SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC v. Gordon

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Justia Opinion Summary

SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC, doing business as Warren Manor Health & Rehabilitation Center ("SSC"), and Bernard Turk, the administrator of Warren Manor Health & Rehabilitation Center ("Warren Manor") (referred to collectively as "the Warren Manor defendants"), appealed a circuit court judgment denying their joint motion to compel arbitration of the medical-malpractice wrongful-death claims asserted against them by Ethel Gordon ("Gordon"), the administratrix of the estate of Jimmy Lee Gordon, Gordon's husband, pursuant to an arbitration agreement they allege Gordon had entered into with SSC. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the circuit court properly denied the Warren Manor defendants' motion to compel arbitration of Gordon's claims against them because the trial court had yet to conduct a trial to resolve the issue identified by the Supreme Court in "Gordon I" — whether a valid arbitration agreement existed between Gordon and SSC. "Only if that issue is answered in the affirmative may the Warren Manor defendants properly move to compel arbitration. If that trial results in a judgment holding that there is no valid arbitration agreement, then the Warren Manor defendants may file a timely appeal challenging the trial court's ruling excluding any evidence they wished to submit at trial."

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REL: 11/16/2012 Notice: T h i s o p i n i o n i s s u b j e c t t o f o r m a l r e v i s i o n b e f o r e p u b l i c a t i o n i n t h e advance s h e e t s o f Southern R e p o r t e r . R e a d e r s a r e r e q u e s t e d t o n o t i f y t h e R e p o r t e r o f D e c i s i o n s , A l a b a m a A p p e l l a t e C o u r t s , 300 D e x t e r A v e n u e , M o n t g o m e r y , A l a b a m a 3 6 1 0 4 - 3 7 4 1 ( ( 3 3 4 ) 2 2 9 ¬ 0 6 4 9 ) , o f a n y t y p o g r a p h i c a l o r o t h e r e r r o r s , i n o r d e r t h a t c o r r e c t i o n s may b e made b e f o r e t h e o p i n i o n i s p r i n t e d i n Southern R e p o r t e r . SUPREME COURT OF ALABAMA OCTOBER TERM, 2012-2013 1110511 SSC Selma Operating Company, LLC, d/b/a Warren Manor H e a l t h & R e h a b i l i t a t i o n Center, and Bernard Turk v. E t h e l Gordon, a d m i n i s t r a t r i x o f the e s t a t e o f Jimmy Lee Gordon Appeal from D a l l a s C i r c u i t Court (CV-08-900087) STUART, SSC Warren Bernard Justice. Selma Manor Turk, Operating Health Company, LLC, doing & Rehabilitation Center t h e a d m i n i s t r a t o r o f Warren business as ("SSC"), a n d Manor Health & 1110511 Rehabilitation hereinafter Center referred ("Warren Manor") to c o l l e c t i v e l y (SSC as and Turk "the Warren are Manor d e f e n d a n t s " ) , appeal the judgment o f the D a l l a s C i r c u i t Court denying their joint medical-malpractice them b y E t h e l motion to compel wrongful-death Gordon arbitration claims asserted of the against ("Gordon"), t h e a d m i n i s t r a t r i x o f the e s t a t e o f Jimmy Lee G o r d o n , G o r d o n ' s h u s b a n d , p u r s u a n t t o an a r b i t r a t i o n agreement t h e y a l l e g e Gordon had e n t e r e d i n t o w i t h SSC. We affirm. I. T h i s i s t h e s e c o n d o p i n i o n t h i s C o u r t has i s s u e d i n t h i s case. I n SSC Selma O p e r a t i n g Co. v. G o r d o n , 56 So. 3d (Ala. 2010) ("Gordon Manor defendants court denying I " ) , we to reverse their motion were also an order to compel 598 asked by t h e Warren entered the G o r d o n ' s c l a i m s p u r s u a n t t o an a r b i t r a t i o n by the trial arbitration agreement of Gordon was a l l e g e d t o have e n t e r e d i n t o w i t h SSC a t t h e t i m e h e r l a t e h u s b a n d was a d m i t t e d t o Warren Manor. 