MICHAEL HALL, Executor of the Estate of CREOLA HALL, Deceased, Plaintiff-Respondent,
HEALTHSOUTH REHABILITATION HOSPITAL OF VINELAND; ATLANTICARE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER; ACUITY SPECIALTY HOSPITAL OF NEW JERSEY; and LINWOOD CARE CENTER, Defendants-Respondents, and THE HEALTH CENTER AT GALLOWAY and SENIORS MANAGEMENT NORTH, INC., Defendants-Appellants.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Telephonically Argued June 26, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-3883-12.
Donna J. Fudge (Fudge & McArthur, P.A.) of the Pennsylvania bar, admitted pro hac vice, argued the cause for appellants (Anthony P. DeMichele (O'Brien & Ryan) and Ms. Fudge, attorneys; Paul E. Peel, of counsel; Mr. DeMichele of counsel and on the brief).
Nicholas S. Jajko (Schwartz Culleton PC) argued the cause for respondent Michael Hall (Mr. Jajko, attorney; Christopher J. Culleton and Mr. Jajko, on the brief).
Thomas M. Walsh argued the cause for respondent HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Vineland (Parker McCay P.A., attorneys; John D. Cirrinicione, on the brief).
Fox Rothschild LLP, attorneys for respondent AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, join in the brief of respondents HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Vineland and Linwood Care Center.
Eric D. Heicklen argued the cause for respondent Linwood Care Center (Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, PC, attorneys; Robin Archie on the brief).
Respondent Acuity Special Hospital has not filed a brief.
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Sabatino.
In this interlocutory matter under Rule 2:2-3(a), appellants, The Health Center at Galloway and Seniors Management North (collectively, "Galloway"), challenge the trial court's denial of Galloway's motion to dismiss plaintiff's negligence and survivorship action and to refer the case to arbitration. The court denied the motion after determining that a judicial hearing is required to resolve the threshold question of whether plaintiff had the authority to bind the decedent, his wife, to Galloway's standardized mandatory arbitration provisions when she was admitted to its nursing home.
Because plaintiff's legal authority to bind the decedent to mandatory arbitration comprises a "gateway" issue that must be resolved by a court, not an arbitrator, we affirm the trial court's decision. We also reject Galloway's alternative claim that the decedent's alleged status as a third-party beneficiary of the nursing home contract compels immediate referral of this case to arbitration, irrespective of plaintiff's express or implied authority to bind his wife to that document. The third-party beneficiary issue, like the agency issue, involves threshold factual disputes that must be resolved in the first instance by the trial court.
We recite the pertinent background as follows, mindful of the interlocutory posture of this matter and the lack of adjudicated facts. In essence, our task here is not to review any factual findings, but simply to confirm the proper forum in which this case initially should be heard.
Plaintiff Michael Hall is the executor of the estate of his wife, Creola Hall, who died in June 2011. From May 20, 2010 to June 9, 2010, the decedent was a resident of co-defendant HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Vineland ("HealthSouth"). Decedent was then seventy-three years old. She was receiving treatment for a stroke she had recently suffered on May 6, 2010.
According to plaintiff's complaint on June 9 2010 HealthSouth discovered a sacral pressure sore on decedent which required debridement The same day decedent was discharged from HealthSouth and placed under the care of Galloway a nursing home facility Decedent was also treated at co-defendant AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center ("AtlantiCare") on four occasions during her stay with Galloway for "various acute care needs" Decedent remained with Galloway until she was discharged on August 26 2010 She thereafter became a patient at co-defendant Acuity Specialty Hospital of New Jersey ("Acuity") from August 31 2010 to December 3 2 010 except for a week in November 2010 Then from December 3 2010 to June 16 2011 decedent was a resident of co-defendant Linwood Care Center ("Linwood") During this time she also had numerous inpatient admissions to AtlantiCare
From June 9 2 010 through April 12 2011 a period that included her stay at Galloway the decedent's sacral pressure wound allegedly deteriorated to a "Stage IV" wound The decedent additionally developed Stages III and IV pressure sores on her left heel right heel right ankle right ischium and left ischium
The decedent passed away on June 16 2011 Plaintiff the decedent's husband and executor of her estate filed a complaint against the various named defendants in May 2012. The complaint alleged negligence, and also sought damages under a survival cause of action.
One of the two critical documents at issue in Galloway's present appeal is a form Admission Agreement ("AA") dated June 9, 2010. It is undisputed that plaintiff, not the decedent, filled out blank portions of the form. The decedent's name is printed, but not signed, under the heading "RESIDENT[.]" Plaintiff's name is printed on the first page of the document as decedent's "Legal Representative and Responsible Party." Plaintiff additionally printed his name under the heading "RESIDENT'S LEGAL REPRESENTATIVE[.]" Plaintiff signed his name on the line labeled as "Signature of Resident's Legal Representative in his/her Individual capacity[.]" However, for reasons that have not been clearly explained, plaintiff did not sign his name on the line entitled "Signature of Resident's Legal Representative in his/her Representative capacity." (Emphasis added).
It is undisputed that, at the time of his wife's admission to Galloway, plaintiff did not have a power of attorney from her. Nor had she been judicially declared incompetent, and no court order had appointed plaintiff her legal guardian.
According to plaintiff's sworn deposition testimony,  the decedent did not give him permission to sign the AA. Plaintiff contends that he made no representation to Galloway that his wife was incapacitated. Moreover, he contends that she could ...