In 2017, the plaintiff’s father was admitted as a resident to an assisted living facility in Greenville, South Carolina. As part of the admissions process, the plaintiff, pursuant to a durable general power of attorney, signed the residence services agreement and the attached binding arbitration agreement. A few months later, an employee at the assisted living facility administered incorrect medication to the plaintiff’s father, which ultimately led to his death.
The plaintiff, on behalf of her father’s estate, filed wrongful death and survival actions against the assisted living facility and related entities in federal district court in South Carolina. The defendants moved to dismiss and compel arbitration under the arbitration agreement.
Finding the plaintiff’s claims concerning her father’s care at the assisted living facility fell within the scope of the arbitration agreement, the district court focused on the enforceability of such agreement. The plaintiff challenged the agreement’s enforceability, claiming that the residence services agreement and arbitration agreement should be merged, and since certain provisions of the residence services agreement were purportedly unconscionable, so too were the provisions of the arbitration agreement.
The district court noted that merger has no relevance on the unconscionability of the arbitration agreement because arbitration provisions are severable from the remainder of the contract. The district court therefore looked only to whether the specific provisions of the arbitration agreement were unconscionable and found that, contrary to the plaintiff’s arguments, they were not so oppressive that a fair and honest person would not accept them. The district court therefore granted the motion to dismiss and compel arbitration.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the mandatory arbitration agreement and the underlying residence services agreement should be considered as one merged contract, the terms of which were unconscionable under state law and therefore unenforceable.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision, finding the lower court properly limited its consideration to the terms of the arbitration agreement and that nothing in the record established that the terms of the arbitration agreement were unconscionable under South Carolina law.
Kelly v. Capital Senior Living Corp., No. 19-2263 (4th Cir. June 17, 2021).