California Supreme Court Rules Advance Directives Do Not Cover Arbitration Agreements

Groups that filed amicus brief in lawsuit alleging elder abuse by nursing facility praise ruling
April 4, 2024

Compassion & Choices California, American Association For Justice and Public Justice logos

Compassion & Choices, the American Association for Justice, and Public Justice Thursday praised a California Supreme Court ruling last week that a patient’s advance directive appointing a healthcare agent to make their medical decisions does not authorize them to sign arbitration agreements on the patient’s behalf.

The groups, along with Consumer Attorneys of California, made the same conclusion in a friend-of-the-court brief they filed last June in a lawsuit, Logan v. Country Oaks Partners, brought by a nursing home resident, Charles Logan, after a California nursing home attempted to force arbitration in the case. Logan claimed that the Country Oaks Care Center in Pomona, Calif., engaged in elder abuse and neglect, negligence, and violated the California Residents’ Bill of Rights when he resided at the nursing home.

The California Supreme Court ruling (see pages 10-11) concluded:

“Each enumerated example of a health care decision in the Health Care Decisions Law and in Logan’s power of attorney directly pertains to who provides health care and what may be done to a principal’s body in health, sickness, or death. There is no catchall provision, no express delegation of power to make decisions that serve other purposes, and no express grant of power to waive access to the courts, agree to arbitration, or to otherwise negotiate about or accept any dispute resolution method.”

Logan appointed his nephew as his healthcare agent in his advance directive and he signed an optional arbitration agreement on Logan’s behalf after his admission to Country Oaks. Logan argued that his advance directive only authorized his nephew to make “healthcare decisions” on his behalf, and since arbitration is not a healthcare decision, he was not bound to it. The California Court of Appeal agreed with Logan in a decision in August 2022. Country Oaks appealed the decision to the California Supreme Court.

Jess Pezley, senior staff attorney, Compassion & Choices

Jess Pezley, senior staff attorney, Compassion & Choices

“We appreciate that this ruling respects the Legislature’s intent when it enacted the Health Care Decisions Law to preserve the personal autonomy of patients like Mr. Logan,” said Jess Pezley, senior staff attorney, Compassion & Choices. “The Court’s decision recognizes and respects an individual’s personal autonomy by ensuring their healthcare agents will only make the healthcare decisions they authorized them to make.”

“Giving up the constitutional right to bring claims in court isn’t a healthcare decision, and we are grateful that this ruling acknowledges this fact,” said Leah Nicholls, Director, Access to Justice Project, Public Justice. “This decision is consistent with the intent of the statute and with the conclusion reached by high courts in other states.”

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