Can a State employee waive a citizen’s constitutional right to a jury trial when acting as a legal guardian? Arkansas says no.
Johnathan Mitchell, an agent of the state’s adult protective services program, gained emergency custody of Maylissia Holliman in 2010. After becoming Holliman’s custodian, Mitchell admitted her to Courtyard Gardens Health and Rehabilitation and signed the facility’s admission paperwork and arbitration agreement.
The facility was subsequently sued by Patricia Ann Sheffield on behalf of the Estate of Holliman , who claimed the facility’s neglect, negligence, and inadequate staffing levels led to Holliman’s injuries and death. Holliman died at Courtyard in 2014.
The facility filed a joint motion to dismiss the suit and compel arbitration. That motion was dismissed by a trial court, which ruled that Mitchell didn’t have the authority to sign Holliman’s arbitration agreement.
In its Order the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with the lower court, stating that “if an agent is merely the guardian of the person, he has no authority to bind the ward’s property.”
“The Legislature intended for custodians to play a more limited role than guardians,” wrote Judge Rhonda Wood, an associate justice of the court. “The main purpose of a custodian is to ensure that the ward is safe and cared for appropriately and that the ward’s assets are secure.”
Wood ruled that Mitchell lacked the authority needed to make decisions concerning Holliman’s estate and could not bind her to arbitration, rendering the arbitration agreement with Courtyard invalid.