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Goerlitz v. SCCI Hospitals of America, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Allen

February 20, 2018

JOHN A. GOERLITZ, EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF JOANNE M. GOERLITZ, DECEASED, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
SCCI HOSPITALS OF AMERICA, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS, and ST. RITA'S MEDICAL CENTER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.

         Appeal from Allen County Common Pleas Court Trial Court No. CV 2017 0161

          Paul W. McCartney for Appellant

          Meghan C. Lewallen for Appellee

          OPINION

          SHAW, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Defendants-Appellants, SCCI Hospitals of America, Inc., et al., appeal the September 13, 2017 judgment of the Allen County Court of Common Pleas overruling their "Motion to Stay Proceedings and Compel/Enforce the Alternative Dispute Resolution."

         {¶2} On November 29, 2016, Plaintiffs-Appellees, John A. Goerlitz, as Executor of his wife Joanne M. Goerlitz's estate and John A. Goerlitz in his individual capacity, filed a complaint against sixteen (16) different defendants in Cuyahoga County, including the five parties who are Appellants in this case, SCCI Hospitals of America, Inc. dba Kindred Hospital Lima, Kindred Healthcare Operating, Inc., Angela Miller, RN, Constance J. Youngpeter, RN, and Sandra Kirwan, RN.

         {¶3} Appellees alleged claims of wrongful death, loss of consortium, and a survival claim for Joanne's pain and suffering prior to her death. The facts alleged in the complaint stated that Joanne was admitted to SCCI Hospitals of America, Inc. dba Kindred Hospital of Lima, on October 6, 2015 following a surgery, and that Appellants were negligent in their treatment of Joanne, which caused her to suffer permanent and substantial injuries, to endure agonal pain and suffering, and to no longer be able to independently perform life sustaining functions, which required intensive medical care and treatment. Joanne died on December 2, 2015. The complaint asserted that Appellants' negligence was the direct and proximate cause of her death.

         {¶4} Appellees also propounded written requests for discovery to Appellants at the time they filed the complaint.

         {¶5} On December 27 and 28, 2016, Appellants filed their answers with numerous affirmative defenses stated and specifically asserting as their final and sixteenth defense, that Appellees' claims were subject to a binding arbitration agreement requiring the trial court proceedings to be stayed, as well as asserting that the case had been filed in an improper venue. Appellants attached a copy of the arbitration agreement to their answers.

         {¶6} On January 11, 2017, Appellants filed a motion to transfer venue to Allen County, where the alleged conduct of Appellants giving rise to the claims for relief occurred. The Cuyahoga County trial court granted Appellants' motion and transferred the case to Allen County.

         {¶7} On August 24, 2017, Appellants filed a Motion to Stay Proceedings and Compel/Enforce the Alternative Dispute Resolution.

         {¶8} On September 13, 2017, the trial court overruled Appellants' motion to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration. The trial court distinguished the decedent's survival claim of pain and suffering brought by John as the nominal representative (i.e. executor) of Joanne's estate from the wrongful death and loss of consortium claims brought by John in his individual capacity, which were personal to him. The trial court relied on Peters v. Columbus Steel Castings Co., in which the Supreme Court of Ohio stated that "[a] decedent cannot bind his or her beneficiaries to arbitrate their wrongful-death claims" to conclude that John's personal claims were not subject to any arbitration agreement. Id., 115 Ohio St.3d 134, 2007-Ohio-4787, ¶ 19.

         {¶9} The trial court also found that even if there were at one time an enforceable arbitration agreement, Appellants had waived their right to arbitration by taking actions inconsistent with that right. In reaching its conclusion, the trial court highlighted a portion of Appellants' own arbitration agreement, which provides that the "arbitration shall convene not later than sixty (60) days after the conclusion or termination of mediation." See Voluntary Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreement Between Patient and Hospital, ¶ I. (F). The trial court noted that mediation of the case had been unsuccessfully terminated on June 29, 2016 and none of the parties convened arbitration within sixty days of that date.

         {¶10} Rather, five months later Appellees initiated a lawsuit in Cuyahoga County. The trial court also pointed to the Appellants' decision to invoke the Allen County trial court's jurisdiction by filing a motion to transfer venue, rather than filing a motion for a stay and to compel arbitration when the litigation had commenced in Cuyahoga County. The trial court acknowledged that Appellants had raised the affirmative defense of arbitration in their answers filed in the Cuyahoga County case on December 27 and 28, 2016. However, the trial court found it significant that Appellants had nevertheless waited nearly eight months after filing their answers, and nearly a ...


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