Pharr v. Chapman Health Care Center et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: the Court hereby ORDERS that Dfts' 7 Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART; that the 7 motion is GRANTED to the extent it seeks to compel arbitration, as further set out; further ORDERED that this matter is STAYED pending the completion of arbitration pursuant to 9 USC § 3; that Dfts' 7 motion is DENIED to the extent it seeks dismissal of Plf's claims against Dfts pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) FRCP; further ORDERED that the parties shall file a jointly prepared report on the status of this case on or before 9/24/2013, and the parties shall thereafter file a jointly prepared report on the last Tuesday of every month until such time as the parties jointly stipulate that this action can be dismissed. Signed by Honorable Judge Mark E. Fuller on 9/11/2013. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(wcl, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ERNEST W. PHARR, III,
as Administrator of the Estate of
Margaret Ann Pharr,
Case No. 3:12-cv-678-MEF
(WO—Do Not Publish)
CHAPMAN HEALTH CARE
CENTER, et al.,
M EMORANDUM O PINION & O RDER
I. I NTRODUCTION
This case involves various state and federal claims made by Plaintiff Ernest W. Pharr,
III (“Plaintiff”), the son of Margaret Ann Pharr (“Ms. Pharr”) and the Administrator of her
Estate. Plaintiff’s claims arise from an accident Ms. Pharr suffered while she was being
assisted in walking by Defendant Gwen Williams (“Williams”) during her stay as a patient
in a long-term care facility owned by Defendant Chapman Health Care Center (“Chapman”).
Plaintiff filed a Complaint on August 8, 2012, asserting a claim under the Rehabilitation Act
of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, as well as state law claims for negligence/wantonness; negligent
hiring, supervision, and retention; strict liability; wrongful death; and vicarious liability.
(Doc. #1.) On August 31, 2012, Defendants filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration, or in the
Alternative, Motion to Dismiss (Doc. #7), which is pending before the Court.
Having carefully considered the arguments and authorities offered in support of and
in opposition to Defendants’ motion, the Court finds that Defendants’ motion is due to be
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, as set forth below.
II. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331
(federal question), 1343(a) (civil rights), and 1367 (supplemental jurisdiction). The parties
have not contested personal jurisdiction and venue, and the Court finds adequate allegations
to support both.
III. B ACKGROUND
Ms. Pharr’s Injury
Ms. Pharr was twice admitted to Chapman’s long-term care facility (the “Facility”)
for rehabilitation after undergoing a left hip replacement in the Spring of 2011. While at the
Facility, Ms. Pharr was under a strict medical mandate that two people were to help her at
all times when ambulating. On May 2, 2011, Williams, a Chapman employee, entered Ms.
Pharr’s room to assist her to a therapy session without the help of a second person. Despite
Ms. Pharr’s pleas that she was under a “two-person assist” requirement, Williams forced Ms.
Pharr to stand, and Ms. Pharr fell immediately and broke her ankle. Ms. Pharr died on May
4, 2011, and her treating physician causally related her death to the fall that occurred two
Ms. Pharr’s Admission to the Facility and the Dispute Resolution Agreement
Ms. Pharr was a resident at the Facility from March 18, 2011, to April 15, 2011, and
from April 25, 2011, to May 2, 2011, the day of her accident. On March 21, 2011, Ms.
Pharr’s husband, Ernest W. Pharr, Jr. (“Mr. Pharr”), met with Melissa McManus
(“McManus”), the Admissions Assistant at the Facility, to sign various documents
concerning Ms. Pharr’s stay, including a Dispute Resolution Agreement (“DRA”) (Doc. #72, at 7–12); Mr. Pharr signed the DRA as Ms. Pharr’s “Authorized Representative” (Doc.
#7-2, at 12). According to the DRA, Mr. Pharr’s signature as Ms. Pharr’s Authorized
Representative certified that he was “duly authorized by the Resident or otherwise to execute
this Agreement and accept its terms.” (Doc. #7-2, at 11.) Indeed, it was McManus’s routine
practice to present the DRA to residents or their apparent agents, such as Mr. Pharr, and to
give them time to read it and to answer any questions they had about it. These steps were
taken on the day Mr. Pharr signed the DRA as Ms. Pharr’s Authorized Representative. (Doc.
