SNF case may shift Supreme Court's stance on arbitration

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Alito: Context different from other recent arbitration cases.
Alito: Context different from other recent arbitration cases.

The U.S. Supreme Court may change course away from recent rulings that favored arbitration agreements in a case involving nursing home residents, according to one expert.  

Kindred Nursing Ctrs. LP v. Clark revolves around wrongful death lawsuits in which skilled nursing arbitration agreements were signed by someone with power of attorney for the resident.

The Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that the agreements were not binding since the people granted power of attorney were not specifically given permission to sign such agreements. 

That decision received backlash from providers and groups including Kindred and the American Health Care Association, which filed briefs asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of arbitration agreements in two recent cases. But the arguments in the Kindred case, which were conducted in late February, may indicate a shift in the court's thinking since people's lives were involved, Imre Szalai, a professor at Loyola University New Orleans told Modern Healthcare

“[The justices] were more aggressively searching for a reason to favor the little guy,” Szalai said.

Justice Samuel Alito also noted the difference between nursing home arbitration cases and previous ones involving companies such as Direct TV during arguments in the case.

“This doesn't involve an arbitration about the amount that you were charged for your cable bill or for your telephone bill,” Alito said. “This involves a situation where an elderly person needs care.”

Arguments in the case also touched upon how the Kentucky court's decision could impact power-of-attorney issues outside of arbitration. Justice Elena Kagan also questioned whether the previous ruling — which was slammed as “erroneous” in AHCA's brief — should be modified. 

“Usually, we don't presume that State Courts are acting in ways that are not in accordance with law,” Kagan said.