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From Health Law Daily, May 20, 2013

Insufficient documentation blocks residential facility from compelling arbitration

By Jenny M. Burke, JD, MS

A residential care facility, Emeritus at Westwind Gardens (Emeritus) unsuccessfully challenged the district court’s refusal to enforce a health care power of attorney in a California advance health care directive and an arbitration agreement, therefore the documents remained unenforceable and the family was able to proceed with its action against the facility (Root v Emeritus, May 17, 2013, Needham, J). Geneva Benthin (Benthin), who purportedly signed the documents, was injured at Emeritus in September, 2010. She suffered terminal injuries and died at the facility after being left outside. Benthin’s successors sued Emeritus for damages, asserting causes of action for elder abuse, fraud, wrongful death, and various violations of the California Health & Safety Code.

Document validity. Emeritus is a residential care facility for the elderly in which 75 percent of the residents are at least 60 years old, with varying levels of care and staff supervision. Benthin lived at Emeritus for about two years before her death in September 2010, at the age of 94. As part of the paperwork for Benthin’s admission to Emeritus in August 2008, Benthin’s daughter, Joyce Root, signed a “Resident Agreement” and checked two boxes on the agreement indicating that Root was the responsible party and had power of attorney to act on Benthin’s behalf, and an “Agreement to Resolve Disputes by Binding Arbitration” (Arbitration Agreement) as Benthin’s “authorized representative.” Root also presented Emeritus with two powers of attorney signed in September, 2007: a “Uniform Statutory Form Power of Attorney” and a “California Advance Health Care Directive Including Power of Attorney for Health Care.” According to Root, the documents were signed by Benthin, but the signature was not notarized and there were no witnesses indicated.

Petition to compel arbitration. In response to the successor’s complaint, Emeritus filed a petition to compel arbitration of the claims, setting a hearing date for four months later in February 2012. The petition was based on the Resident Agreement, the Arbitration Agreement, and the powers of attorney. The successors opposed the petition, arguing that Emeritus failed to establish a valid agreement to arbitrate because the powers of attorney were invalid, the Arbitration Agreement was not properly authenticated, the agreement was unconscionable, and arbitration would result in inconsistent rulings.

The trial court correctly determined that the Arbitration Agreement was not legally enforceable against Benthin (and therefore her successors); and, more particularly, that Emeritus had not established the existence of an arbitration agreement with Benthin, because Emeritus did not establish that Root had the authority to bind Benthin by signing the Arbitration. Further, Emeritus failed to establish that the district court had erred in its decision, therefore the decision declaring the invalidity of the documents was upheld.

The case number is A134748.

Attorneys: Jeffry Albin Miller (Lewis Brisbois Sigaard & Smith) for Emeritus Corporation.

Companies: Emeritus Corporation; Emeritus Westwind Gardens.

MainStory: TopStory LTCHNews CaliforniaNews

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