While we have few documents about his case, those available to us show that it began with a complaint filed in the Independence County (Arkansas) Circuit Court on May 16, 2005, by a permanent guardian for an incapacitated person residing in the Batesville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a private facility evidently operated by Beverly Enterprises, Inc., Beverly Health and Rehabilitation Services, Inc., and Beverly Enterprises-Arkansas, Inc. The guardian was represented by private counsel. After amendment by the plaintiff on August 12, 2005, and September 13, 2005, plaintiff's complaint named the three corporations as defendants. The plaintiff sought class action status for the case, and alleged claims of medical malpractice, negligence, breach of contract, and violations of the Arkansas Residents' Rights Act ("ARRA"), codified at Ark. Code Ann. §§ 20-10-1201 - 20-10-1209 (Repl. 2005), as to the guardian's ward, individually, and claims of breach of contract and violations of the ARRA, on behalf of all residents of the Batesville nursing home between September 13, 2000, and June 30, 2004. The plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys' fees, interest, and costs. (Later, the guardian filed a third amended complaint that involved the same basic allegations but added as defendants all nursing home facilities in Arkansas owned and operated by the corporations and sought a class certification of all statewide residents of these facilities during certain specified dates; however, she filed a motion on July 19, 2006, to withdraw the statewide class allegations. We do not have information about the resolution of that motion.)
On March 10, 2006, the guardian moved for certification of the class of people and estates comprising the residents of the nursing home between September 13, 2000, and June 30, 2004. She also successfully moved to voluntarily dismiss without prejudice her claims against Beverly Enterprises, Inc., and Beverly Health and Rehabilitation Services, Inc. On May 1, 2006, the circuit court entered an order granting class certification as to the Batesville nursing home residents, with respect to the contract and statutory claims only. The circuit court specifically excluded claims for medical malpractice and personal injury from the class certification. On July 19, 2006, the guardian moved to sever her individual claims on behalf of her ward for medical malpractice and negligence from the class claims.
The remaining corporate defendant appealed to the Supreme Court of Arkansas from the class certification, claiming on appeal that class certification was inappropriate where the class claims, for statutory ARRA violations and for alleged breaches of individual admission agreements, would require resolution of each resident's liability, causation, and injury claims separately.
On June 21, 2007, that court affirmed the trial court's ruling. The state Supreme Court's opinion first avoided ruling on the plaintiff's argument that the defendant was precluded from contesting the class certification, saying that the plaintiff had not properly preserved the argument for appeal, since she had not clearly raised it in the trial court nor addressed there the criteria concerning issue preclusion. (The plaintiff's claim relied upon the assertion that the defendant had conceded to certification of a class action for settlement purposes in a similar, separate case in Bradley County (Arkansas) Circuit Court.)
The court then assessed the class certification against the state's applicable rule of civil procedure. The factors applicable under that rule favored the trial court's ruling, especially since, according to the state's Supreme Court, one main and preliminary overarching issue existed in this case, which was whether the Batesville nursing facility was chronically understaffed so as to violate the residents' statutory and contractual rights. The circuit court recognized that once the predominating staffing-related issues were resolved, the class could be decertified, if necessary, to determine individual restitution and damage issues for class members for the alleged breach-of-contract and statutory violations. In so ruling, the court was within its' discretion, according to the Supreme Court. The claims of alleged under-staffing predominated over individual questions, where all class members' claims relied on the same resident admission agreement and the ARRA. Moreover, use of a class action was a superior method to fairly and efficiently resolve the claims of the class, which numbered nearly 500 residents and estates, and the guardian would provide adequate representation of the class' interests, according to the appellate court.
The Arkansas Supreme Court distinguished the plaintiff's case from a ruling in another jurisdiction that had denied class action status in a nursing home conditions case, saying that that court used a different standard of analysis and that case involved negligence claims for each class member. Here, the circuit court specifically excluded claims for medical malpractice and personal injury. The class had been certified only for purposes of bringing statutory and contractual claims, not personal-injury claims. Furthermore, individual damages incurred by each class member would only be relevant during the second phase of this litigation, if necessary, and not during the liability phase. Beverly Enterprises-Arkansas, Inc. v. Thomas, ---S.W.3d---, 370 Ark. 310, 2007 WL 1775708 (June 21, 2007) (Associate Justice Robert L. Brown).
We currently have no additional information about activity in this case.Mike Fagan - 06/19/2008