Just five months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on a nursing home arbitration dispute in Kindred Nursing Centers v. Clark. It held that the Kentucky supreme court’s rationale for not enforcing the arbitration agreement was preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act. Before that, multiple state courts had found state law bases for refusing to enforce arbitration agreements in nursing home agreements.
So, what is a state high court to do post-Kindred? Wyoming did the logical thing: enforce the arbitration agreement. In Kindred Healthcare Operating, Inc. v. Boyd, 2017 WL 4545742 (Wyo. Oct. 12, 2017), wrongful death claims were made against the nursing home. When the defendant moved to compel arbitration based on the arbitration agreement signed by the decedent’s daughter, the plaintiff responded that the arbitration agreement was not enforceable for three reasons. First, because the daughter did not have authority; second, because the agreement was unconscionable; and third the agreement was invalid because it selected the rules of the National Arbitration Forum (NAF) to govern the arbitration. The district court denied the motion to compel.
Wyoming’s Supreme Court reversed, making short work of the plaintiff’s allegations. It found that the daughter’s general power of attorney, which gave her “full power and authority to … contract” (among other powers), authorized her to sign the arbitration agreement for decedent. It found that the arbitration agreement was not unconscionable, in part because it stated in bold print that it was optional and the resident would be admitted even if it was not signed. Finally, it found that even though the parties agreed to arbitrate in accordance with the NAF rules “then in effect” (and the NAF no longer conducted consumer arbitrations) that did not invalidate the agreement. That was because the agreement allowed the parties to select a different set of rules, and the NAF rules were not “an essential term” of the agreement.
I expect this may indicative of what we see from state courts regarding nursing home arbitrations after Kindred.