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Just Court ADR

The blog of Resolution Systems Institute

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.

Mediation Shouldn’t Be More of a Barrier Than a Boon

Susan M. Yates, March 17th, 2017

When it comes to defining mediation, I am not a strict constructionist. As long as a mediation program operates within the ethical boundaries, such as confidentiality, neutrality and voluntariness, which are articulated in the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, I can agree with a wide variety of approaches.

Unfortunately, sometimes certain entities (e.g., courts, governments, schools, corporations) seem to use the word “mediation” as cover to make a process that is not really mediation appear more palatable. It is worse yet when the purpose of the program appears to be to create a set of hurdles. One of my core principles in mediation system design is that a mediation program should ease the path to resolution, not erect barriers to it.

A program being developed by the City of Concord, California, to address rising rental rates is looks like the latest example of breaking this principle. Read the rest of this entry »

Reflecting on RSI Focus Groups in Washington, DC

Susan M. Yates, March 1st, 2017

Last week I had the honor of accompanying Jennifer Shack, RSI’s remarkable Director of Research, to Washington, DC. Jen is the principal investigator on an RSI evaluation of the child protection mediation program[1] in the DC Courts. I came along to facilitate the focus groups that are part of the evaluation. Each of the focus groups brought together a distinct group of lawyers who participate in mediation regularly: Guardians ad litem, lawyers for parents and prosecutors. The focus groups provided insight into how differing interests shape how mediation is perceived.

I found that my mediation skills, honed over many years, made it easy to shift into the role of focus group facilitator. Asking open-ended questions, encouraging everyone to participate and keeping the conversation moving were all familiar. Unlike mediation, the group didn’t have a goal of reaching agreement and I found that to be kind of liberating! What was more surprising to me was that it was difficult to remove my trainer/teacher “hat.” When a participant made a comment based on a misunderstanding of mediation, I had to resist the urge to engage in a conversation to educate the participant about mediation.

The groups of lawyers came from very different perspectives and often had different goals for mediation. Read the rest of this entry »

Takeaways from a Child Protection Mediator Training

Eric Slepak, February 6th, 2017

On January 20-21, RSI put on an advanced two-day training for the mediators in our new Child Protection Mediation Program operating out of Geneva, IL. This training was the culmination of our efforts to put in place a dynamic and collaborative new forum to address child abuse and neglect cases in Illinois’ 16th Judicial Circuit Court. Based on the outcome of the training, I feel confident that our new program will be a huge boon to Kane County, the jurisdiction which the program serves. I also am glad to have taken away some ideas about how to create a better mediator training event, which I get to share with all of you. Read the rest of this entry »

Mediation: A Tool for Self-Reflection?

Ashlee Patterson, December 23rd, 2016

Recently, I attended a panel discussion about ADR and police brutality, which was presented as part of a regular ADR brown bag series sponsored by the Cook County Circuit Court. At a time when police brutality and race relations have been all over the news, this panel discussion was pertinent to me. Not only because of its presence in the news, but also because of its personal significance to me as a member of the African-American community. So I went to the panel, armed with my notebook and pen, ready to take copious notes. My goal: end police brutality with ADR techniques. Spoiler alert: I did not walk away with the key to end police brutality.

Read the rest of this entry »