#7-2, at 3–4.)
The DRA contains a “Voluntary Agreement” provision that provides its execution “is
not a precondition of admission to the Nursing Home or the furnishing of services to the
Resident by the Facility” and that the DRA may be “rescinded by written notice to the
Facility from the Resident within thirty days of signature.” (Doc. #7-2, at 11.) The DRA
further provides that “[i]f not rescinded within thirty days . . . [the DRA] shall remain in
effect for all subsequent stays at the Nursing Home, even if the Resident is discharged from
and readmitted to the Nursing Home.” (Doc. #7-2, at 11.) Neither Ms. Pharr nor Mr. Pharr
rescinded the DRA within thirty days of Mr. Pharr signing it.
In addition to the DRA, Mr. Pharr also signed an Admission Agreement. The
Admission Agreement states that it is a contract binding the “Resident,” the “Resident
Representative,” and the “Facility,” and that it may be executed by the Resident
Representative on the adult Resident’s behalf “because of a physical disability or mental
incompetence.” However, if the Resident Representative is to sign on behalf of the Resident,
the Admission Agreement provides that the Resident Representative shall sign the document
twice, once on his or her own behalf and once on behalf of the Resident.1 (Doc. #7-2, at 3.)
Mr. Pharr signed the Admission Agreement once on his own behalf, but did not sign it on
behalf of Ms. Pharr. (Doc. #7-2, at 25.) On the remainder of Ms. Pharr’s admission
paperwork,2 Mr. Pharr signed as “Resident Representative,”3 “Resident/Responsible Party,”
“Sponsor/or Resident,” “Client or Responsible Person,” and “Sponsor.” (Doc. #7-2, at
The DRA, the Admission Agreement, and the policies and rules set forth in the
Handbook “are the entirety of the agreement between the Facility and you and your Resident
Representative.” (Doc. #7-2, at 23.)
This is in addition to a third signature block for Chapman, which is signed by Bob Jones, Assistant
Administrator for the Facility. (Doc. #7-2, at 25.)
Indeed, all of Ms. Pharr’s admission paperwork for her stay at Chapman was signed exclusively
by Mr. Pharr.
Apart from the DRA, the remainder of the admission paperwork is incorporated into the Admission
Agreement and is treated as a single document. Therefore, when Mr. Pharr signed other admission paperwork
signed as “Resident Representative,” he is not doing so on behalf of Ms. Pharr, but rather as her Resident
Representative as defined in the Admission Agreement.
IV. D ISCUSSION
Defendants seek to compel arbitration of Plaintiff’s claims based on the DRA, arguing
that Mr. Pharr had actual or apparent authority to bind Ms. Pharr’s estate. Plaintiff contends
the opposite, arguing that Mr. Pharr did not have actual or apparent authority to bind Ms.
Pharr’s estate because he failed to sign the Admission Agreement on Ms. Pharr’s behalf.
In Carraway v. Beverly Enterprises Alabama, Inc., the Alabama Supreme Court held
in a factually analogous case that a nursing home resident’s brother had apparent authority
to bind the resident (and her estate) to an arbitration agreement. 978 So. 2d 27 (Ala. 2007).
The Court explained that apparent authority is “implied where the principal passively
permits the agent to appear to a third person to have the authority to act on [her] behalf.” Id.
at 30 (quoting Lawler Mobile Homes, Inc. v. Tarver, 492 So. 2d 297, 304 (1986)). In this
case, Defendants contend that Ms. Pharr did just that—she passively permitted Mr. Pharr to
appear to the Facility staff to have authority to act on her behalf. See Tenn. Health Mgmt.,
Inc. v. Johnson, 49 So. 3d 175, 180 (Ala. 2010) (holding that a daughter–agent had apparent
authority to bind her principal–mother when the mother “enjoyed the ease of checking into”
a nursing home “under circumstances in which no reasonable person could consider the
admission possible without the intervention of an agent to act on her behalf”). This is
particularly true in a situation like Ms. Pharr’s, where all of her admission paperwork was
signed exclusively by her husband. In other words, in the absence of Ms. Pharr signing any
documents herself, it is safe to conclude that she could not have reasonably expected to be
admitted into Chapman without intervention by someone, such as Mr. Pharr, on her behalf.
