United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
VÁZQUEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiffs Motion
to Compel Arbitration [Doc. 4]. The Court, having considered
the motion, briefs, and relevant law, and being otherwise
fully informed, finds that the Motion is well-taken and will
Life Care Centers of America, Inc. ("LCCA") is the
management company of Life Care Center of Farmington
("Life Care Center") where the decedent, Fannie
Deal, resided. Doc. 4 at 1. On May 13, 2015, Ms. Deal was
admitted as a resident to the Life Care Center and placed
under Plaintiffs care. Doc. 4-5 at ¶ 21. In connection
with her admission to the Life Care Center, Ms. Deal's
daughter, Defendant Wisdoma Lifewarrior, signed a Resident
Admission Agreement on behalf of Ms. Deal as her "legal
representative." Doc. 4-3. The Resident Admission
Agreement incorporates "Facility Inserts,"
including a Voluntary Agreement for Arbitration. Id.
The Voluntary Agreement for Arbitration ("Arbitration
Agreement"), which Ms. Lifewarrior also signed on May
13, 2015, as Ms. Deal's "legal representative,"
provides that it is an agreement "to arbitrate any
dispute that might arise between Fannie Deal and LCC of
Farmington." Doc. 4-2. The Arbitration Agreement further
The parties agree that they shall submit to binding
arbitration all disputes against each other and their agents,
affiliates, governing bodies and employees arising out of or
in any way related or connected to the Resident's stay
and care provided at the Facility, including but not limited
to any disputes concerning alleged personal injury to the
Resident caused by improper or inadequate care, including
allegations of medical malpractice; any disputes concerning
whether any statutory provisions relating to the
Resident's rights under New Mexico law were violated; and
any other dispute under New Mexico or federal law based on
contract, tort, or statute.
Deal was a resident of the Life Care Center until her death
on January 12, 2016. Doc. 4-5 at ¶ 21. After Ms.
Deal's death, Defendants Loretta D. Harrison and Wisdoma
Lifewarrior, as co-personal representatives of Ms. Deal's
estate, brought a wrongful death action against Plaintiff in
the Eleventh Judicial District Court, San Juan County, New
Mexico ("State Court Action"). Id. In the
State Court Action, Defendants allege that Ms. Deal died
because of Plaintiffs inadequate care and treatment, and
bring claims of wrongful death, negligence, negligence per
se, negligent or intentional representations, violation of
the New Mexico Unfair Trade Practices Act ("UPA"),
and punitive damages. Id., Ex. 5.
February 23, 2018, Plaintiff commenced the instant action in
this Court by filing a Complaint to Compel Arbitration. Doc.
1. In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks a judgment ordering
Defendants to submit their claims against Plaintiff to
arbitration. On February 26, 2018, Plaintiff filed the
instant Motion to Compel Arbitration. Defendants oppose the
Section 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"),
"[a] party aggrieved by the alleged failure, neglect, or
refusal of another to arbitrate under a written agreement for
arbitration may petition any United States district court [.
. .] for an order directing that such arbitration proceed in
the manner provided for in such agreement." 9 U.S.C.
§ 4. The FAA provides that a written agreement requiring
arbitration of controversies arising out of a contract
"evidencing a transaction involving commerce [. . .]
shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such
grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of
any contract." 9 U.S.C. § 2. Section 2 of the FAA
creates a substantive rule applicable in state as well as
federal courts. Southland Corp. v. Keating, 465 U.S.
1, 16 (1984).
enacting the FAA, "Congress intended to foreclose state
legislative attempts to undercut the enforceability of
arbitration agreements." Perry v. Thomas, 482
U.S. 483, 489 (1987) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). There is a clear federal policy of requiring
arbitration unless the agreement to arbitrate is not part of
a contract evidencing (1) interstate commerce or (2) is
revocable upon such grounds as exist at law or (3) in equity
for the revocation of any contract. See 9 U.S.C.
§ 2. Further, the Supreme Court has emphasized the
"fundamental principle that arbitration is a matter of
contract[.]" AT&T Mobility LLC v.
Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333, 339 (2011) (internal citation
and quotation marks omitted). "In line with these
principles, courts must place arbitration agreements on an
equal footing with other contracts, [. . .] and enforce them
according to their terms." Id. (internal
citation and quotation marks omitted).
FAA, however, "was not enacted to force parties to
arbitrate in the absence of an agreement." Avedon
Eng'g, Inc. v. Seatex, 126 F.3d 1279, 1286 (10th
Cir. 1997). "Congress' concern was to enforce
private agreements into which parties had entered."
Id. (citations and internal quotation marks
"[t]he existence of an agreement to arbitrate is a
threshold matter which must be established before the FAA can
be invoked." Id. at 1287 (citation omitted).
The Court looks "to state law principles of contract
formation to tell us whether an agreement to arbitrate has
been reached." Id. (citation omitted). It is
the party seeking judicial enforcement of an arbitration
agreement who bears the burden of persuasion. THI of New
Mexico at Hobbs Center, LLC v. Patton, Civ. No. 11-537
(LH/CG), 2012 WL 112216, *6 (D.N.M. Jan. 3, 2012) (citation
Section 4 of the FAA, Plaintiff moves to compel Defendants to
arbitrate their claims. Defendants do not dispute that the
Arbitration Agreement falls within the scope of the FAA or
that their claims in the State Court Action fall within the
scope of the Arbitration Agreement, but nonetheless argue
that they should not be compelled to arbitrate their claims.
Specifically, Defendants argue that the Court should abstain
from reaching a decision, that Ms. Lifewarrior was not
authorized to bind Ms. Deal to the Arbitration Agreement, and
that the Arbitration Agreement is unenforceable.
The Court will not Abstain from Exercising
for the first time in their Supplemental Memorandum in
Response to Plaintiffs Motion to Compel Arbitration, [Doc.
25], which the Court considers a reply, argue that, under the
doctrine set forth in Colorado River Water Conservation
District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976), the
Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction over this
case. The Court notes that it was improper for Defendants to
raise this new argument in their Supplemental Memorandum.
Plaintiff, however, filed, and the Court granted, Plaintiffs
Unopposed Motion for Leave to File Supplemental Reply in
Support of its Motion to Compel Arbitration, attaching a
Supplemental Reply to the Motion [Doc. 26]. Because
Plaintiffs Supplemental Reply responds to Defendants'
abstention argument, Plaintiff is not prejudiced by the
Court's consideration of the abstention argument.
Colorado River, the Supreme Court announced an
abstention doctrine under which a federal court, for reasons
of "wise judicial administration," may stay or
dismiss a federal suit pending resolution of a parallel state
court proceeding. 424 U.S. at 817. The doctrine is governed
by the general principle that "[a]bstention from the
exercise of federal jurisdiction is the exception not the
rule[.]" Id. at 813. Declining to exercise
jurisdiction based on the Colorado River doctrine is
appropriate only in "exceptional" circumstances.
Id. at 818. Accordingly, this Court's "task
... is not to find some substantial reason for the exercise
of federal jurisdiction by the federal court; rather, the
task is to ascertain whether there exist exceptional
circumstances, the clearest of ...