1 We held i n Gordon I ^In Gordon I , t h e W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s were j o i n e d on a p p e a l by Sava S e n i o r C a r e A d m i n i s t r a t i v e S e r v i c e s , LLC ("Sava"), t h e e n t i t y t h a t manages W a r r e n Manor. Sava h a d f i l e d a s e p a r a t e m o t i o n t o compel a r b i t r a t i o n , w h i c h t h e t r i a l c o u r t had a l s o d e n i e d . Sava has n o t f i l e d a n o t h e r m o t i o n t o compel a r b i t r a t i o n , nor d i d i t j o i n i n t h e m o t i o n f i l e d by t h e 2 1110511 t h a t i t was inappropriate or the to deny motion f o r the t r i a l to compel court e i t h e r to a r b i t r a t i o n at grant that time, explaining: "In order to s a t i s f y t h e i r burden of p r o o f , the [ W a r r e n M a n o r ] d e f e n d a n t s must p r e s e n t e v i d e n c e t h a t a c o n t r a c t c a l l i n g f o r a r b i t r a t i o n e x i s t s and t h a t the ' c o n t r a c t evidences a t r a n s a c t i o n a f f e c t i n g i n t e r s t a t e commerce.' F l e e t w o o d E n t e r s . , I n c . v. B r u n o , 784 So. 2d 277, 280 ( A l a . 2000) (citing T r a n S o u t h F i n . C o r p . v. B e l l , 739 So. 2d 1110, 1114 (Ala. 1999)). The a r b i t r a t i o n agreement itself c o n s t i t u t e d s u b s t a n t i a l evidence that a contract c a l l i n g f o r a r b i t r a t i o n e x i s t e d b e t w e e n SSC and Mrs. G o r d o n . Mrs. Gordon c o n c e d e s i n h e r a p p e l l a t e b r i e f before this Court that SSC ' [ i s ] engaged in interstate commerce.' (Mrs. Gordon's appellate brief, a t 25 n. 9.) Thus, t h e [ W a r r e n M a n o r ] defendants s a t i s f i e d t h e i r burden of proof. "Once t h e [ W a r r e n M a n o r ] d e f e n d a n t s s a t i s f i e d t h e i r burden of producing s u b s t a n t i a l evidence t h a t an a r b i t r a t i o n a g r e e m e n t e x i s t s , t h e b u r d e n t h e n shifted to Mrs. Gordon to produce sufficient evidence to c r e a t e a genuine i s s u e of m a t e r i a l f a c t as t o w h e t h e r t h e a r b i t r a t i o n a g r e e m e n t i s v a l i d . T h i s C o u r t s t a t e d i n Ex p a r t e Meadows, 782 So. 2d 277, 280 ( A l a . 2000) : "'"'To make a genuine issue e n t i t l i n g the [ p a r t y seeking to a v o i d a r b i t r a t i o n ] t o a t r i a l by jury [on the arbitrability q u e s t i o n ] , an u n e q u i v o c a l denial t h a t t h e a g r e e m e n t had b e e n made [is] n e e d e d , and some e v i d e n c e should [be] produced to s u b s t a n t i a t e the d e n i a l . ' " W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s , and i t i s not a p a r t y to t h i s 3 appeal. 1110511 " ' [ C h a s t a i n v. R o b i n s o n - H u m p h r e y Co., 957 F.2d 851, 854 ( 1 1 t h C i r . 1 9 9 2 ) ] ( q u o t i n g T & R E n t e r s . , v. C o n t i n e n t a l G r a i n Co., 613 F.2d 1272, 1278 ( 5 t h C i r . 