Deborah S., Arthur, Wilner, Alan M. (Retired, Specially
NorthPoint, LLC, filed a petition to compel Valerie Peeler to
arbitrate a wrongful death claim that Ms. Peeler had asserted
in a separate lawsuit. FutureCare contended that Ms. Peeler
should be required to arbitrate her wrongful death claim,
because the decedent, Ms. Peeler's mother, had signed an
arbitration agreement upon being admitted to a FutureCare
nursing facility. The circuit court denied FutureCare's
petition to compel arbitration.
appealed. It presents an issue that both parties characterize
as a matter of first impression in Maryland: "Whether
wrongful death beneficiaries are bound by a valid and
enforceable agreement signed by their decedent."
own motion, this Court raised the issue of whether a party
has the right to appeal from an order denying a petition to
compel arbitration when, as in this case, it is brought as an
independent action, and not as a motion in the existing
action commenced by the person whom the party seeks to compel
threshold issue, we hold that an order denying an
independent, freestanding petition to compel arbitration is a
final judgment from which the aggrieved party has the right
to appeal. On the merits, we hold that a decedent's
arbitration agreement ordinarily does not bind the
decedent's family members to arbitrate a claim under the
Maryland wrongful death statute. Because the circuit court
correctly refused to compel arbitration, we affirm the
and Procedural Background
The Arbitration Agreement Between FutureCare and
February 2012, Phyllis Butz was admitted as a resident at the
FutureCare NorthPoint skilled nursing facility in Baltimore
County. At the time of her admission, Mrs. Butz executed a
written agreement to resolve a broad range of potential
controversies by binding arbitration pursuant to the Maryland
Uniform Arbitration Act (MUAA). The scope of the agreement
extended to "any action, dispute, claim or controversy
of any kind . . . now existing or hereafter arising between
the parties in any way arising out of, pertaining to or in
connection with or relating to" the provision of
services by FutureCare, acts or omissions of FutureCare's
agents, as well as "any survival action or wrongful
section of the agreement stated it would "inure to the
direct benefit of and bind the parties and their respective
personal representatives, heirs, successors and assigns,
including . . . all persons whose claims derive through, or
on behalf of, the Resident, including those of any parent,
spouse, child, guardian, executor, administrator, legal
representative, or heir of the Resident, as well as any
survivor or wrongful death claim [sic] . . . ."
The agreement further stated that the parties were "each
relinquishing and waiving their right under applicable law to
have any claim decided in a court of law before a judge
and/or a jury."
she was a resident at the facility, Mrs. Butz received
medical care from FutureCare employees. Mrs. Butz died on
March 24, 2012. She was survived by her daughter, Ms. Peeler.
pre-litigation discussions, FutureCare informed Ms. Peeler of
the arbitration agreement that Mrs. Butz had signed. Ms.
Peeler declined FutureCare's request to resolve claims
arising from her mother's death through arbitration.
Peeler's Wrongful Death Action Against
August 1, 2014, Ms. Peeler filed a complaint against
FutureCare in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. The
action was designated as Valerie Peeler v. 1046 North
Point, LLC, Case No. 03-C-14-8301.
Peeler's complaint contained a single count for wrongful
death as a result of medical malpractice. Ms. Peeler sought
to recover damages under Maryland's wrongful death
statute for the mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering,
and loss of society, comfort, advice, and guidance that she
claimed to have experienced as a result of her mother's
death. She requested a jury trial.
affirmative defense, FutureCare asserted that Ms.
Peeler's wrongful death claim was "subject to an
enforceable binding arbitration agreement[.]" FutureCare
moved to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of a
separate petition to compel arbitration.
FutureCare's Separate Petition to Compel
August 25, 2014, FutureCare commenced a separate and
independent action in the circuit court by filing a petition
for an order to arbitrate pursuant to Md. Code (1974, 2013
Repl. Vol.), § 3-207 of the Courts and Judicial
Proceedings Article ("CJP"). This action,
FutureCare North Point, LLC v. Valerie Peeler, was
assigned case number 03-C-14-9157.
petition, FutureCare asserted that it had entered into a
valid and enforceable arbitration agreement with the
decedent, Mrs. Butz. FutureCare asked the court to
"enforce the parties' Arbitration Agreement and
[o]rder [Ms. Peeler] to arbitrate the medical negligence
claim against [FutureCare]."
Peeler opposed the petition. She denied the existence of an
agreement between herself and FutureCare. She asserted that
she had never signed the agreement, had never intended to be
bound by the agreement, had never given her mother authority
to enter an agreement on her behalf, was not a third-party
beneficiary of the agreement, and had never attempted to
enforce any of its provisions.
own motion, the court consolidated the wrongful death action
with the action to compel arbitration. Nonetheless, the court
maintained separate files for the two actions.
Denial of the Petition to Compel Arbitration
January 13, 2015, the circuit court held a hearing in the
two, consolidated cases to determine whether Ms. Peeler
should be compelled to arbitrate. At the hearing, the court
rejected the argument that Ms. Peeler was bound by Mrs.
Butz's agreement to arbitrate. On that basis, the court
announced that the "Petition for Order of Arbitration
requested clarification about whether the court intended to
issue a final order in its freestanding action to compel
arbitration. The hearing judge concluded that the two actions
had been consolidated for a "limited purpose, " but
that the cases were "not joined for the merits" and
ultimately would "be treated separately[.]"
the hearing, the judge signed an order stating that
FutureCare's petition to compel arbitration was denied
and that that action was no longer consolidated with the tort
litigation in Case No. 03-C-14-8301. The order included
language, which had been drafted by FutureCare, stating that
the order would "constitute a final, appealable order as
to the issue of arbitration pursuant to Maryland Rule
2-602(b) in case No. 03-C-14-9157."
