West Virginia's prohibition against predispute agreements to arbitrate personal-injury or wrongful-death claims against nursing homes is a cate- gorical rule prohibiting arbitration of a particular type of claim, and that rule is contrary to the terms and coverage of the FAA.The West Virginia Supreme Court alternatively held that the arbitration agreement at issue was "unconscionable," a state law defense that is a valid exception to the Federal Arbitration Act.
The U.S. Supreme Court also vacated that alternative holding:
Here's why you may care - In California, the Supreme Court and the courts of appeal have fashioned special rules for enforcing arbitration of certain kinds of employment claims (arising from statute or public policy). Rather than banning agreements to arbitrate outright (as in the West Virginia case), the California courts have come up with a gauntlet of impediments, making it easy to hold arbitration agreements "unconscionable" based on criteria that would not apply to any other kind of contract. Thus, the California courts apply different rules to agreements to arbitrate certain kinds of claims, but not others.
in its discussion of the alternative holding, the state court found the arbitration clauses unconscionable in part because a predispute arbitration agreement that applies to claims of personal injury or wrongful death against nursing homes "clearly violates public policy." Id., at 91a.
On remand, the West Virginia court must consider whether, absent that general public policy, the arbitration clauses in Brown's case and Taylor's case are unenforce-able under state common law principles that are not specific to arbitration and pre-empted by the FAA
Given the Supreme Court's recent case law, these state law rules may not be long for this world. Of course, Congress could amend the Federal Arbitration Act or the Supreme Court's membership might change, in which case all bets are off.
This case is Marmet Healthcare Center v. Brown and the opinion is here.