In its opinion delivered on May 4, 2017, the Supreme Court of Arkansas (“Arkansas Supreme Court”) affirmed that the lower court’s class certification was proper with regard to understaffing claims against the nursing home defendants, except for the negligence claims because the nursing home negligence claims involved individualized questions concerning proximate causation that clearly predominate over the common questions.
On September 4, 2015, the plaintiff filed his first amended class-action complaint alleging that the nursing home defendants’ business practice of chronic understaffing breaches the admission agreement and provider agreement, violates the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (“ADTPA”), constitutes negligence and civil conspiracy, and unjustly enriches the defendants. The plaintiff sought compensatory, economic and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, interest, and costs.
The defendant nursing homes opposed the plaintiff’s motion for class certification, arguing that class certification was inappropriate.
After conducting a hearing on March 4, 2016, the trial court entered an order granting class certification that defined the class and stated the common questions as to the class members. The trial court found that the common issues predominated over the individual issues, and that the requirements of numerosity, typicality, superiority, and adequacy were satisfied. The defendants filed an interlocutory appeal.
The Arkansas Supreme Court Opinion
The Arkansas Supreme Court opinion stated that under Rule 23 of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure, there are six requirements for class-action certification: (1) numerosity, (2) commonality, (3) typicality, (4) adequacy, (5) predominance, and (6) superiority.
The Arkansas Supreme Court held that in the present case, the commonality requirement is clearly satisfied because the defendants’ act of understaffing establishes a common question relating to the entire class. Furthermore, the predominance requirement has been satisfied (the common, overarching issues concern whether the defendants have liability for chronic understaffing under the admission agreement and the asserted statutes). Thus, as to the breach of contract, ADTPA, and unjust-enrichment claims, the trial court correctly found that the commonality and predominance requirements of Rule 23 had been met.
As to the superiority requirement, the Arkansas Supreme Court held that the class as certified in the present case is a cohesive and manageable group because the common question of understaffing can be ascertained on a classwide basis (a class action is the superior method for resolving the pervasive common question of understaffing).
With regard to the typicality requirement, the Arkansas Supreme Court stated that neither the trial court nor the appellate court may delve into the merits of the underlying claim when deciding whether the requirements of Rule 23 have been met. The focus of the typicality requirement is on the conduct of the alleged wrongdoer giving rise to the claim rather than on the injury sustained from the conduct. The Arkansas Supreme Court held that because the class representative’s claim arises from the same alleged wrongful conduct, understaffing, the trial court correctly found that the typicality requirement had been satisfied.
The Arkansas Supreme Court stated that having found the requirements for a class action to be satisfied in the present case, it affirmed the trial court’s class certification as to the plaintiff’s claims of breach of contract, ADTPA, and unjust enrichment.
However, with regard to the plaintiff’s nursing home negligence claims, the Arkansas Supreme Court stated that negligence requires an individual analysis of each plaintiff’s specific allegations. Even assuming there are questions common to each class member, the Arkansas Supreme Court could not say that these common issues clearly predominate over the individual issues (stated differently, there is no one set of operative facts to establish the nursing home defendants’ liability to any given class member). Each class member’s claim would result in an individualized inquiry as to whether understaffing was the proximate cause of his or her injury.
Because the individualized questions concerning proximate causation clearly predominate over the common questions, the Arkansas Supreme Court held that certification as to the plaintiff’s negligence claim is inappropriate (under the facts of this case, the proximate-causation analysis necessarily requires an individual inquiry, which renders the plaintiff’s negligence claim inappropriate for class certification).
The Arkansas Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded with instructions to decertify the class as to the plaintiff’s negligence claim only.
Source Robinson Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC v. Phillips, 2017 Ark. 162
If you or a loved one suffered injuries (or worse) while a resident of a nursing home in Arkansas or in another U.S. state due to nursing home neglect, nursing home negligence, nursing home abuse, or nursing home understaffing, you should promptly contact a local nursing home claim attorney in your state who may investigate your nursing home claim for you and file a nursing home claim on your behalf, if appropriate.
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