The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division (“New Jersey Appellate Court”) held in its decision dated February 26, 2020, “the idiosyncratic facts of this case overwhelmingly support the judge’s conclusion that there was no meeting of the minds between Charmaine [the nursing home resident’s daughter] and Maureen [the nursing home resident/mother] on the one side, and Aristacare [the defendant nursing home] on the other. As noted above, Charmaine had no legal authority to bind Maureen to anything set forth in the agreement because she did not hold Maureen’s power of attorney. While Maureen’s signature was later added to the form on an unspecified date, Aristacare provided no details concerning how that was accomplished. Aristacare did not give a copy of the agreement to Charmaine or her mother, and does not assert that it explained the forms to either of them. Aristacare also did not advise Charmaine that she could consult with an attorney before signing the documents.”
The New Jersey Appellate Court further held: “the arbitration provision is written in a way that would not lead to a nursing home patient obtaining a “clear and mutual understanding of the ramifications of” agreeing to it … [t]he dense and meandering first sentence is simply too lengthy to ensure comprehension, especially in the absence of any assistance from the facility. Aristacare directed Charmaine to sign the forms where indicated even though she was emotionally distraught by her mother’s condition. Although we do not know when Aristacare obtained Maureen’s signature, the record indicates that at the time of her admission, the facility’s nursing staff was aware that Maureen was heavily medicated, suffering hallucinations, and unaware she was in a nursing home.”
“It is also well established that when the arbitration forum the parties select in the arbitration agreement is not available at the time the contract is formed, there is no meeting of the minds … Aristacare’s arbitration provision stated that any arbitration would be conducted according to the rules of the AAA. However, that was not possible because the AAA ceased conducting nursing home arbitrations in 2003 and has no rules governing these matters. Thus, Charmaine and her mother would not have been able to ascertain what rules might apply even if they had been able to understand they were giving up their right to pursue any future claims in court.”
The New Jersey Appellate Court concluded, “Under these circumstances, we conclude there was never a meeting of the minds between the parties and, therefore, the judge properly denied Aristacare’s motion to dismiss the estate’s complaint.”
Source Estate of Maureen Bright v. Aristacare at Cherry Hill, LLC, d/b/a Aristacare at Cherry Hill, Docket No. A-3640-18T3.
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