Plaintiff attempts to distinguish the facts of Carraway in an effort to show that Mr.
Pharr lacked authority to bind Ms. Pharr’s estate to the DRA. Specifically, Plaintiff points
out that both the arbitration agreement and the admission agreement in Carraway were
admittedly signed by the brother–agent on behalf of the sister–principal. 978 So. 2d at
29–30. Further, Plaintiff points out that there was evidence that the sister–principal later
executed a durable power of attorney in her brother–agent’s favor. Id. at 30. In Plaintiff’s
view, because Mr. Pharr did not sign the Admission Agreement on Ms. Pharr’s behalf, and
because there is no evidence that Mr. Pharr was conveyed authority to bind Ms. Pharr
through a durable power of attorney or some other document of comparable legal force, this
case is factually distinct from Carraway and cannot support a finding that Mr. Pharr had
sufficient authority to bind Ms. Pharr to the DRA.
Plaintiff also attempts to distinguish the facts of the more recent and factually
analogous case of Johnson to demonstrate Mr. Pharr’s lack of authority to bind Ms. Pharr.
49 So. 3d 175. Plaintiff emphasizes that, in Johnson, the daughter–agent signed an
admission document on behalf of the mother–principal as “Legal representative,” in addition
to signing an arbitration agreement on her behalf. Id. at 179. Plaintiff contrasts this with the
fact that the only document Mr. Pharr signed explicitly on behalf of Ms. Pharr was the DRA,
and contending that Mr. Pharr’s merely signing the DRA on behalf of Ms. Pharr without
some other evidence of his Mr. Pharr’s apparent authority on her behalf is not enough to bind
Ms. Pharr’s estate to the DRA.
The Court is not persuaded by Plaintiff’s arguments. While this case is factually
distinguishable from Carraway and Johnson because Mr. Pharr did not sign all admission
documents on behalf of Ms. Pharr, the Court finds that the one admission document that
matters here—the DRA—was signed by Mr. Pharr on Ms. Pharr’s behalf as her Authorized
Representative. Mr. Pharr’s apparent authority to act on Ms. Pharr’s behalf is further
supported by Ms. Pharr’s acceptance, without objection, of Mr. Pharr’s exclusive signing of
all her admission paperwork. Accordingly, the Court finds that, based on the totality of the
circumstances, Mr. Pharr had apparent authority to bind Ms. Pharr’s estate to the DRA he
signed as her “Authorized Representative,” and this case is due to be arbitrated in accordance
with the terms of the DRA.
VI. C ONCLUSION
Based on the foregoing, the Court hereby ORDERS that Defendants’ motion (Doc.
#7) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion (Doc. #7) is GRANTED
to the extent it seeks to compel arbitration of Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants, and the
parties are hereby ORDERED to submit all claims, controversies, and disputes between them
as alleged in the Complaint (Doc. #1) to arbitration in accordance with the terms of the
agreement between them. It is further ORDERED that this matter is STAYED pending the
completion of arbitration pursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 3. Defendants’ motion (Doc. #7) is
DENIED to the extent it seeks dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants pursuant
to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
It is further ORDERED that the parties shall file a jointly prepared report on the status
of this case on or before September 24, 2013, and the parties shall thereafter file a jointly
prepared report on the last Tuesday of every month until such time as the parties jointly
stipulate that this action can be dismissed. The jointly prepared report shall indicate the
status of the arbitration proceedings and the expected date those proceedings will be
Done this the 11th day of September, 2013.
/s/ Mark E. Fuller
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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