1 9 8 0 ) ) . ' "In t h e p r e s e n t c a s e , M r s . Gordon f i l e d a r e s p o n s e t o t h e [Warren Manor] d e f e n d a n t s ' m o t i o n [ ] t o c o m p e l a r b i t r a t i o n and a t t a c h e d t o t h e r e s p o n s e h e r a f f i d a v i t , i n w h i c h she d e n i e d t h a t she h a d s i g n e d an a r b i t r a t i o n a g r e e m e n t w i t h SSC. Under Meadows, Mrs. Gordon's affidavit constitutes s u f f i c i e n t e v i d e n c e t h a t the a r b i t r a t i o n agreement d i d not e x i s t . Therefore, a genuine i s s u e of material fact has been raised concerning the e x i s t e n c e of the a r b i t r a t i o n agreement. ' I f the party opposing arbitration presents sufficient evidence to create a fact q u e s t i o n as t o t h e e x i s t e n c e o f a v a l i d a r b i t r a t i o n agreement, then the i s s u e must be r e s o l v e d b y t h e t r i a l c o u r t o r by a j u r y , i f one i s r e q u e s t e d . ' Ex p a r t e C a v e r , 742 So. 2d [168] a t 172 n. 4 [ ( A l a . 1 9 9 9 ) ] . " B a s e d on M r s . G o r d o n ' s demand i n h e r c o m p l a i n t for a trial by jury, the issue whether an a r b i t r a t i o n a g r e e m e n t e x i s t e d b e t w e e n SSC and M r s . G o r d o n s h o u l d have been t r i e d b e f o r e a j u r y . See R u l e 3 9 ( a ) , A l a . R. C i v . P. However, t h e t r i a l c o u r t d e n i e d t h e [Warren Manor] d e f e n d a n t s ' m o t i o n [ ] t o compel a r b i t r a t i o n w i t h o u t s u b m i t t i n g t h e i s s u e to a j u r y . Therefore, the t r i a l court's order d e n y i n g t h e [Warren Manor] d e f e n d a n t s ' m o t i o n [ ] t o c o m p e l i s r e v e r s e d , and t h e c a s e i s remanded f o r a jury trial t o d e t e r m i n e w h e t h e r an arbitration a g r e e m e n t e x i s t e d b e t w e e n SSC and M r s . G o r d o n . " 56 So. court, 3d 603 (emphasis added). i n accordance with determine between at the issue o u r mandate, whether Gordon and SSC a valid existed. 4 On On remand, set a jury arbitration the trial trial to agreement June 15, 2011, Gordon 1110511 filed a motion defendants had arbitration could not Warren limine, be found Manor Ala. and R. signed Evid., inadmissible because June 20, the an trial copy have court the evidence as bar any Citing of the be raised as agreement be allowed both signed for substantial arbitration because the l e g i s l a t u r e 44, A l a . Code 1975, admissible. In because Manor, 56 s p e c i f i c a l l y has this that So. 3d their Court a at provided with swore their response, a f f i d a v i t from the that the 5 photocopy of had agreement contract 603, and i n § 12-21¬ t h a t photocopies of b u s i n e s s records conjunction who evidence existed," Manor d e f e n d a n t s s u b m i t t e d an Warren the arbitration s p e c i f i c a l l y h e l d i n Gordon I t h a t " t h e a r b i t r a t i o n calling to t h e W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s f i l e d t h a t a photocopy of the constituted Rule should signed been the executed a photocopy response, arguing itself of to agreement. allegedly had Manor original. 2011, should to introducing issue Warren original Gordon a r g u e d t h a t she the alleged arbitration agreement a u t h e n t i c i t y of the from that the was asking defendants the that Gordon arbitration On noting acknowledged agreement photocopy of 1003, in the are Warren d i r e c t o r of the signed 1110511 a r b i t r a t i o n a g r e e m e n t t h e W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s i n t e n d e d t o submit a t t r i a l and that business. was a t r u e and c o r r e c t copy o f t h e o r i g i n a l i t was made a n d e x e c u t e d i n t h e r e g u l a r A h e a r i n g was h e l d on G o r d o n ' s m o t i o n i n l i m i n e on June 22, 2 0 1 1 , a n d , on J u l y 1, 2 0 1 1 , t h e t r i a l an o r d e r course of g r a n t i n g the motion, court entered stating: "[Gordon's] m o t i o n i n l i m i n e i s g r a n t e d , and t h e