Legal victory for nursing home residents: State laws can supersede Federal Arbitration Act

Some court decisions leave lots of room for future generations of law school classes to debate the subtleties of the Judge’s wording. Yet, other times the court’s action—without rendering an opinion—can have equally powerful results. What could I possibly be inarticulately blabbering about?

June 1st marked the deadline by which the U.S. Supreme Court could grant review of an Illinois Appellate Court decision nullifying nursing home arbitration agreements. Instead, the court decided to leave the Appellate decision untouched—in essence giving its stamp of approval to an appellate court decision that invalidated mandatory arbitration agreements in nursing home negligence cases.

In Sue Carter v. SSC Odin Operating Company, LLC, (885 N.E. 2d 1204, 319 Ill.Dec. 524 [2008]), the daughter of a nursing home resident brought a wrongful death and survival cause of action under the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act against the nursing home where her mother was a resident. Despite the fact that Ms. Carter executed a ‘Health Care Arbitration Agreement’ on her mother’s behalf when she admitted her mother to the facility, the Appellate Court ruled that state law preserved her right to a jury trial.

The nursing home operator appealed the Appellate Court decision, claiming the mandatory arbitration clause, pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, should overrule any state law as the federal legislation should take precedent.

Consequently, nursing home arbitration agreements in Illinois will likely be a thing of the past. Perhaps this action by the court will dissuade other states from enforcing similar agreements.

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a lawyer who represents people injured in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Visit his personal blog at


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