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U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Mandatory Arbitration Clause in Nursing Home Dispute

Nicole Wilmet, July 5th, 2017

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a binding arbitration clause when it heard the case of Kindred Nursing Centers Limited Partnership v. Clark. In Kindred, Beverly Wellner and Janis Clark, the wife and daughter of Joe Wellner and Olive Clark, each held power of attorney for their respective family members. When Joe and Olive moved into Kindred Nursing Centers L.P., Beverley and Janis completed all the necessary power of attorney paperwork on behalf of their family members. Included in this paperwork was a binding arbitration agreement whereby Beverly and Janis agreed, on their family member’s behalf, that any disputes arising out of their family member’s stay at the facility would be resolved through binding arbitration.

After Joe and Olive passed away, Beverley and Janis brought negligence suits against Kindred Nursing Centers L.P. alleging that Kindred’s substandard care caused their family member’s deaths. Kindred then moved to dismiss these cases and claimed that the binding arbitration agreements signed by Beverly and Janis prohibited these cases from being heard in court. Both the Kentucky trial court and appellate courts dismissed Kindred’s claims and found that Beverly and Janis could try their case in court. Following the appellate court’s decision, Kindred then appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court who affirmed the lower courts’ decisions and once again found that the families’ claims could be tried in court. As the Kentucky Supreme Court explained, the Kentucky Constitution protects an individual’s right to a jury trial. 478 S.W. 3d 306, 328-329 (2015). As such, the court found that the nursing home’s power of attorney agreement could not permit an individual with power of attorney to waive a jury trial and enter into a binding arbitration agreement without specifically saying so. Id. at 329. Following the court’s decision, Kindred then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On May 15th, in a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court determined that the lower courts in Kentucky violated the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) when they failed to give effect to the nursing home’s binding arbitration clause. As the court explained, under the FAA, courts are required to give arbitration agreements the same weight as all other contracts. (pg. 7) By failing to uphold the Kentucky nursing home’s arbitration clause, the Court found that the Kentucky courts failed to give the arbitration clause the same weight as other contracts. (pg. 8) As a result, the Court held that the nursing home’s clause was valid and enforceable.