction to reconsider the dismissal of th[e] case pending the development of sufficient grounds during the arbitration process.” The court, however, was required by statute to conduct an evidentiary hearing to resolve the disputed issues before sending the case to arbitration. We therefore reverse the trial court’s order compelling arbitration and remand for an evidentiary hearing. On remand, if, after holding an evidentiary hearing, the court decides to grant the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, it should stay rather than dismiss the plaintiff’s case. See Liberty Commcns, Inc. v. MCI Telecommunications Corp., 733 So. 2d 571, 573 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999) (holding that when an order for arbitration is entered, the cause should be stayed rather than dismissed).


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