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Ramirez-Leon v. GGNSC, LLC

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division

March 27, 2018

BELINDA RAMIREZ-LEON, Respondent,
v.
GGNSC, LLC, ET AL., Appellants.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri The Honorable James F. Kanatzar, Judge

          Before Gary D. Witt, Presiding Judge, Lisa White Hardwick, Judge and Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judge.

          Ciary D. Witt, Judge.

         Golden Gate National Senior Care, LLC, GGNSC Equity Holding, LLC, and GGNSC Independence II, LLC d/b/a Golden Living Center - Independence (collectively "Appellants") bring this interlocutory appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County's denial of Appellants' Motion to Dismiss and Enforce Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement. Appellants argue that the trial court erred in denying their motion because the Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement ("Arbitration Agreement") is valid and enforceable under Missouri's Uniform Arbitration Act and the Federal Arbitration Act. We reverse and remand.

         Background[1]

         As a result of events which are unrelated to this action, Kevin Bratton ("Bratton") suffered anoxic brain damage, which rendered him totally incapacitated and disabled, mentally and physically. On October 17, 2008, Belinda Ramirez-Leon ("Ramirez-Leon"), Bratton's mother, was appointed by the Jackson County Probate Court as Bratton's guardian and conservator, and Bratton was placed in a nursing home in Smithville, Missouri.

         In October 2015, Ramirez-Leon decided to move Bratton to Golden Living Center ("GLC") in Independence, Missouri. During the admission process, Ramirez-Leon was provided with admission forms by Carla Hopper ("Hopper"), the Director of Admission at GLC. Ramirez-Leon was instructed to sign the forms in order for Bratton to be admitted. Among the forms presented to her was a separate document containing the Arbitration Agreement.

         The Arbitration Agreement is titled Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement. Directly below the title, in all capital letters, the Arbitration Agreement states: "THIS AGREEMENT IS NOT A CONDITION OF ADMISSION TO OR CONTINUED RESIDENCE IN THE FACILITY." The Arbitration Agreement further provides that it is between the facility, GLC, and the resident of the facility, Bratton. According to the Arbitration Agreement, the facility includes "the living center, its employees, agents, officers, directors, affiliates and any parent or subsidiary of the facility and its medical director acting in his or her capacity as medical director, " and resident includes "the Resident, all persons whose claim is or may be derived through or on behalf of the Resident, including any next of kin, guardian, executor, administrator, legal representative, or heir of the Resident, and any person who has executed this Agreement on the Resident's behalf."

         The next part of the Arbitration Agreement is titled "Voluntary Agreement to Participate in ADR." In the middle of that section, in bold typeface and capital letters, the Arbitration Agreement states:

THE PARTIES UNDERSTAND, ACKNOWLEDGE, AND AGREE THAT THEY ARE SELECTING A METHOD OF RESOLVING DISPUTES WITHOUT RESORTING TO LAWSUITS OR THE COURTS, AND THAT BY ENTERING INTO THIS AGREEMENT, THEY ARE GIVING UP THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO HAVE THEIR DISPUTES DECIDED IN A COURT OF LAW BY A JUDGE OR JURY, THE OPPORTUNITY TO PRESENT THEIR CLAIMS AS A CLASS ACTION AND/OR TO APPEAL ANY DECISION OR AWARD OF DAMAGES RESULTING FROM THE ADR PROCESS EXCEPT AS PROVIDED HEREIN.

         The Arbitration Agreement also has a choice of law provision, which states the Arbitration Agreement should be governed by and interpreted under the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"). The Arbitration Agreement states that it "applies to any and all disputes arising out of or in any way relating to this Agreement or to the Resident's stay at the Facility or the Admissions Agreement between the Parties that would constitute a legally cognizable cause of action in a court of law sitting in the state where Facility is located." Above the signature block, the Arbitration Agreement includes another statement in bold typeface and capital letters which states: "THIS AGREEMENT GOVERNS IMPORTANT LEGAL RIGHTS. PLEASE READ IT CAREFULLY AND IN ITS ENTIRETY BEFORE SIGNING." Ramirez-Leon signed the Arbitration Agreement on the line labeled "Signature of Resident" and did not sign on the line labeled "Signature of Resident's Legal Representative".[2] The bottom of the Arbitration Agreement also includes a line to sign if one wishes to decline the Arbitration Agreement. This line was left blank.

         On December 20, 2016, Bratton, through Ramirez-Leon, filed a negligence claim in the Circuit Court of Jackson County against Richard T. Chung, M.D. and Appellants, alleging that he sustained certain physical injuries due to his treatment by Appellants. Appellants filed the Motion to Dismiss and Enforce Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement on April 6, 2017. On May 8, 2017, Ramirez-Leon filed Suggestions in Opposition to Appellants' Motion, which argued that the Arbitration Agreement was unconscionable and violated public policy. Ramirez-Leon further argued that GGNSC Independence II, LLC, Golden Gate National Senior Care, LLC, and GGNSC Equity Holdings, LLC were not parties to the Arbitration Agreement and therefore could not claim any rights pursuant to that agreement.

         On July 31, 2017, the trial court denied Appellants' Motion to Dismiss and Enforce Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement. ...


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