U.S. News reported that the Arkansas Supreme Court has allowed a class action on understaffing in nursing homes to proceed. ¬†The state Supreme Court upheld a Pulaski County judge’s decision granting class-action status in all aspects of the case except negligence.

Andrew Phillips sued Michael Morton and Robinson Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in 2015, following the death of his mother, Dorothy Phillips, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The lawsuit alleges understaffing at Defendants’ nursing home caused her decline and wrongful death. ¬†Phillips filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Robinson Nursing and Rehabilitation Center LLC, Central Arkansas Nursing Centers Inc., Nursing Consultants Inc. and Morton in 2015 over the death of Dorothy Phillips, who lived in the nursing home from Aug. 19, 2013, until her death Feb. 22, 2014.

The Supreme Court rejected the nursing home’s arguments that Phillips failed to prove some essential elements behind the class-action status on other points. The high court ordered the case back to Pulaski County with instructions to decertify the class solely on the negligence claim.

“Negligence requires an individual analysis of each plaintiff’s specific allegations,” Justice Karen Baker wrote. “The commonality requirement is clearly satisfied because Robinson’s act of understaffing, independent of any action by Phillips, establishes a common question relating to the entire class.”

After citing case law, Baker wrote, “Accordingly … as to the breach of contract, [the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act], and unjust-enrichment claims, we hold that the circuit court correctly found that the commonality and predominance requirements of Rule 23 had been met.”

Phillips’ attorneys had asked Justice Rhonda Wood to recuse from the case, but she declined. She ended up siding with Phillips’ attorneys on all class-action issues except for the negligence one.

The attorneys had cited campaign contributions Wood received from Morton and his businesses and noted that her name had come up in connection with an investigation involving Morton, lobbyist Gilbert Baker and ousted Circuit Judge Michael Maggio.

Maggio has pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge but has appealed his conviction. Baker and Morton have not been charged with a crime. Maggio implicated them, though not by name, in his plea agreement. No one has accused Wood of criminal wrongdoing.


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