c o u r t f i n d s t h e d u p l i c a t e copy o f t h e a r b i t r a t i o n agreement i s i n a d m i s s i b l e . "The court finds that t h e [Warren Manor] defendants d i d not provide a reasonable accounting f o r t h e e x i s t e n c e o f an o r i g i n a l o f t h e a r b i t r a t i o n a g r e e m e n t n o r d i d [ t h e W a r r e n Manor] d e f e n d a n t s e s t a b l i s h t h a t t h e o r i g i n a l a r b i t r a t i o n agreement was a w r i t i n g made i n t h e r e g u l a r c o u r s e o f b u s i n e s s so t h a t t h e d u p l i c a t e was a d m i s s i b l e as a b u s i n e s s r e c o r d p u r s u a n t t o [§ 1 2 - 2 1 - 4 4 ( a ) , A l a . Code 1975, and R u l e 4 4 ( h ) , A l a . R. C i v . P . ] . As s u c h , t h e [Warren Manor] defendants' argument that the b u s i n e s s r e c o r d e x c e p t i o n ... deems t h e a r b i t r a t i o n agreement a d m i s s i b l e i s w i t h o u t m e r i t . "[The W a r r e n Manor] d e f e n d a n t s a l s o a r g u e t h a t as a r e s u l t o f t h e d e c i s i o n b y t h e A l a b a m a Supreme C o u r t i n [Gordon I ] t h a t [ G o r d o n ' s ] m o t i o n i n l i m i n e i s due t o be d e n i e d . T h i s c o u r t r e j e c t s t h e [Warren Manor] d e f e n d a n t s ' argument t h a t t h e A l a b a m a Supreme C o u r t , by c o n s i d e r i n g t h e a r b i t r a t i o n agreement f o r purposes of appeal, intended that the t r i a l court was without authority to further test the a u t h e n t i c i t y o f t h e a r b i t r a t i o n agreement. " T h i s c o u r t i s unaware o f a n y l a w o r p r e c e d e n t t h a t p r e c l u d e s t h e t r i a l c o u r t from c o n s i d e r i n g t h e a d m i s s i b i l i t y of c r i t i c a l evidence at the t r i a l of 6 1110511 a c a s e , t h o u g h t h e e v i d e n c e has b e e n c o n s i d e r e d on a p p e a l f r o m an i n t e r l o c u t o r y o r d e r . "To a d o p t t h a t r u l e as t h e l a w , e s p e c i a l l y i n t h i s c a s e , a b r o g a t e s [ R u l e 1003, A l a . R. E v i d . , ] and s e v e r e l y l i m i t s t h e t r i a l c o u r t ' s f u n c t i o n as t h e gatekeeper of the evidence." On August petitioned trial this 12, 2011, Court Warren for a writ Manor and to proceed with C o u r t i n Gordon I . that p e t i t i o n On w i t h o u t an o p i n i o n . filed c o u r t t o compel a r b i t r a t i o n at jury the trial m a n d a t e d by this On November 1, 2011, a renewed motion of i n the On a h e a r i n g , the d e n i e d the m o t i o n t o compel a r b i t r a t i o n . in t h i s Court denied of Gordon's c l a i m s . conclusion the Gordon's motion S e p t e m b e r 14, 2011, W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s 2011, the defendants o f mandamus d i r e c t i n g court to vacate i t s order granting limine 28, the the trial November trial On J a n u a r y 9, court 2012, t h e W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s f i l e d t h i s a p p e a l p u r s u a n t t o R u l e 4(d), A l a . R. App. motion to compel P., w h i c h p r o v i d e s t h a t an o r d e r d e n y i n g a arbitration i s a p p e a l a b l e as a matter of right. II. The trial court's order denying the Warren d e f e n d a n t s ' m o t i o n t o c o m p e l a r b i t r a t i o n i s due t o be 7 Manor affirmed 1110511 because the trial m a n d a t e d by valid "'It this court Court arbitration is well has i n Gordon agreement settled not yet conducted the I to determine whether e x i s t s between Gordon after the that, remand, trial and trial parte Edwards, 727 ( q u o t i n g A u