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All opinions are subject to modification and technical correction prior to official publication in the North Carolina Reports and North Carolina Court of Appeals Reports. In the event of discrepancies between the electronic version of an opinion and the print version appearing in the North Carolina Reports and North Carolina Court of Appeals Reports, the latest print version is to be considered authoritative.
REBEKAH CHANTAY REVELS, Plaintiff, v. MISS NORTH CAROLINA PAGEANT
ORGANIZATION, INC., Defendant, REBEKAH CHANTAY REVELS, Plaintiff,
v. MISS AMERICA ORGANIZATION, MISS NORTH CAROLINA PAGEANT
ORGANIZATION, INC., ALAN CLOUSE, BILLY DUNCAN, CHARLENE HAY, DOUG
HUFF, TOM ROBERTS, DAVID CLEGG, BEVERLY ADAMS, and CANDACE
Filed: 21 March 2006
1. Arbitration and Mediation--motion to compel--unconscionability--inequality of
The trial court did not err by granting defendants' motion to compel arbitration in an
action arising out of a Miss North Carolina contract, because: (1) plaintiff assented to all terms of
the pertinent contract including the arbitration clause where plaintiff's signature appears at the
end of the contract on the signature line, and plaintiff placed her initials on each page of the
contract including the one containing the arbitration clause;(2) although plaintiff argues the
inequality of bargaining power deprived her of a meaningful choice, she freely and willingly
decided to enter the Miss North Carolina Pageant in which each contestant was required to sign
this agreement; (3) the public policy of North Carolina strongly favors the settlement of disputes
by arbitration and requires the courts to resolve any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable
issues in favor of arbitration; and (4) although plaintiff contends the cost of arbitration was so
expensive as to effectively deny her a forum, plaintiff did participate in the arbitration and was
not denied a forum.
2. Arbitration and Mediation--discoverable materials_discretion of arbitrator--
The trial court did not err by confirming the arbitrator's award even though plaintiff
contends the arbitrator improperly compelled disclosure of photographs taken of her which
prompted the suit, because: (1) as a general rule an arbitration award is presumed valid and the
party seeking to vacate it must shoulder the burden of proving the grounds for attacking its
validity; (2) the decision of the arbitrator to determine that certain materials were discoverable
was within his broad discretion and therefore not appealable; and (3) it would be contrary to the
process of conducting a meaningful arbitration were the parties to decide what was discoverable.
Appeal by plaintiff from orders entered 8 October 2002, 24
February 2003, 7 April 2003 and 28 October 2004 by Judge Narley L.
Cashwell in Wake County Superior Court and judgment entered 14 May
2004 by Judge Narley L. Cashwell in Wake County Superior Court.
Heard in the Court of Appeals 7 February 2006.
Barry Nakell for plaintiff appellant.
Constangy, Brooks & Smith, L.L.C., by Kenneth P. Carlson, Jr.;
Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., by C. Matthew
Keen and Debra L. Dewar; and Brown Crump Vanore & Tierney,
L.L.P., by Andrew A. Vanore, III and Michael E. McDaniel, for
Plaintiff appeals from orders compelling arbitration,
confirming the arbitrator's award and denying a request for new
hearing and motion for relief from order.
On 15 June 2002 Rebekah Revels (Revels) entered into a
contract with Miss North Carolina Pageant Organization, Inc.
