Mathews v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc – 2/21/2008

February 26, 2008

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Agreement to Arbitrate Does Not Conflict with Elder Abuse Statute, and Is Not Voided by Unavailability of Designated Arbitration Firm.

Plaintiff alleged negligence and vulnerable adult abuse pursuant to A.R.S. § 46-455, the Arizona Adult Protective Services Act (“APSA”).  Defendant moved to compel arbitration under a voluntary arbitration agreement signed on Plaintiff’s behalf upon his admission into Defendant’s long-term healthcare facility.  Plaintiff argued that the arbitration agreement was void because it called for an AAA arbitration panel, which was not available because AAA no longer arbitrates disputes between patients and healthcare facilities under pre-dispute arbitration agreements.  The trial court rejected that argument, but denied the motion to arbitrate on the separate ground that it limited remedies provided by the liberal civil remedy provisions of the APSA. 

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the denial of the motion to arbitrate.  The trial court had correctly ruled that the unavailability of an AAA arbitration panel did not render the arbitration agreement void.  See A.R.S. § 12-1503 (on application of a party, court shall appoint replacement arbitrator(s) if designated arbitrator(s) are unable to act).  But the trial court erred by finding the agreement unenforceable because of a perceived conflict with the APSA.  The arbitration agreement incorporated Arizona law, thus allowing the arbitrator to apply the APSA in resolving the case, and the APSA does not prevent a party from voluntarily waiving a right to a jury trial.

Judge Irvine authored the decision for the panel; Judges Barker and Johnsen concurred.