United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
STEPHANIE AMOS, as Daughter, Next Legal Friend, and Lawful Guardian of PATRICIA ANN HARRIS, An Incapacitated Person, Plaintiff,
NORTH HILL NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER, LLC, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Amos filed this lawsuit against North Hill Nursing and
Rehabilitation Center, LLC and various other related
entities, asserting claims of negligence, wantonness, and
breach of contract on behalf of her mother, Patricia Ann
Harris, an incapacitated person. Based on an admission
agreement signed by Ms. Amos as Ms. Harris' authorized
representative in which Ms. Harris agreed to submit all
claims to arbitration, North Hill filed a motion to compel
arbitration and to stay pursuant to the Federal Arbitration
Act (hereinafter “FAA”), 9 U.S.C. §§ 2
and 3, or to dismiss this action without prejudice. Doc. 5.
At issue here is whether Ms. Amos, who did not have legal
guardianship over her mother at the time, had the requisite
legal authority to bind her mother to an arbitration
agreement. After consideration of the parties' briefs,
docs. 6, 8, 9, and 10, the record, and applicable law, the
court concludes that North Hill's motion is due to be
STANDARD OF REVIEW
presented with a motion to compel arbitration, “a
district court, rather than a panel of arbitrators, must
decide whether a challenged agreement to arbitrate is
enforceable against the parties in question.”
Magnolia Capital Advisors, Inc. v. Bear Stearns &
Co., 272 Fed.Appx. 782, 785 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing
Chastain v. Robinson-Humphrey Co., 957 F.2d 851, 854
(11th Cir. 1992)). The party opposing a motion to compel
arbitration must “‘substantiate the denial of the
contract with enough evidence to make the denial
colorable.'” Magnolia Capital Advisors,
Inc., 272 Fed. App'x at 785 (quoting Wheat,
First Secs., Inc. v. Green, 993 F.2d 814, 819 (11th Cir.
1993)) (alteration in original omitted). In other words, the
opposing party must “present evidence that the
arbitration agreement is not valid or that it does not apply
to the dispute in question, ” to create an issue
regarding the enforceability of the purported arbitration
agreement. See Campbell v. CitiFinancial Mortgage Co.,
Inc., No. CV-06-BE-0302-E, 2006 WL 8436895, at *1 (N.D.
Ala. June 2, 2006) (citing Kenworth of Birmingham, Inc.
v. Langley, 828 So.2d 288, 290 (Ala. 2002)). As with the
inferences in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the
district court should draw all reasonable inferences in favor
of the nonmovant. See Magnolia Cap. Advisors, Inc.,
272 Fed.Appx. at 786. If the opposing party has not requested
a jury trial, “the court shall hear and determine such
issue, ” pursuant to the FAA, 9 U.S.C. § 4.
Eleventh Circuit applies a summary judgment standard when
considering a motion to compel arbitration. The court will
decide, as a matter of law, whether the parties entered into
an arbitration agreement only if “‘there is no
genuine dispute as to any material' fact concerning the
formation of such an agreement.” Bazemore v.
Jefferson Capital Sys., LLC, 827 F.3d 1325, 1333 (11th
Cir. 2016) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). A dispute is
considered genuine if it is supported by the evidence
presented or is created by evidence that is significantly
probative. See Id. at 1333 (citing Baloco v.
Drummond Co., 767 F.3d 1229, 1246 (11th Cir. 2014)).
Hill operates a nursing home and rehabilitation facility.
See doc. 1-1 at 9. In April 2015, Ms. Amos took her
mother Ms. Harris to North Hill and had her admitted.
See doc. 10-1 at 3. At the time, Ms. Harris was
under the protective services of the Mobile County Department
of Human Resources due to severe cognitive issues associated
with dementia. See Id. As part of the admission, Ms.
