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Thompson v. Pruitt Corp.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

March 2, 2016

Mae Ruth Davis Thompson, Individually and as the appointed Personal Representative of the Estate of Eula Mae Davis, deceased, Respondent,
v.
Pruitt Corporation d/b/a UHS-Pruitt Corporation; UHS-Pruitt Holdings, Inc.; UHS of South Carolina-East, LLC; United Health Services of South Carolina, Inc.; United Clinical Services, Inc.; United Rehab, Inc.; Rock Hill Healthcare Properties, Inc.; Uni-Health Post Acute Care-Rock Hill, LLC d/b/a UniHealth Post Acute Care-Rock Hill, Appellants

         Heard February 2, 2016.

          Appeal From York County. S. Jackson Kimball, III, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2014-001624.

         Monteith Powell Todd, Robert E. Horner, John Michael Montgomery, and Alexander Erwin Davis, all of Sowell Gray Stepp & Laffitte, LLC, of Columbia, for Appellants.

         John Gressette Felder, Jr., of Columbia, and Jordan Christopher Calloway, of Rock Hill, both of McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC, for Respondent.

         GEATHERS, J. HUFF, A.C.J, and KONDUROS, J., concur.

          OPINION

         GEATHERS, J.:

         In this wrongful death and survival action, Appellants, Pruitt Corporation d/b/a UHS-Pruitt Corporation, UHS-Pruitt Holdings, Inc., UHS of South Carolina-East, LLC, United Health Services of South Carolina, Inc., United Clinical Services, Inc., United Rehab, Inc., Rock Hill Healthcare Properties, Inc., and Uni-Health Post Acute Care-Rock Hill, LLC d/b/a UniHealth Post Acute Care-Rock Hill, challenge the circuit court's order denying their motion to compel arbitration. We affirm.

         FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On January 11, 2011, Respondent, Mae Ruth Davis Thompson (Daughter), and her brother, Andrew Phillip Davis (Son), had their mother, Eula Mae Davis (Mother), transferred from Piedmont Medical Center to a nearby nursing home facility owned or operated by Appellant UniHealth Post Acute Care-Rock Hill (UniHealth). A UniHealth employee presented an Admission Agreement, an Arbitration Agreement (AA), and several other documents to Son for his signature on behalf of Mother, who suffered from dementia. Mother was not present at this time as she was in the process of being transported to UniHealth.

         Within five hours of being admitted to UniHealth, Mother died as a result of falling out of a bed with a malfunctioning side rail. Subsequently, Daughter filed a wrongful death and survival action against Appellants. Appellants later filed a motion to dismiss Daughter's action and to compel arbitration of Daughter's claims or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration and stay Daughter's action.

         The circuit court denied the motion to compel on the ground that Son did not have authority to execute the AA on Mother's behalf under either common law agency principles or the Adult Health Care Consent Act, S.C. Code Ann. § § 44-66-10 to 80 (2002 & Supp. 2012)). Appellants filed a motion for reconsideration; however, the circuit court denied the motion. This appeal followed.

         ISSUES ON APPEAL

         1. Did the circuit court err in concluding Mother's estate could not be bound by the AA under the Adult Health Care Consent Act?

         2. Did the circuit court err in concluding Mother's estate could not be bound by the AA under common law agency principles?

         3. Did the circuit court err in concluding Mother's estate could not be bound by the AA under a third-party beneficiary theory?

         4. Did the circuit court err in concluding Mother's estate could not be equitably estopped from refusing to comply with the AA?

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

          " Determinations of arbitrability are subject to de novo review, but if any evidence reasonably supports the circuit court's factual findings, this court will not overrule those findings." Pearson v. Hilton Head Hosp., 400 S.C. 281, 286, 733 S.E.2d 597, 599 (Ct.App. 2012).

         LAW/ANALYSIS

         I. Merger

         Appellants contend the circuit court erred in concluding Mother's estate could not be bound by the AA under the Adult Health Care Consent Act (the Act). Appellants argue the AA " merged" with the Admission Agreement, which Son was authorized to execute under the Act, making both agreements one and the same. We disagree.

         Initially, we note this issue is not preserved for our review. Appellants did not raise this issue below; rather, Daughter raised the issue during both motions hearings, citing our supreme court's recent opinion in Coleman v. Mariner Health Care, Inc., 407 S.C. 346, 350, 755 S.E.2d 450, 453 (2014), and its interpretation of the Act. Appellants addressed the merger concept in the second motions hearing only to respond to Daughter's argument that she could be not be equitably estopped because under the analysis provided by Coleman, the AA and the Admission Agreement had not been merged. Appellants attempted to distinguish Coleman as follows: " [I]t doesn't discuss equitable estoppel other than to basically discuss merger and say if your argument is premised on merger, we found no merger; therefore, this argument must fail. My argument is not premised upon a merger . . . ."

         Based on the foregoing, Appellants are precluded from arguing the doctrine of merger in this appeal. See Richland Cty. v. Carolina Chloride, Inc., 382 S.C. 634, 656, 677 S.E.2d 892, 903 (Ct.App. 2009) (holding the appellant was barred on appeal from asserting its argument concerning governmental estoppel because it expressly waived this argument during trial), aff'd in part, rev'd in part on other grounds, 394 S.C. 154, 714 S.E.2d 869 (2011). Even if Appellants' merger argument had been properly preserved, we would affirm on the merits.

          The Act confers authority on a health care surrogate to consent on the patient's behalf " to the provision or withholding of medical care" and to make financial decisions obligating the patient to pay for the medical care provided. Coleman, 407 S.C. at 351-52, 755 S.E.2d at 453.

Where a patient is unable to consent, decisions concerning his health care may be made by the following persons in the following order of priority: (1) a guardian appointed by the [Probate Court], if the decision is within the scope of the guardianship;
(2) an attorney-in-fact appointed by the patient in a durable power of attorney executed pursuant to [section 62-5-501 of the South Carolina Code (2009 & Supp. 2015)], if the ...

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