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Customer Forced to Arbitrate After Former Rent-A-Center Employee Robs Him

Mon, 01/26/2015

Zachary Mayberry, student intern Jacoby & Meyers

An 88 year old Missouri man was assaulted and robbed by a Rent-A-Center employee and forced to arbitrate when he took the company to court for his damages. Kenneth Johnson, described by neighbors as a "neighborhood staple," rented a television from a Rent-A-Center in September 2011 and a refrigerator in June of 2012. According to court records, Rent-A-Center allowed Eric Patton, a Rent-A-Center employee, to enter Mr. Johnson’s home several times despite a criminal record and customer complaints about Patton.

Eric Patton visited Mr. Johnson’s home twice to install and repair merchandise while working for a Kansas City Rent-A-Center. "Police records indicate that Patton serviced and delivered merchandise to Johnson’s home on June 28, 2012 and again on July, 2012." On August 3, 2012, Rent-A-Center terminated Eric Patton for stealing money and other illegal conduct. However, according to court records, Rent-A-Center "allowed Patton to keep his uniform, and never informed Johnson of the issues with Patton."

On August 3, 2012, Patton gained entry into Mr. Johnson’s home using his Rent-A-Center uniform under the false auspices of Rent-A-Center. He then, "brutally attacked, assaulted, and robbed," Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson, who was essentially left for dead, was found three days later in his home by police after concerned neighbors became suspicious and reported his absence.

Mr. Johnson went into a coma and suffered life threatening injuries and "irreversible harm" from the attack and according to court records, "is still fed via a feeding tube and breathes with the help of a tracheotomy tube. " Eric Patton was charged with felony assault and burglary in the 1st degree along with felony robbery. He was sentenced to 10 years in Missouri Department of Corrections.

In April 15, 2013, Mr. Johnson filed a suit against Rent-A-Center and the manager of the Rent-A-Center store at the time responsible for supervising, hiring, and firing employees. The complaint alleged negligence on the part of Rent-A-Center and the store manager, in the hiring, supervision, and retention of their employees, and failure to warn customers of Eric Patton’s criminal history and termination by the company.

Despite what sounds like a very winnable case on its face, given the alleged facts, Rent-A-Center’s arbitration agreement was able to provide the company with an effective legal shield against hearing the claim on its merits in a traditional court of law. As part of his rental agreements, Mr. Johnson signed two Arbitration agreements. One agreement signed in 2011, provided that "either party may demand that issues related to "the validity, enforceability, arbitrability or scope of the Arbitration Agreement" be determined by an arbitrator. The other Arbitration Agreement signed in 2012, also provided that an arbitrator decide any dispute relating to the "interpretation, applicability, enforceability, or formation" of the Arbitration Agreement. In addition, the fact that Mr. Johnson failed to raise any argument challenging the enforceability of the provision before bringing suit to court proved to be fatal to his case as Rent-A-Center successfully appealed the case with the court remanding the case to a lower court to compel arbitration.