SCOTUS Bars State Law Restrictions On Health, Other Arbitration Agreement Enforceability

Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kindred Nursing Centers L.P. v. Clark boosts the ability of health care and other businesses and employers to enforce contractual agreements to arbitrate free from limits or other interference by State law imposed restrictions limiting the use or enforcement of arbitration agreements.  Healthcare and other businesses and employers operating in States with special requirements for the enforcement of arbitration agreements should consult with legal counsel about the implications of the decision on their ability to use and enforce arbitration agreements with patients and other customers, employees and others prospectively and in ongoing disputes where the enforceability of arbitration agreements based on state law restrictions is an issue, as well as re-evaluate the effects of their own agreements to arbitration in past and future contracts might strengthen the ability of others unexpectedly to force arbitration.

The Kindred decision arose from the efforts of a health care provider, Kindred, to enforce arbitration clauses in nursing home agreements signed by legal representatives of patients admitted to its facilities.  Kindred appealed to the federal courts after the Kentucky Supreme Court blocked Kindred from enforcing these contractual agreements to arbitrate because neither power of attorney specifically entitled the representative to enter into an arbitration agreement. The Kentucky Supreme Court imputed the requirement that the power of attorney specifically grant authority to agree to arbitration because the Kentucky Constitution declares the rights of access to the courts and trial by jury to be “sacred” and “inviolate” even though Kentucky law ordinarily would not require a similar express grant of power to enforce other types of contractual provision.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Kindred held that the Kentucky Supreme Court’s clear-statement rule violates the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) by singling out arbitration agreements for disfavored treatment. Pp. 4–10.

The Supreme Court decision construed the FAA provision that arbitration agreements are “valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract,” 9 U. S. C. §2, as requiring equal treatment of arbitration provisions with other contractual provisions.  Under this equal treatment principle, the Supreme Court ruled a court may invalidate an arbitration agreement based on “generally applicable contract defenses,” but not on legal rules that “apply only to arbitration or that derive their meaning from the fact that an agreement to arbitrate is at issue.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court ruled that the FAA preempts any state rule that discriminates on its face against arbitration or that covertly accomplishes the same objective by disfavoring contracts that have the defining features of arbitration agreements.

Concluding that the Kentucky Supreme Court’s clear statement requirement for enforcement of arbitration provisions fails to put arbitration agreements on an equal plane with other contracts by requiring an explicit statement before an agent can relinquish her principal’s right to go to court and receive a jury trial, the Supreme Court found the Kentucky Supreme Court did exactly what the FAA barred: adopt a legal rule hinging on the primary characteristic of an arbitration agreement. Pp. 4–7. Accordingly the Supreme Court ordered the arbitration agreements enforced in Kindred.

Management Pointers & Action Items

The Supreme Court’s construction in Kindred of the FAA as establishing an “equal protection” rule for arbitration provisions expands the ability of health care organizations and others to enforce arbitration clauses in patient and other customer, employee and other contracts which previously might have been barred by special State statutory, regulatory or judicial requirements on the enforceability of arbitration clauses not generally applicable to other types of contractual provisions.  While very valuable for health care organizations, this ruling also is likely to have implications beyond health care contracts to a broad range of other state laws and rules that purport to protect consumers, employees and others to contractually waive their litigation rights. While the Supreme Court ruling leaves open the ability to challenge arbitration clauses on contractual grounds generally applicable to all contracts, special State law rules for enforcing arbitration are not allowed.

Health industry and other management should review their arbitration agreements and related dispute resolution agreements with qualified legal counsel for potential options to reduce risks and manage dispute resolution costs using arbitration agreements with patients and other customers, employees, service providers and others as well as to understand the implications of existing arbitration clause is on their exposures to others arising from contractual agreements to arbitrate previously thought to be subject to state law restrictions on enforceability.  Health care and other businesses and individuals considering entering in or enforcing arbitration agreements should keep in mind, however, that the Kindred ruling does not insulate arbitration agreements from State law defenses that apply equally to other non-arbitration contracts.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications.

Ms. Stamer works domestically and internationally with health, insurance and financial services, data and technology, services and consulting, energy, retail, hospitality and other businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well-known for her extensive work with health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality and governmental employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group; immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include the “Texas Payday Law” Chapter of Texas Employment Law, as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA),, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA,, Employee Benefit News, and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of,, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

Want to know more? See here for details about the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872.

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NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The publisher and the author expressly disclaim all liability for this content and any responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication. ©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  All other rights reserved.

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