BECKLEY – Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance is asking a federal judge to enforce arbitration in a dispute with a National Guard veteran who claims the company engaged in abusive debt collection practices.

On Nov. 26, Vanderbilt removed Todd Lucas’ lawsuit from Raleigh County Circuit Court to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Beckley. It also filed a motion to compel arbitration.

The case is assigned to Judge Irene Berger.

“Without a doubt, a valid arbitration agreement exists between the parties,” the company’s attorneys wrote on Nov. 27.

“Plaintiff’s allegation that the arbitration clause was included in the contract ‘unbeknownst to Plaintiff’ is frivolous. He does not deny that he signed the agreement and he alleges no particular fact that, if proven, would establish that he was somehow deprived of free will.

“West Virginia law presumes that a contracting party has read and understood everything in a document that he has signed.”

According to Lucas, he purchased a home in October 2012 and used Vanderbilt to secure a mortgage. Lucas claims he became ill and was unable to work, eventually falling behind on his mortgage payments.

By the end of February, Vanderbilt allegedly began calling Lucas at least once a day. Lucas claims he asked for assistance on his mortgage as he was not financially savvy, but Vanderbilt continued to call him.

In October, Vanderbilt allegedly began the foreclosure process on Lucas’ home. Lucas alleges that Vanderbilt included in the mortgage documents a mandatory arbitration clause. His lawsuit was filed Oct. 28.

The clause allegedly makes arbitration the only method of dispute resolution between the parties, regardless of the details of the dispute. Lucas claims this clause is unconscionable and unenforceable.

Lucas is seeking a declaratory judgment that would render the arbitration clause void. He is being represented by attorney Ralph C. Young.

Not reading or understanding the agreement are not arguments Lucas can make, Vanderbilt argues.

“In spite of his agreement to submit these matters to arbitration, the Plaintiff filed the present action in lieu of instituting arbitration proceedings in accordance with the terms of the arbitration agreement,” the company’s attorneys wrote.

“Pursuant to the (Federal Arbitration Act), a stay of ‘any suit or proceeding’ is mandatory ‘pending arbitration of any issue referable to arbitration under an agreement in writing for such arbitration.’”

Vanderbilt is represented by Richard D. Owen of Goodwin & Goodwin in Charleston.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.




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