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GGNSC Louisville Hillcreek, LLC v. Estate of Bramer

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

September 26, 2018



          David J. Hale, Judge United States District Court

         Margaret A. Bramer, individually and as administratrix for the Estate of Robert C. Bramer, sued various GGNSC entities[1] and Chris Wilson, in her capacity as Administrator of Golden Living Center - Hillcreek, in Jefferson County Circuit Court on July 28, 2017. (See Docket No. 1-1) Margaret Bramer alleges that GGNSC violated Robert Bramer's rights under Kentucky law and negligently injured him, ultimately causing his wrongful death. (See id., PageID # 18) GGNSC filed a petition under § 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act, seeking to compel arbitration of the underlying claims; to stay the pending state-court action; to enjoin Margaret Bramer from pursuing her claims in state court; and for related relief. (D.N. 1; D.N. 23) GGNSC alleges that a prior, signed arbitration agreement covers all of the claims at issue. (D.N. 1)

         Margaret Bramer moved to dismiss GGNSC's petition on various grounds. (D.N. 11) GGNSC then sought leave to file an amended petition to address the January 26, 2015 Arbitration Agreement in light of the power of attorney that Margaret produced with her motion to dismiss. (D.N. 13) The Court granted the motion to amend and denied the pending motions to dismiss and for expedited consideration as moot. (D.N. 22) Meanwhile, GGNSC filed a motion to consider the enforceability of the January 26, 2015 Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement and to compel arbitration. (D.N. 19) For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny GGNSC's requests to compel arbitration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Golden Living Center - Hillcreek, a nursing home, admitted Robert Bramer on July 13, 2016. (D.N. 1-1, PageID # 13, 17) While there, Margaret Bramer alleges Robert “fell out of bed, sustaining a severe blow to the head, resulting in a brain bleed and, ultimately, his death on July 28, 2016.” (D.N. 11-1, PageID # 3) Robert had previously been admitted to the Hillcreek facility on two other occasions-January 5 and 26, 2015-and on all three occasions was presented with an Admission Agreement and an Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement. (D.N. 17, PageID # 464) The parties agree that the third arbitration agreement is unsigned, but there is a dispute as to the validity and sufficiency of the signatures on the first two arbitration agreements. (Id.) Each arbitration agreement required the parties to arbitrate

all claims in law or equity arising from one Party's failure to satisfy a financial obligation to the other party; a violation of a right claimed to exist under federal, state, or local law or contractual agreement between the Parties; tort; breach of contract; consumer protection; fraud; misrepresentation; negligence; gross negligence; malpractice; and any alleged departure from any applicable federal, state, or local medical, health care, consumer, or safety standards.

(D.N. 13-4, PageID # 378) The agreements provided that Robert and his legal representatives would be bound to arbitrate. (Id., PageID # 377) Each included a remain-in-effect clause stating that if the agreement was not revoked within thirty days of signing, it “shall remain in effect for all care and services rendered to the Resident at or by the Facility regardless of whether the Resident is subsequently discharged and readmitted to the Facility without renewing, ratifying, or acknowledging this Agreement.” (D.N. 11-2, PageID # 174) Likewise, all three admission agreements stated: “[I]f you execute, or have executed, an Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement with us in connection with any admission to our LivingCenters, then that Agreement shall be, and remain, binding upon you, and upon us, in accordance with the terms that are set forth in that Agreement.” (Id., PageID # 169)

         Margaret Bramer asserts various claims of negligence against GGNSC on Robert's behalf, as well as personal claims for loss of consortium and wrongful death. (See D.N. 1-1) According to the state-court complaint, GGNSC failed to discharge its obligations of care to Robert, and in so failing, caused Robert to suffer injuries, which resulted in his wrongful death. (See id.) In this case, GGNSC seeks to compel arbitration of Margaret's claims pursuant to the signed arbitration agreements and the Federal Arbitration Act. (D.N. 1; D.N. 19)

         II. ANALYSIS

         Under the Federal Arbitration Act, an agreement to arbitrate is “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” 9 U.S.C. § 2. The Sixth Circuit has instructed that “[b]efore compelling an unwilling party to arbitrate, the court must engage in a limited review to determine whether the dispute is arbitrable[, ] meaning that a valid agreement to arbitrate exists between the parties and that the specific dispute falls within the substantive scope of that agreement.” Masco Corp. v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 382 F.3d 624, 627 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting Javitch v. First Union Sec., Inc., 315 F.3d 619, 624 (6th Cir. 2003)). The Court applies state contract law to determine whether an arbitration agreement is enforceable. Richmond Health Facilities v. Nichols, 811 F.3d 192, 195 (6th Cir. 2016) (citations omitted).

         Under Kentucky law,

[w]hile there is no question “that the party seeking to enforce an agreement has the burden of establishing its existence, . . . once prima facie evidence of the agreement has been presented, the burden shifts to the party seeking to avoid the agreement.” A party “me[ets] the prima facie burden by providing copies of [a] written and signed agreement[ ] to arbitrate.”

MHC Kenworth-Knoxville/Nashville v. M & H Trucking, LLC, 392 S.W.3d 903, 906 (Ky. 2013) (alterations and omission in original) (internal citation omitted) (quoting Louisville Peterbilt, Inc. v. Cox, 132 S.W.3d 850, 857 (Ky. 2004)).

         The party seeking to avoid arbitration bears “a heavy burden” “to prove there is no agreement.” Id. (quoting Louisville Peterbilt, 132 S.W.3d at 857). To survive a motion to compel arbitration, “the non-moving party must demonstrate that the validity of the agreement is ‘in issue' by showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to the validity of the arbitration agreement.” Arnold v. Owensboro Health Facilities, L.P., No. 4:15-CV-00104-JHM, 2016 WL 502061, at *3 (W.D. Ky. Feb. 8, 2016). Margaret Bramer must come forward with sufficient evidence that, when viewed in the light most favorable to her, ...

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