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Stott v. White Oak Manor, Inc.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

May 1, 2019

Hilda Stott, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Jolly P. Davis, deceased, and as Personal Representative of the Statutory Beneficiaries, Respondent,
v.
White Oak Manor, Inc.; White Oak Management, Inc.; and White Oak Manor-Spartanburg, Inc. d/b/a White Oak of Spartanburg, Appellants. Appellate Case No. 2016-001732

          Submitted February 11, 2019

          Appeal From Spartanburg County J. Derham Cole, Circuit Court Judge

          John Elliott Rogers, II and Ginger D. Goforth, both of The Ward Law Firm, P.A., of Spartanburg, for Appellants.

          Gary W. Poliakoff and Raymond Paul Mullman, Jr., both of Poliakoff & Associates, PA, of Spartanburg, and Jordan C. Calloway of McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC, of Rock Hill for Respondents.

          WILLIAMS, J.

         In this civil case, White Oak Manor, Inc. (White Oak)--a skilled nursing facility--appeals the circuit court's order denying White Oak's motion to compel arbitration of wrongful death and survival actions brought by Hilda Stott as personal representative of the estate of Jolly P. Davis (Decedent). On appeal, White Oak argues the circuit court erred in finding Stott lacked the authority to execute White Oak's admission documents--including an arbitration agreement (the Arbitration Agreement)--on Decedent's behalf. We affirm.

         FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On December 22, 2012, Emergency Medical Services transferred Decedent to Spartanburg Regional Medical Center (Spartanburg Regional) after Decedent informed his niece, Stott, that his oxygen saturation levels had dropped. After Decedent was stabilized at Spartanburg Regional, he was admitted to White Oak on January 2, 2013, for "rehabilitation [and] possibly long-term care." The same day as Decedent's admission to White Oak, Stott, acting as Decedent's authorized representative, [1] signed White Oak's admission documentation--including the Arbitration Agreement. Decedent's initial evaluation at White Oak found he possessed intact mental functioning and he was alert and oriented to time, place, and situation. Decedent also correctly answered questions about his location, his age, his birthday, the current date and year, and current and past presidents. Over the next two weeks, Decedent was transferred between Spartanburg Regional and White Oak multiple times before Decedent passed away on January 16, 2013.

         On December 16, 2015, Stott filed wrongful death and survival actions against White Oak alleging Decedent was "overmedicated and dehydrated which led to his untimely death." White Oak filed a motion to compel arbitration based on the Arbitration Agreement.[2] At the circuit court's hearing, Stott argued her durable power of attorney for finance was ineffective to grant her the authority to sign the Arbitration Agreement on Decedent's behalf. White Oak argued Stott's durable power of attorney for finance was effective to authorize her to sign the Arbitration Agreement on Decedent's behalf because Decedent was physically disabled.

         The circuit court ruled in Stott's favor and issued an order denying White Oak's motion to compel arbitration. The circuit court found (1) Decedent had full capacity to sign the Arbitration Agreement at the time of his admission to White Oak, (2) Stott's durable power of attorney for finance did not become effective until after Stott signed the Arbitration Agreement because it was not recorded as required by law, and (3) Stott's healthcare power of attorney did not authorize Stott to enter into the Arbitration Agreement because Decedent was competent when the Arbitration Agreement was signed. The circuit court relied on Coleman v. Mariner Health Care, Inc.[3] in finding "the authority to make healthcare decisions does not extend to arbitration agreements." This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Whether a claim is arbitrable "is an issue for judicial determination, unless the parties provide otherwise." Zabinski v. Bright Acres Assocs., 346 S.C. 580, 596, 553 S.E.2d 110, 118 (2001). The appellate court reviews the circuit court's determination of whether a claim is arbitrable under a de novo standard. Chassereau v. Global Sun Pools, Inc., 373 S.C. 168, 171, 644 S.E.2d 718, 720 (2007). "However, a circuit court's factual findings will not be reversed on appeal if any evidence reasonably supports those findings." Timmons v. Starkey, 380 S.C. 590, 595, 671 S.E.2d 101, 104 (Ct. App. 2008).

         LAW/ANALYSIS

         I. Durable Power of ...


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