Ultimately, the court maintained that "Section 5 [of the FAA] does not permit a district court to circumvent the parties' designation of an exclusive arbitration forum." (See also Smith Barney v. Critical Health Systems, 212 F.3d 858, 862 (4th Cir. 2000) (holding that "where the parties have agreed explicitly to settle their disputes before particular arbitration fora, that agreement must control. To hold otherwise would require us to impose a strained construction on a straightforward agreement").)
The analyses of the Stewart court and Ranzy court are strikingly similar. Both cases provide that an agreement's designation of a specific forum, the use of mandatory language and the absence of any provision allowing for the selection of an alternate forum will most likely render an arbitration agreement unenforceable where the designated forum is unavailable. Although the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal in the Stewart case on the issue of whether the forum choice is integral to an agreement, the matter is no longer pending before the court. Until either the Pennsylvania Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court clarifies the issue, Stewart remains binding authority on Pennsylvania courts, and parties with either post-2003, pre-injury nursing home arbitration agreements designating the AAA or post-2009 agreements designating the NAF will most likely have an uphill battle in enforcing those agreements.
Theresa L. Concepcion is a member of the commercial litigation and medical and personal injury services practice groups at Archer & Greiner in Philadelphia. She primarily focuses her practice on litigating commercial disputes and representing plaintiffs in complex personal injury litigation in a variety of areas, including products liability and medical malpractice. She can be reached at email@example.com or at 215-246-3171.