Amos signed the relevant paperwork, which included an
Arbitration Agreement and Jury Trial Waiver, as her
mother's authorized representative. Doc. 6-2 at 5, 20,
24-28. North Hill defines an authorized
representative as “the person who has authority to
execute this agreement for and on behalf of the resident and
who agrees to be responsible to assist the resident in
meeting his/her obligations under this Agreement.”
Id. at 5.
years after she admitted her mother to North Hill, Ms. Amos
obtained Temporary Letters of Guardianship in the matter of
the estate of her mother. See doc. 10-2 at 2. Ms.
Amos subsequently filed this lawsuit in the Circuit Court of
Jefferson County, Alabama on behalf of her mother, alleging
negligence, wantonness, and medical malpractice against North
Hill. See doc. 1-1. Defendants removed this action
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 et seq., and now
seek to stay or dismiss the case pending arbitration of the
establishes that a contract involving interstate commerce
that includes an arbitration provision is valid and
enforceable. See 9 U.S.C. § 2. In the Eleventh
Circuit, determining the validity of any particular
arbitration agreement “is generally a matter of state
law.” See Entrekin v. Internal Medicine Associates
of Dothan, P.A., 689 F.3d 1248, 1251 (11th Cir. 2012)
(quoting Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animal Feeds Int'l
Corp., 559 U.S. 662, 681 (2010)). Under Alabama law,
North Hill bears the burden of establishing that a valid
arbitration provision exists and that it applies to the
claims alleged here. See Kenworth of Birmingham, 828
So.2d at 290.
support its contention that this lawsuit is subject to
arbitration, North Hill argues that courts “have
routinely compelled arbitration of disputes between skilled
nursing facilities and residents where contracts at issue
were signed by either the resident or the resident's
representative.” Doc. 6 at 6. While the court accepts
that, generally, the signature of an authorized
representative is sufficient to bind a third-party to an
arbitration agreement, Alabama law provides a separate
standard for nursing home residents who are mentally
incompetent. More specifically, “[c]hildren and the
mentally incompetent have traditionally been treated
differently under the law than the standard competent
adult.” Diversicare Leasing Corp. v. Hubbard,
189 So.3d 24, 35 (Ala. 2015) (citing Ex parte
E.R.G., 73 So.3d 634, 678 (Ala. 2011) (Main, J.,
dissenting)). Therefore, because it is undisputed that Ms.
Harris was mentally incapacitated when she entered North
Hill, see doc. 10-1 at 3, the validity of the
arbitration agreement turns on whether Ms. Amos had
sufficient legal authority to bind Ms. Harris.
Whether Ms. Amos Had the Legal Authority to Bind Ms.
Harris to an Arbitration Agreement
Alabama courts follow the principle that “a
nonsignatory to an arbitration agreement cannot be forced to
arbitrate her claims.” Cook's Pest
Control, Inc. v. Boykin, 807 So.2d 524, 526
(Ala.2001). Therefore, to enforce the agreement, North Hill
must prove that Ms. Amos had the authority to bind Ms.
Harris. In that respect, North Hill principally relies on
Owens v. Coosa Valley Healthcare, Inc., 890 So.2d
983 (Ala. 2004), a case involving a daughter who signed the
arbitration agreement as her mother's legal guardian and
sponsor. The Owens court found that the nonsignatory
patient was “clearly designated on the signature
page” of the arbitration agreement and upheld the
arbitration clause between the nursing home and the
nonsignatory resident. Id. at 987.
however, Ms. Amos signed the North Hill documents as an
authorized representative and left the space for
“Resident” unsigned. See doc. 6-2 at 20.
Unlike a legal guardian, the duties of an authorized
representative primarily relate to financial obligations in
the event of nonpayment of the resident's fees. See
Id. at 5-6. As such, when Ms. Amos executed the
admission documents, she effectively did so as Ms.
Harris' responsible party rather than as a legal
guardian. Under those circumstances, the Supreme Court of
Alabama has held that signing as the responsible party on a