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Watson v. Quince Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, LLC

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 17, 2019

DONNA FELECIA WATSON
v.
QUINCE NURSING & REHABILITATION CENTER, LLC, ET AL.

          Session September 18, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-004192-17 Gina C. Higgins, Judge

         This is an appeal from the trial court's denial of a motion to compel arbitration. The subject arbitration agreement was executed in connection with a patient's admission to a nursing home facility and signed by the patient's son. The trial court found that the son lacked authority to bind his mother to the agreement. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed and Remanded

          Craig C. Conley, Ormonde B. Landry, S. Keenan Carter, Brent E. Siler, and Kathryn Kinnison Van Namen, Memphis, Tennessee, and William Davis Frye, Ridgeland, Mississippi, for the appellant, Quince Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, LLC. [1]

          Louis P. Chiozza, Jr., and Christopher W. Lewis, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Donna Felecia Watson.

          Kevin Baskette, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Mukesh A. Jain, M.D.

          Carma Dennis McGee, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny W. Armstrong, J., joined.

          OPINION

          CARMA DENNIS MCGEE, JUDGE

         I. Facts & Procedural History

         Plaintiff, Donna Felecia Watson, instituted this wrongful death and health care liability suit on behalf of her deceased mother, Marzella Damper, and the heirs at law of of Marzella Damper. Plaintiff named as defendants Quince Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC ("Quince"), and Dr. Mukesh A. Jain. The alleged negligence occurred while Ms. Damper was a patient at Quince.

         Quince filed a motion to compel arbitration and stay the proceedings. Quince asserted that Ms. Damper's son, Marvin Damper, had executed an arbitration agreement when signing admission paperwork on her behalf. Thus, it asked the court to enforce the arbitration agreement and require the parties to participate in binding arbitration. Quince argued that the arbitration agreement was "valid and enforceable" and insisted that Marvin Damper was authorized to sign the agreement on his mother's behalf. It asked the court to consider matters outside the pleadings and submitted the arbitration agreement and a durable power of attorney for health care executed by Ms. Damper. Quince argued that the language of the arbitration agreement itself was sufficient to grant Marvin Damper authority to bind his mother. Alternatively, it submitted the durable power of attorney for health care, which was executed by Ms. Damper years earlier and named Marvin Damper and another daughter as Ms. Damper's joint attorneys in fact for health care.

         Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion to compel arbitration, arguing that the agreement was unenforceable because Marvin Damper did not have authority to bind his mother to the agreement. Plaintiff argued that the durable power of attorney for health care was only to become effective upon the incapacity of Ms. Damper, and in any event, it would only apply to "health care" decisions and not a voluntary arbitration agreement. She also asserted that the language in the arbitration agreement itself was insufficient to grant authority to Marvin Damper.

         Quince filed a reply along with deposition testimony of Marvin Damper in a further effort to establish that he had actual or apparent authority to bind his mother to the arbitration agreement. During his deposition, Marvin Damper testified that Ms. Damper knew that he was signing the admission paperwork on her behalf and that she gave him "permission to sign everything on her behalf." Based on the entire record, Quince argued that the trial court should grant its motion to compel arbitration.

         After a hearing, the trial court denied Quince's motion to compel, rejecting each of its arguments regarding the authority of Marvin Damper. First, the trial court found that no authority was established pursuant to the language used in the arbitration agreement itself. Next, it found that the durable power of attorney was not triggered because Ms. Damper was not incompetent, and also, the arbitration agreement was a "non-healthcare issue." And finally, the trial court rejected the claim of actual or apparent authority based on the deposition testimony. Finding no evidence that Marvin Damper "handled Ms. Damper's healthcare business on a regular or routine basis and had permission to do so," the trial court concluded that Marvin Damper did not have authority to sign the arbitration agreement on her behalf. It found that Mr. Damper could bind himself to an arbitration agreement, but not his mother. In sum, the trial court concluded that Marvin Damper did not have authority to sign the arbitration agreement on behalf of his mother, and it denied the motion to compel arbitration. Quince timely filed a notice of appeal.

         II. ...


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