(MNCPO) pursuant to entering and winning the Miss North Carolina
Pageant. The contract provided that Revels had not done any act or
engaged in any activity which could be characterized as dishonest,
immoral, immodest, indecent, or in bad taste. A subsequent clause
stated if any of the representations proved false, the contract
would be terminated and Revels would forfeit her rights as Miss
North Carolina. The contract further contained a clause in Section
9, labeled RIGHT TO ARBITRATION which stated that, Any
controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this contract or
the breach thereof, shall be settled by arbitration in Raleigh,
North Carolina, in accordance with the Rules of the American
Arbitration Association. The clause further stated that the
arbitration clause would in no way affect the rights of MNCPO to
seek injunctive relief in the event of breach or threatened breach. Around 19 July 2002 MNCPO became aware of alleged nude
photographs of Revels by communication with an ex-boyfriend which
led to the resignation of Revels on 23 July 2002. On 29 August
2002, Revels filed a complaint against MNCPO for specific
performance, injunction, and damages for breach of contract arising
out of the Miss North Carolina contract between the two parties. On
5 September 2002, the lower court issued a preliminary injunction
ordering MNCPO to withdraw its termination of the contract between
the two parties and to honor its obligations under the contract
pending trial. On 30 August 2002 MNCPO filed a motion to compel
arbitration which was granted by the lower court and further
ordered that all matters in the case be stayed until an arbitration
award had been issued.
Revels also filed a complaint against Miss America
Organization (MAO) in September 2002. The complaint was
subsequently amended to add MNCPO and eight individual officials.
These organizations and individuals also filed motions to compel
arbitration which were granted by the lower court.
All parties mutually agreed to the Honorable G. Conley Ingram
as the arbitrator for the matter. During the course of the
arbitration, the arbitrator determined that the photos taken of
Revels were discoverable and must be made available to the opposing
parties for use in deposing Revels. It was further stated that the
photos were not to be furnished for public view and counsel was not
permitted to comment on the photos outside of the arbitration. The
arbitrator additionally noted that [e]very effort shall be made toprotect the privacy of the Claimant consistent with the use of the
pictures in this arbitration. The arbitrator informed Revels that
if she failed to comply with this direction of the arbitrator, then
that decision would be construed as a deliberate decision by her
and her counsel to dismiss arbitration. After repeated refusals by
Revels to comply with the order of the arbitrator, the arbitrator
found that in view of the contumacious conduct of Claimant's
counsel by repeatedly and consistently disobeying multiple
directions from the arbitrator to engage in discovery and
preparation for the scheduled hearing in this case, the Claimant's
case must be, and it is hereby, dismissed.
After the issuance of the order dismissing Revels' case, cross
motions to confirm and vacate arbitration were filed by the
parties. The lower court granted the motion to confirm the
arbitration award dismissing Revels' case.
 Revels contends on appeal that the trial court erred in
granting the motions to compel arbitration where the agreement to
arbitrate was unconscionable and so expensive as to effectively
deny her a forum. We disagree.
This Court conducts a de novo review in determining whether a
particular dispute is subject to arbitration. Raspet v. Buck, 147
N.C. App. 133, 136, 554 S.E.2d 676, 678 (2001). In making this
determination, this Court must look to (1) the validity of thecontract to arbitrate and (2) whether the subject matter of the
arbitration agreement covers the matter in dispute. Ragan v. Wheat
First Sec., Inc., 138 N.C. App. 453, 455, 531 S.E.2d 874, 876,
disc. review denied, 353 N.C. 268, 546 S.E.2d 129 (2000).
We first address Revels' contention that the arbitration
clause is unenforceable on the ground of unconscionability. Revels
only argues on appeal that the first prong of the test to determine
whether the dispute is subject to arbitration was not met and
therefore this Court will not address the second prong of the test.
It is well established that a valid contract arises only where
there is assent between the parties, amounting to a meeting of the
minds. See Walker v. Goodson Farms, Inc., 90 N.C. App. 478, 486,
369 S.E.2d 122, 126, disc. review denied, 323 N.C. 370, 373 S.E.2d
556 (1988), Sciolino v. TD Waterhouse Investor Servs., Inc., 149
N.C. App. 642, 645-46, 562 S.E.2d 64, 66, disc. review denied, 356
N.C. 167, 568 S.E.2d 611 (2002). There must be a mutual agreement
to all terms for there to be a valid and enforceable contract. Id.
'If a question arises concerning a party's assent to a written
instrument, the court must first examine the written instrument to
ascertain the intention of the parties.' Id. (citation omitted).
