The Eleventh Circuit has “ironed out a wrinkle” in Alabama’s arbitration jurisprudence that seemed to find executors outside the scope of arbitration contracts signed by the decedent. 

In Entrekin v. Internal Medicine Assocs. of Dothan, P.A., ___ F.3d __, 2012 WL 3208641 (11th Cir. Aug. 9, 2012), the district court had denied a nursing home’s motion to compel arbitration of a wrongful death claim brought by the executor of the decedent’s estate.  The district court rested its decision on old Alabama state cases saying that wrongful death claims do not belong to the decedent or its estate, but only to the personal representative.  Here, as the decedent had signed the arbitration agreement, the district court reasoned that the agreement did not bind the executor of that estate.

The Eleventh Circuit reversed.  Brushing aside any technical distinctions between personal representatives and executors, the Eleventh Circuit pointed out that the Alabama Supreme Court had compelled arbitration of wrongful death claims against nursing homes in three recent cases.  Those three cases established “the rule that an executor suing a nursing home for wrongful death is bound by an arbitration agreement that binds the decedent.” 

Interestingly, on appeal the nursing home tried to argue that there was a valid delegation clause that authorized only the arbitrator to determine the scope of the arbitration agreement.  The Eleventh Circuit was not impressed, noting that “if arguments were people, this one would be so feeble that it would need nursing care.”  Fundamentally, the nursing home was precluded from raising that issue on appeal because it never raised that issue in the district court and instead asked the court to determine the question of arbitrability.