January 27, 2015, the clerk docketed the order in
FutureCare's freestanding action to compel arbitration. A
week later, FutureCare filed a notice of appeal from that
FutureCare moved to stay proceedings in Ms. Peeler's
wrongful death case pending the outcome of its appeal in the
other case. The court granted that motion.
in a case involving one of the narrow exceptions under CJP
§ 12-303, the collateral order doctrine, or Rule
2-602(b), a party may appeal only from a final judgment on
the merits. See, e.g., Addison v.
Lochearn Nursing Home, LLC, 411 Md. 251, 273 (2009); CJP
§ 12-301. An appellate court has the power to dismiss an
appeal on its own motion if the appeal is not allowed by rule
or by other law. See Md. Rule 8-602(a)(1). This
Court must resolve any serious question as to its
jurisdiction even if the parties have overlooked the issue or
would prefer an immediate appellate determination. See,
e.g., Baltimore Cnty. v. Baltimore Cnty. Fraternal
Order of Police Lodge No. 4, 439 Md. 547, 561-62 (2014);
Zilichikhis v. Montgomery Cnty., 223 Md.App. 158,
172, cert. denied, 444 Md. 641 (2015).
the parties submitted their appellate briefs, this Court
ordered them to show cause in writing why the appeal
"should not be dismissed as an impermissible
interlocutory appeal" and to address "whether the
circuit court's January 27, 2015 order complied with both
the procedure and the substance of Rule 2-602(b)[.]" In
pertinent part, that Rule provides: "If the court
expressly determines in a written order that there is no just
reason for delay, it may direct in the order the entry of a
final judgment . . . as to one or more but fewer than all of
the claims or parties[.]" Md. Rule 2-602(b)(1).
responded that the appeal should not be dismissed because the
order denying the petition to compel was not an interlocutory
order in Ms. Peeler's wrongful death case, but rather the
final judgment in FutureCare's separate, freestanding
action under the MUAA. According to FutureCare, the order had
mentioned Rule 2-602(b) only "to avoid any shadow of
doubt" about whether the court intended to render a
final decision. Ms. Peeler did not dispute the contention
that FutureCare had the right to appeal from the order
denying the MUAA petition.
conclude that, although Rule 2-602(b) does not apply in this
case, the order was nevertheless appealable under CJP §
12-301 as the final judgment entered in a civil case.
party may appeal from a final judgment entered in a civil or
criminal case by a circuit court." CJP § 12-301. An
order of the circuit court is a final judgment if it has
three attributes: "(1) it must be intended by the court
as an unqualified, final disposition of the matter in
controversy, (2) unless the court acts pursuant to Maryland
Rule 2-602(b) to direct the entry of a final judgment as to
less than all of the claims or all of the parties, it must
adjudicate or complete the adjudication of all claims against
all parties; (3) it must be set forth and recorded in
accordance with Rule 2-601." Metro Maint. Sys.
South, Inc. v. Milburn, 442 Md. 289, 298 (2015) (citing
Rohrbeck v. Rohrbeck, 318 Md. 28, 41 (1989)). In
addition, each judgment must be set forth on a separate
document signed by the judge or clerk. See Md. Rule
2-601(a); Hiob v. Progressive American Ins. Co., 440
Md. 466, 478-79 (2014).
order that denied FutureCare's freestanding petition to
compel arbitration easily satisfies most of the elements of a
final judgment. The judge signed a document that denied all
relief in unqualified terms, and the clerk memorialized the
denial of relief in a proper docket entry. The document,
consistent with the oral comments at the hearing, expressed
the judge's subjective intention that the order would
"constitute a final, appealable order as to the issue of
arbitration[.]" The remaining question is whether the
court's ruling was sufficiently final in its nature so
that it could have been entered as a final
of dicta, the Court of Appeals has commented that "[a]n
order denying a claim that arbitration should be compelled in
an action in which that is the sole claim asserted is an
appealable judgment." Hartford Accident & Indem.
Co. v. Scarlett Harbor Assocs. Ltd. P'ship,
346 Md. 122, 126 n.5 (1997) (citing Litton Bionetics,
Inc. v. Glen Constr. Co., 292 Md. 34, 41-42
(1981)). This Court, also in dicta, has similarly observed
[B]y statute, a petition to compel arbitration may properly
be filed as a freestanding action against the party refusing
to submit the dispute to arbitration. In that situation, a
court's order deciding such an action disposes of the
action in its entirety, regardless of whether the order
grants or denies the petition. Once the court orders
arbitration, or denies it, there is nothing left for it to
do. Accordingly, the court's order is a final judgment
under [C]P §] 12-301.
NRT Mid-Atlantic, Inc. v. Innovative Props., Inc.,
144 Md.App. 263, 277 (2002) (citation omitted); see All
State Home Mortg., Inc. v. Daniel, 187 Md.App. 166, 178,
cert. denied, 410 Md. 560 (2009); Essex Corp. v.
Susan Katharine Tate Burrowbridge, LLC, 178 Md.App. 17,
30 (2008); Rourke v. Amchem Prods., Inc., 153
Md.App. 91, 107 (2003), aff'd, 384 Md. 329
(2004); Commonwealth Equity Servs., Inc. v. Messick,
152 Md.App. 381, 392, cert. denied, 378 Md. 614
Maryland appellate decisions are any indication, most
litigants do not attempt to compel another party to arbitrate
by filing a separate, independent, and freestanding petition
to compel as FutureCare did in this case, but by filing a
motion to compel in an existing action commenced by the party
who is allegedly required to arbitrate. In a series of
decisions between 2009 and 2013, the Court of Appeals held
that when a court denies a motion to compel in an existing
action commenced by the person who is ...