The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reversed a district court ruling and ordered a personal injury negligence suit about care at a Brookdale Senior Living assisted living and memory care community to be sent to arbitration.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision to enforce arbitration, as we have always maintained arbitration is a quicker mechanism for resolution among both parties,” Heather Hunter, a senior public relations specialist at Brookdale, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Brookdale makes it a priority to treat all residents in a manner that provides for their needs with compassion, respect and integrity.”

Joan M. McKenna and her daughter, Kara Biller, sued Brookdale in Rhode Island state court for negligence and breach of contract for allegedly failing to give McKenna her thyroid medication, which they said led to her thyroid levels “spiraling out of control” and hospitalization. 

McKenna moved into Brookdale’s Greenwich Bay community in March 2016, and she and Biller signed a residency agreement that contained an arbitration clause. Although her family handled her medication at first, in July 2016, Brookdale agreed to administer her medication, including her thyroid medication, “but they didn’t follow through,” the lawsuit stated.

According to the suit, Brookdale did not provide McKenna with her thyroid medication for more than a year (July 2106 to August 2017). In July 2017, McKenna transferred from the East Greenwich, RI, community’s assisted living unit to its memory care unit. A month later, she was hospitalized, and she and her family first learned she had not been taking her thyroid medication. Shortly after she left the hospital, she moved out of the Brookdale community.

McKenna and Biller argued that the arbitration agreement was not in effect because McKenna relocated to a new unit and that the “forced arbitration provision” is “unconscionable.” Brookdale argued that the termination clause in the residency agreement was not triggered because McKenna merely received different services in the same community.

Brookdale sought to have the case sent to arbitration, but a district court denied the motion to compel arbitration, concluding that there was no signed agreement containing an arbitration clause and that the March 2016 agreement was terminated when McKenna moved to the memory care unit.

The appellate court sided with Brookdale, stating “it was the arbitrator’s job — the district court’s — to decide when the contract terminated,” and the arbitration clause “makes clear interpretive disputes like that must go to the arbitrator.”

On appeal, Brookdale argued that the Federal Arbitration Act required the district court to send the case to arbitration, saying it was the arbitrator’s job to decide when the residency agreement terminated. The district court’s order denying arbitration was reversed, and the case was remanded back to the district court with instructions to “compel arbitration over all disputes remaining in this case.”

Brookdale no longer operates the community.