e r b a c h v. P a r k e r , This issue whether i t were t o a valid So. arbitration 792, 794 2d 900, 902 grant the We court (Ala. be 1998) 1989)). h e l d on e x i s t s between motion to holding that jury t r i a l . Thus, the the m o t i o n t o compel f u r t h e r n o t e , however, t h a t t o the any of motion the in t r i a l be h e l d and arbitration parties limine a final believe obviates extent that the judgment e n t e r e d the the ruling requirement they are trial that j u d g m e n t , and, on the f o r a l l t h a t a p p e a r s , no j u d g m e n t has issue whether a valid 8 arbitration on a mistaken. A r u l i n g g r a n t i n g or denying a motion i n l i m i n e i s not a entered the t h e W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s . and Gordon's (Ala. W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s ' court properly denied f i l e d by agreement court and t h e t r i a l c o u r t w o u l d v i o l a t e t h a t mandate compel a r b i t r a t i o n b e f o r e trial 558 2d C o u r t i s s u e d a mandate t h a t a j u r y t r i a l Gordon and SSC, if So. SSC. court s h o u l d c o m p l y s t r i c t l y w i t h t h e mandate o f t h e a p p e l l a t e Ex a final y e t been agreement 1110511 exists trial b e t w e e n Gordon and on that issue, p r o f f e r the evidence and, i n fact, the SSC. At the yet-to-be W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s may again p r e v i o u s l y e x c l u d e d by t h e t r i a l court, t h e y must do issue f o r eventual appeal. so i f t h e y hope t o p r e s e r v e 177-78 576 So. ( A l a . 1991): "We r e c o g n i z e t h a t t h e t r i a l c o u r t has b r o a d d i s c r e t i o n i n e v i d e n t i a r y m a t t e r s . The g e n e r a l r u l e was s t a t e d i n S t a t e v. Askew, 455 So. 2d 36 ( A l a . Civ. App. 1 9 8 4 ) , c i t i n g C. Gamble, The M o t i o n i n L i m i n e : A P r e t r i a l P r o c e d u r e T h a t Has Come o f Age, 33 A l a . L. Rev. 1 ( 1 9 8 1 ) , as f o l l o w s : "'In keeping w i t h the v e s t i n g of broad d i s c r e t i o n i n the t r i a l c o u r t i n t h i s area, i t i s g e n e r a l l y h e l d t h a t the g r a n t i n g of a m o t i o n i n l i m i n e can n e v e r be r e v e r s i b l e error. The n o n - m o v i n g p a r t y may r e p e a t a t t r i a l , p r e f e r a b l y out of the h e a r i n g of the j u r y , h i s request f o r p e r m i s s i o n to prove the c o n t e s t e d matter. This o f f e r of proof i s r e q u i r e d i n order to i s o l a t e the e r r o r for appeal. I t i s t h i s r e f u s a l at t r i a l to accept t h a t p r o f f e r e d evidence, not the g r a n t i n g of the p r e t r i a l motion i n l i m i n e , t h a t s e r v e s as t h e b a s i s f o r r e v e r s i b l e e r r o r . Of c o u r s e , t h i s a b i l i t y t o b r i n g up the matter a second time would not be a v a i l a b l e i f c o u n s e l had r e q u e s t e d and t h e j u d g e had g r a n t e d a p r o h i b i t i v e - a b s o l u t e motion i n l i m i n e . ' "455 So. 2d a t the As t h i s C o u r t e x p l a i n e d i n B u s h v. A l a b a m a Farm B u r e a u M u t u a l C a s u a l t y I n s u r a n c e Co., 175, conducted 37." 9 2d 1110511 Moreover, even i f t h e Warren photocopy of the signed Manor defendants arbitration p r o f f e r the agreement and t h e t r i a l c o u r t a g a i n r u l e s i t i n a d m i s s i b l e , t h e W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s may attempt arbitrate to e s t a b l i s h the existence by o t h e r evidence. See, e . g . , J e n k i n s Homes, I n c . , 62 So. 3d 504, 509-10 case where the alleged arbitration clause had nevertheless put forth o f an a g r e e m e n t t o ( A l a . 