In a recent case, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a wrongful death complaint between Appellants, known as “the School” and Appellee, the plaintiff. The plaintiff sued the School for wrongful death after her 13-year-old son committed suicide following the School’s request that he withdraw from the school for selling a cape pen to a classmate. The School filed a motion to dismiss or compel arbitration. The appeals court reversed the lower court decision, ruling that an order denying the School’s motion to dismiss or compel arbitration is reversed.
The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the School violated its policies and procedures as well as a common law duty to assess and provide suicide prevention and crisis support to a disciplined student. The complaint further alleged that the School was negligent for failing to conduct a full investigation and imposing a punishment that had no basis in its policies and procedures. Notably, at least twenty of the plaintiff’s allegations implicated the School’s investigation of the incident and the appropriateness of the School’s disciplinary measures.
The School moved to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration pursuant to the enrollment contract that the plaintiff signed when the child was admitted to the school. The enrollment contract provides that “in the event of a disagreement with [the school], or if I have a legal claim against [the school], I agree to address any such disagreement or claim through the process of conflict resolution, including Christian mediation and binding arbitration as outlined in the Parent/Student Handbook.” Additionally, the handbook contained a section prohibiting vape pens and provided that possession or use of a vape pen will result in the termination of enrollment. Ultimately, the trial court denied the School’s motion, concluding that the plaintiff’s son’s death did not arise out of her child’s enrollment at the school.
The School appealed the decision, making three primary claims. The appeal states that generally, the three fundamental elements that must be considered when determining whether a dispute is required to proceed to arbitration are: (1) whether a valid written agreement to arbitrate exists; (2) whether an arbitrable issue exists; and (3) whether the right to arbitration was waived. The appellate court decision established that the parties agree that a valid written agreement to arbitrate exists here and no waiver occurred, leaving the only issue before the court as to whether the plaintiff’s wrongful death claim creates an “arbitrable issue” under the enrollment contract and handbook’s arbitration clauses. The appellate court found that in this case, the arbitration clauses were sufficiently narrow in scope, and subsequently concluded that the plaintiff’s wrongful death action has a direct relationship to the enrollment contract and handbook’s terms and provisions. As a result, the court reversed the order denying the School’s motion to dismiss or compel arbitration.
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