By Pat Murphy
State courts could not categorically refuse to enforce arbitration clauses in the admission contracts of nursing homes sued for wrongful death, the U.S Supreme Court has ruled in a per curiam decision.
The ruling addressed three separate wrongful death lawsuits against nursing homes in West Virginia. In each of the cases, the plaintiffs sued in state court alleging that a family member had died due to the negligence of the nursing home in which they were residents.
Each of the cases was dismissed based on arbitration clauses in the nursing homes’ admission contracts.
West Virginia’s highest court consolidated the cases and ruled that such predispute arbitration clauses are unenforceable as a matter of public policy.
But the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the state rule was preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act as interpreted by the Court in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (131 S.Ct. 1740)
“As this Court reaffirmed last term [in Concepcion], ‘[w]hen state law prohibits outright the arbitration of a particular type of claim, the analysis is straightforward: The conflicting rule is displaced by the FAA.’ That rule resolves these cases. West Virginia’s prohibition against predispute agreements to arbitrate personal-injury or wrongful-death claims against nursing homes is a categorical rule prohibiting arbitration of a particular type of claim, and that rule is contrary to the terms and coverage of the FAA,” the Court said.
It remanded the matter for the West Virginia court to consider whether the arbitration clauses in two of the lawsuits were unenforceable under state common law principles that are not specific to arbitration and preempted by the FAA.
U.S. Supreme Court. Marmet Health Care Center v. Brown, No. 11-391.