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Bryant v. King

After Robert E. King sustained an injury during a routine hernia surgery, he and his wife filed a medical malpractice suit against his physician, Dr. Michael S. Bryant, and Bryant’s medical practice, Village Surgical Associates, P.A., in a North Carolina trial court.  Unbeknownst to King, however, when completing intake paperwork during an initial consultation, he had signed a document purporting to waive his right to file a lawsuit in connection with his treatment and requiring all claims to go to binding arbitration before a panel composed in part, and potentially in full, of physicians.  After six years of litigation at all levels of the North Carolina court system, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable under state-law fiduciary principles.  The court held that, on the facts of this case, Bryant and Village Surgical owed a fiduciary duty to King and that they had breached this duty by obscuring a potentially self-serving, obscurely worded document that would substantially affect King’s legal rights within a stack of unrelated documents, without explaining the arbitration agreement or drawing it to King’s attention.  Bryant and Village Surgical filed a petition for certiorari review in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the state court’s application of state-law fiduciary principles to the facts of this case violated the Federal Arbitration Act by supposedly discriminating against arbitration.  Public Citizen Litigation Group, acting as cocounsel for respondents, prepared and filed a brief opposing the petition. The Supreme Court denied the petition.