Pa. Supreme Court Rules That Federal Arbitration Act Preempts Pa.R.Civ.P. 2013(3), Permitting Courts To Enforce Arbitration Agreements in Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

On Wednesday, September 28, 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. §2, preempts Pa.R.Civ.P. 2013(e), which requires consolidation of survival and wrongful death actions for trial. Consequently, the Court held that plaintiffs’ wrongful death and survival actions must be bifurcated, and that the survival action must proceed to arbitration under the FAA.
The decision in Taylor v. Extendicare addresses the interaction between the FAA and arbitration agreements, but declines to apply the FAA’s “savings clause,” which permits courts to refuse to enforce agreements to arbitrate under state laws that “arose to govern issues concerning the validity, revocability, and enforceability of contracts generally.” In reversing the Superior Court and the trial court, the majority, in an Opinion by Justice Wecht, noted that the U.S. “Supreme Court has limited the role of state courts to regulating contracts to arbitrate under general contract law principles in accord with the savings clause, under which it has held that only ‘generally applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, duress, or unconscionability, may be applied to invalidate arbitration agreements without contravening [the FAA].’” Justices Saylor, Baer and Dougherty joined in the opinion, with Chief Justice Saylor filing a concurring opinion in which Justice Baer joined.
Justice Donohue filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Todd joined. Justice Donohue noted that it was “incorrect to focus the analysis on the dispensability of Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 213(e) under the pressure of the herculean FAA. Instead, the pinpoint question [was] whether the FAA can divest wrongful death heirs of their statutorily created right to bring a wrongful death action in this Commonwealth. Because 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8301 (the “Wrongful Death Act”) preconditions the maintenance of heirs’ claims on their joinder with any claim pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8302 (the “Survival Act”), severance defeats the heirs’ right to recover under the statutorily created cause of action. Although the Majority may be correct in its apocalyptic recitation of existing United States Supreme Court precedent, the FAA does not and cannot deprive a citizen of this Commonwealth of the right to pursue a cause of action.”