Washington Supreme Court Finds Hospital Waived Its Right to Arbitration When It Chose to Litigate for Nine Months

Carlton Fields
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Carlton Fields

The Supreme Court of Washington recently affirmed the denial of Evergreen Hospital Medical Center’s motion to compel arbitration on the grounds that Evergreen waived its right to compel arbitration of claims arising under a collective bargaining agreement between Evergreen and the Washington State Nurses Association governing nurse employment.

A member employee brought this putative class action against her employer, Evergreen, alleging that Evergreen failed to give required rest and meal breaks. After nine months of litigation and the addition of a second named plaintiff, Evergreen moved to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. Evergreen petitioned to the Supreme Court of Washington, which granted review.

The court analyzed three factors to determine whether Evergreen waived its right to arbitration: (1) knowledge of an existing right to compel arbitration; (2) acts inconsistent with that right; and (3) prejudice.

As to the first factor, the court found there was no dispute that Evergreen believed it had an existing right to arbitrate. As to the second factor, the court found that through its conduct, Evergreen chose to litigate for approximately nine months rather than arbitrate, and thus behaved inconsistently with a party seeking to arbitrate. The court noted that the parties engaged in discovery and litigation for approximately nine months without seeking mediation or awaiting a decision from the court in another case and that Evergreen did not move to compel until the third iteration of the complaint even though the complaint had almost identical claims throughout.

As to the third factor, the court found that granting the motion to compel arbitration this late in litigation would cause severe prejudice to the plaintiffs, who had already incurred more than $140,000 in legal fees (from discovery, sending the notice of the class action to all the nurses, and securing expert witnesses), and would improperly allow Evergreen to relitigate class certification on which it lost.

Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals on the ground that Evergreen waived the right to compel arbitration, and remanded to the superior court for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion.

Lee v. Evergreen Hospital Medical Center, No. 97201-0 (Wash. June 4, 2020).

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