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GGNSC Administrative Services, LLC v. Schrader

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 26, 2019

GGNSC ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES, LLC; GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL SENIOR CARE, LLC;GGNSC HOLDINGS, LLC; GGNSC CHESTNUT HILL, LLC, d/b/a Golden Living Center-Heathwood, Plaintiffs, Appellees,
v.
JACKALYN M. SCHRADER, as the personal representative of the estate of Emma J. Schrader, Defendant, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Douglas P. Woodlock, U.S. District Judge]

          John Vail, with whom John Vail Law, PLLC, Daniel T. Landry, David J. Hoey, and Law Offices of David J. Hoey, P.C. were on brief, for appellant.

          William Alvarado Rivera, Meryl D. Grenadier, and Kelly R. Bagby on brief for AARP and AARP Foundation, amici curiae.

          Robert E. Curtis, Jr. on brief for Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, amicus curiae.

          Joseph M. Desmond, with whom Justin L. Amos and Morrison Mahoney LLP were on brief, for appellees.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Lynch and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

          LYNCH, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         This case is about arbitration agreements, nursing homes, and wrongful death claims under Massachusetts law. A set of organizations (collectively, GGNSC) that oversees the Golden Living Center Heathwood (Heathwood) in Chestnut Hill sued in federal court to compel arbitration of an underlying state wrongful death action brought by the personal representative of a deceased former Heathwood resident. The federal court compelled arbitration and declined to issue a stay of the state wrongful death action. GGNSC Chestnut Hill LLC v. Schrader, No. CV 16-10525-DPW, 2018 WL 1582555, at *9-10 (D. Mass. Mar. 31, 2018). Whether arbitration was required turns on how state law characterizes wrongful death actions.

         The personal representative appeals. She argues that as the plaintiff in the wrongful death suit, under state law, she is not bound by the decedent's agreement to arbitrate with GGNSC because her wrongful death right of recovery is independent of the decedent's wrongful death claim. GGNSC argues, to the contrary, that Massachusetts beneficiaries' wrongful death claims are derivative of the decedent's wrongful death claim, and so the arbitration agreement is binding. Because that dispute turns on the characterization of wrongful death actions by the Commonwealth, we certify questions to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) under its Rule 1:03. See Bos. Gas Co. v. Century Indem. Co., 529 F.3d 8, 15 (1st Cir. 2008).

         I.

         The parties do not dispute the relevant facts, which we take largely from the district court opinion. Emma Schrader was brought by ambulance to Heathwood in February 2013. After Emma's admission and treatment, Jackalyn M. Schrader (Schrader), Emma's daughter and appellant here, signed several documents for her mother, including a standard (undated) "Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement" (Agreement). Schrader had authority to sign these documents on her mother's behalf -- on September 11, 2011, Emma had executed a document granting Schrader her power of attorney.

         The Agreement states in bold letters that a signature on the Agreement is not a condition of admission to or continued residence in the facility. It also says that the resident may revoke "the Agreement by sending written notice to [Heathwood] within thirty (30) days of signing it." The Agreement form has two signature lines: one to accept and one to decline. Schrader signed the accept line.

         The Agreement provides that any dispute covered by the Agreement "shall be resolved exclusively by an ADR process that shall include mediation and, where mediation is not successful, binding arbitration." The Agreement applies to "the Resident," a term that the Agreement defines to include "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."[1]

         Emma died on December 3, 2013. Schrader brought a wrongful death action against GGNSC in Massachusetts state court on February 4, 2016.[2] The state complaint alleges that Schrader brought the action as the personal representative of Emma's estate "on behalf of the heirs of the decedent." And it alleges that Emma's injuries were "injuries for which she would have been entitled to bring an action had she survived, and the right to bring such action survives her." The injuries alleged were a "preventable sacral decubitus" and resulting pain ...


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