2010) ( s t a t i n g , i n a executed been v. A t e l i e r contract lost, that s u b s t a n t i a l evidence containing the an defendant indicating that t h e r e was a c o n t r a c t c a l l i n g f o r a r b i t r a t i o n v i a an a f f i d a v i t in which the a f f i a n t such a c o n t r a c t , swore t h a t along with the p l a i n t i f f s a copy o f t h e s t a n d a r d t h a t was a l l e g e d t o have been u s e d ) . the trial will conclude with had executed a final 2 Regardless, contract however, judgment, and, i f t h a t j u d g m e n t i s a d v e r s e t o t h e W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s a n d t h e y have p r o p e r l y p r e s e r v e d any o b j e c t i o n s , t h e y may t i m e l y file I n h e r m o t i o n i n l i m i n e , Gordon a s k e d t h e t r i a l c o u r t t o e x c l u d e " [ a ] n y e v i d e n c e o f and o r r e f e r e n c e t o t h e copy o f t h e a r b i t r a t i o n agreement " In i t s order g r a n t i n g that motion, the t r i a l court s t a t e d only that "the court f i n d s the duplicate copy of the arbitration agreement to be inadmissible." Thus, i t i s u n c l e a r i f the t r i a l court intended t o p r o h i b i t any a t t e m p t b y t h e W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s t o e s t a b l i s h t h a t an a r b i t r a t i o n a g r e e m e n t e x i s t e d . P r e s u m a b l y , t h i s w o u l d be c l a r i f i e d a t t r i a l when t h e W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s made t h e i r p r o f f e r o f e v i d e n c e . 2 10 1110511 an a p p e a l c h a l l e n g i n g t h e t r i a l c o u r t ' s e v i d e n t i a r y d e c i s i o n s . Any a t t e m p t t o a p p e a l t h e t r i a l admit c e r t a i n evidence before premature. 901 See Ex p a r t e So. 2d 671, 674 established that court's t h e e n t r y o f a f i n a l judgment i s Sysco Food S e r v s . ( A l a . 2004) review motion i n l i m i n e i s by d e c i s i o n whether t o ("Alabama o f an o r d e r appeal."). o f J a c k s o n , LLC, granting precedent has or denying a 3 III. The trial court properly denied d e f e n d a n t s ' m o t i o n t o compel a r b i t r a t i o n against them because the t r i a l court the Warren Manor o f Gordon's claims has y e t t o conduct a trial t o r e s o l v e t h e i s s u e i d e n t i f i e d by t h i s C o u r t i n Gordon I whether Gordon a n d SSC. affirmative compel a valid arbitration Only i f that agreement issue exists i s answered between i n the may t h e W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s p r o p e r l y move t o arbitration. I f that trial results in a judgment h o l d i n g t h a t t h e r e i s no v a l i d a r b i t r a t i o n a g r e e m e n t , t h e n t h e W a r r e n Manor d e f e n d a n t s may f i l e a timely appeal challenging the t r i a l c o u r t ' s r u l i n g e x c l u d i n g any e v i d e n c e t h e y w i s h e d t o For t h i s reason, t h e W a r r e n Manor defendants were e n t i t l e d t o no r e l i e f on t h e i r e a r l i e r p e t i t i o n a s k i n g t h i s C o u r t t o i s s u e a w r i t o f mandamus d i r e c t i n g t h e t r i a l c o u r t t o v a c a t e i t s J u l y 1, 2 0 1 1 , o r d e r . 3 11 1110511 submit at t r i a l . is A c c o r d i n g l y , t h e judgment o f t h e t r i a l affirmed. AFFIRMED. M a l o n e , C . J . , and Shaw a n d W i s e , J J . , c o n c u r . Parker, J . , concurs i n the r e s u l t . 12 court