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Stap, Inc. v. Sutterfield

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

January 15, 2020

STAP, INC., D/B/A ST. ANDREWS PLACE; KILGORE CONSULTING GROUP, INC.; AND JOSHUA KILGORE APPELLANTS
v.
LAGATHA SUTTERFIELD, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF JAMES SUTTERFIELD, AND ON BEHALF OF THE WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF JAMES SUTTERFIELD APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 23CV-18-1270] HONORABLE CHARLES E. CLAWSON, JR., JUDGE

          Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard, P.L.L.C., by: Benjamin D. Jackson and Lauren S. Grinder, for appellants.

          Reddick Moss, PLLC, by: Matthew D. Swindle and Robert W. Francis, for appellee.

          MEREDITH B. SWITZER, JUDGE

         LaGatha Sutterfield, as special administrator of her husband's estate and on behalf of his wrongful-death beneficiaries, filed a lawsuit against STAP, Inc., d/b/a St. Andrews Place; Kilgore Consulting Group, Inc.; and Joshua Kilgore ("St. Andrews Place"). She asserted claims of negligence, medical malpractice, breach of the admission agreement, and deceptive trade practices. St. Andrews Place filed a motion to compel arbitration and to dismiss the case. The motion was denied, and this appeal followed. St. Andrews Place contends that (1) the arbitration agreement is a valid and enforceable contract under Arkansas law and (2) the circuit court erred in relying on Pine Hills Health & Rehabilitation, LLC v. Matthews, 2014 Ark. 109, 431 S.W.3d 910, and Regional Care of Jacksonville, LLC v. Henry, 2014 Ark. 361, 444 S.W.3d 356. Our jurisdiction is pursuant to Rule 2(a) of the Arkansas Rules of Appellate Procedure-Civil. We affirm.

         I. Background

         On January 18, 2018, James Sutterfield was admitted to St. Andrews Place, a long-term care facility. His wife, LaGatha Sutterfield, signed the admission agreement on his behalf. "T[racy] Moore" signed the admission agreement on behalf of St. Andrews Place. On the same date, LaGatha also signed the arbitration agreement, albeit on the wrong line, but no one from St. Andrews Place signed it. James died on May 28, 2018. On August 24, 2018, LaGatha filed the underlying action in circuit court, asserting claims of negligence, medical malpractice, breach of the admission agreement, and deceptive trade practices.

         On October 18, 2018, the defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration and dismiss the action. At the hearing on the motion, only counsels' arguments were heard, and no witnesses were presented. The circuit court thereafter entered its letter opinion on January 18, 2019. The court ruled that the arbitration agreement was not enforceable and denied the motion to compel and dismiss. The order denying the motion was filed on January 22, and this appeal followed.

         The admission agreement provides in pertinent part, under the "Miscellaneous" section:

F. Modifications. No modification of the terms and conditions of this Agreement shall be valid unless in writing and signed by both parties to this Agreement.
G. Entire Understanding. This Agreement including its Attachments and Policies, Procedures, and Statements of Understanding of the Facility received and acknowledged by the Resident/Responsible Party at any time on or after the date of this Agreement all of which are incorporated by reference herein, contains the entire agreement between the parties, and it supersedes all prior agreements, arrangements or oral representations as to all matters relating to the Resident and his or her care at the Nursing Facility. Upon execution, the Arbitration Agreement becomes an addendum to and a part of this Agreement. This Agreement shall remain in full force and effect for all the Resident's future stays in the Facility, regardless of transfers to hospitals, other institutions or home, until and unless superseded by any new Agreements.

(Emphasis added.)

         The arbitration agreement provides in pertinent part:

This Arbitration Agreement is executed by___(Resident), x LaGathaSutterfield (Resident's Agent/Representative/Responsible Party ("Responsible Party")) and St. Andrews Place (the "Facility") in conjunction with the Admission Agreement and ...

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