Civil Cases – Opinions Released in Calendar Year 2023
Style: Welch v. Oaktree Health and Rehabilitation Center LLC D/B/A Christian Care Centers of Memphis
TSC Docket Number: W2020-00917-SC-R11-C
Date of TSC Opinion: August 31, 2023
Opinion of the TSC: Click here.
TSC Summary of the Opinion:
Tennessee’s Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 34-6-201 to -218, includes a provision for limited statutory immunity from civil liability, under certain conditions, for health care providers who rely in good faith on health care decisions made by an apparent agent on a principal’s behalf. Id. § -208. Tennessee’s Health Care Decisions Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 68-11-1801 to -1815, includes a similar provision for limited statutory immunity from civil liability, under certain conditions, for health care providers who comply in good faith with health care decisions made by an apparent agent on a principal’s behalf. Id. § -1810. The health care decision in this case is the execution of an arbitration agreement with admission to a nursing home. The agreement was signed by an agent under a durable power of attorney for health care executed several years earlier. After the resident’s death, his estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home on negligence theories. On appeal from the trial court’s denial of the defendant nursing home’s motion to compel arbitration, we hold that the nursing home does not meet the requirements for limited statutory immunity from civil liability under either the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Act or the Health Care Decisions Act. Consequently, the trial court did not err in considering evidence on whether the principal had the requisite mental capacity to execute the durable power of attorney for health care. We overrule the holding on the immunity provision in the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 34-6-208, in Owens v. National Health Corporation, 263 S.W.3d 876, 889 n.4 (Tenn. 2007), to the extent it is inconsistent with this opinion. We affirm the trial court, reverse the Court of Appeals, and remand to the Court of Appeals.
Court of Appeals Opinion: https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/welchjamesaopn.pdf
Summary by the Court of Appeals:
This appeal involves an arbitration agreement executed in connection with a patient’s admission to a nursing home. The arbitration agreement was executed by the patient’s brother, who had been designated as the patient’s attorney-in-fact for health care pursuant to a durable power of attorney for health care executed by the patient several years earlier. When the patient’s brother filed this wrongful death suit in circuit court, the nursing home defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration. The patient’s brother then asserted that he did not have the authority to bind the patient to the arbitration agreement because the patient had been mentally incompetent when he executed the durable power of attorney for health care years earlier. The defendants argued that the trial court was not permitted to “look beyond” the durable power of attorney for health care to determine the competency of the patient at the time of its execution. The trial court ruled that it would “look beyond” the power of attorney for health care in order to consider the patient’s competency and allowed the parties to engage in discovery related to the issue of incompetence. Discovery ensued, and the parties submitted additional evidence regarding the patient’s competency. The trial court then found by clear and convincing evidence that the patient was incompetent at the time the durable power of attorney for health care was executed. As a result, the trial court concluded that the patient’s brother lacked authority to sign the arbitration agreement as attorney-in-fact for health care. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration, and the defendants appealed. Pursuant to the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Owens v. National Health Corp., 263 S.W.3d 876 (Tenn. 2007), we hold that the trial court erred in looking beyond the durable power of attorney for health care to examine the patient’s competency at the time it was executed. We reverse the decision of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Issues the Court Will Consider:
- Whether the Court of Appeals went beyond the permitted scope of review in reversing the circuit court’s decision based on the application of the Tennessee Health Care Decisions Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-11-1801 to -1815, a statute not raised by either of the parties on appeal or addressed by the circuit court;
- Whether this Court’s citation to Tennessee Code Annotated section 34-6- 208 in footnote 4 in Owens v. National Health Corp., 263 S.W.3d 876 (Tenn. 2007), creates a bright line rule prohibiting trial courts from considering a principal’s lack of capacity to grant a healthcare power of attorney and other healthcare agency appointments; and
- Whether the Court of Appeals’ determination that the circuit court erred in looking into the validity of the health care power of attorney to enforce the arbitration agreement improperly favors nursing home arbitration agreements over other contracts, contrary to the requirements of 9 U.S.C.A. § 2, AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 (2011), and Tennessee contract law?
Permission to Appeal Granted: August 4, 2022
Appellants’ Briefs Filed: September 6, 2022
Appellees’ Briefs Filed: October 6, 2022
Appellants’ Reply Brief Filed: October 20, 2022
Appellees’ Reply Brief Filed:
Amicus Briefs Permitted:
Oral Argument Date: November 9, 2022
Link to Oral Argument Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGpx4rnT87s