Ensey v. Mini Mart, Inc.

Ensey v. Mini Mart, Inc., 2013 MT 94 (April 10, 2013) (5-0) (Wheat, J.)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred by dismissing Ensey’s complaint for lack of jurisdiction; and (2) whether the district court erred in finding that § 39-2-915, MCA does not violate Ensey’s constitutional rights.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) yes.

Affirmed issue 1, set aside issue 2

Facts: Ensey worked at a Mini Mart store in Great Falls for 17 years, eventually becoming assistant manager. At some point, Mini Mart created a policy that it would immediately fire employees if they twice failed to ask for a customer loyalty card. It then sent secret shoppers into the stores, and Ensey failed to ask for a loyalty card. She was fired. Ensey filed suit for wrongful discharge. Mini Mart offered to arbitrate, and Ensey accepted, stating in her letter that she felt compelled to accept because § 39-1-915, MCA would force her to pay Mini Mart’s attorney fees if she declined the offer and lost at trial. Simultaneously, Ensey moved to amend her complaint to add a declaratory judgment claim that § 39-1-915, MCA, violated her rights to a jury trial, equal protection, and due process.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court granted Ensey’s motion to amend and Ensey filed an amended complaint. Mini Mart moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on Ensey’s agreement to arbitrate. Ensey moved for partial summary judgment on the declaratory judgment claim, and moved to stay the arbitration. The district court granted Mini Mart’s motion to dismiss, vacating its previous decision to allow Ensey to amend her complaint, concluding it lost jurisdiction once Ensey accepted the offer to arbitrate. Nonetheless, the court noted the dilemma Ensey faced regarding the appropriate time to raise her constitutional challenge, and held the statute constitutional. Ensey appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms the dismissal but sets aside the ruling on the constitutionality of § 39-1-915, MCA.