Revels relies on this Court's holdings in Sciolino and Routh
v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 108 N.C. App. 268, 423 S.E.2d 791 (1992);
however, the facts of these cases stand in stark contrast to the
facts of the instant case. In Sciolino, the plaintiffs signed an
application in which they agreed to be bound by the terms of the
customer agreement; however, there was no customer agreementattached to the application. The defendants presented two customer
agreements at trial which contained arbitration clauses and argued
that, because plaintiffs agreed to be bound by the terms of this
agreement, they were therefore bound. The customer agreements did
not bear plaintiffs' signatures, plaintiffs' initials, plaintiffs'
account number, or any indication that the plaintiffs had ever seen
the document. This Court found that there was no evidence of assent
and therefore no valid agreement to arbitrate.
In Routh, the plaintiff signed a termination agreement which
contained an additional term not included in the standard
termination agreement in which he agreed to repay the defendant
$1000 per month. However, the plaintiff's signature appeared
directly below the additional language rather than on the signature
line. This Court determined that these facts created an ambiguity
as to which terms the plaintiff was assenting at the time of
contracting and further determined based on extrinsic evidence that
the plaintiff did not assent to the arbitration clause.
In the instant case, it is clear that Revels assented to all
terms of the contract including the arbitration clause. Revels'
signature appears at the end of the contract on the signature line
and, further, Revels placed her initials on each page of the
contract, including the one containing the arbitration clause. No
ambiguity exists as to whether there was assent to each of the
Revels further argues that the arbitration clause was
unenforceable where the inequality of bargaining power deprived herof a meaningful choice. However, Revels freely and willingly
decided to enter the Miss North Carolina Pageant in which each
contestant was required to sign this agreement. Where Revels could
enter other pageants or choose to not enter a pageant at all, we
find that this contention lacks merit.
We also note that the public policy of North Carolina strongly
favors the settlement of disputes by arbitration and requires that
the courts resolve any doubts concerning the scope of arbitrable
issues in favor of arbitration. Johnston County v. R.N. Rouse &
Co., 331 N.C. 88, 91, 414 S.E.2d 30, 32 (1992). Where there is no
evidence of lack of a valid agreement to arbitrate, it was proper
for the lower court to grant the motion to compel arbitration.
Finally, Revels contends that the trial court erred in
granting the motion to compel arbitration where the cost of
arbitration was so expensive as to effectively deny her a forum. We
hold that where Revels did participate in the arbitration and was
not denied a forum, this contention also lacks merit. Therefore,
this assignment of error is overruled.
 Next we address Revels' argument that the trial court
erred by granting the motion to confirm the arbitrator's award
where the arbitration was conducted in a manner prejudicial to her,
the award was procured by undue means, and there was evident
partiality and misconduct by the arbitrator. This contention lacks
merit. The gravamen of Revels' contention is that she disagreed with
the decision of the arbitrator to compel disclosure of photographs
taken of her which prompted the suit. [A]s a general rule an
arbitration award is presumed valid and the party seeking to vacate
it must shoulder the burden of proving the grounds for attacking
its validity. Pinnacle Group, Inc. v. Shrader
, 105 N.C. App. 168,
171, 412 S.E.2d 117, 120 (1992). A court's review of an arbitration
award is limited and does not permit review based on a contention
of mistake of law. Sholar Bus. Assocs. v. Davis
, 138 N.C. App. 298,
302, 531 S.E.2d 236, 239 (2000).
The decision of the arbitrator to determine that certain
materials were discoverable was within his broad discretion and
therefore not appealable. See Pinnacle Group, Inc.
, 105 N.C. App.
at 172, 412 S.E.2d at 121 (Arbitrations are not governed by the
rules of evidence and further the determination of what materials
are discoverable is within the discretion of the arbitrators.). It
would be contrary to the process of conducting a meaningful
arbitration were the parties to decide what was discoverable.
Therefore, this assignment of error is overruled.
Accordingly, the trial court did not err in granting the
motion to compel arbitration nor did the trial court err in
confirming the arbitrator's award. Based on the foregoing reasons,
the trial court's decisions are
Judges ELMORE and LEVINSON concur.
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