State-owned nursing home asks Supreme Court to limit patients’ right to sue

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Health & Hospital Corp. v. Talevski, which poses the question whether people who depend on initiatives that are funded in part by the federal government — such as Medicaid and programs that provide services for nutrition, housing and disabilities — can states when their rights are violated. Here is how the plaintiff's brief sums up the case:

Respondent Gorgi Talevski was a resident of Valparaiso Care and Rehabilitation (VCR), a government nursing home in Valparaiso, Indiana. He had dementia. VCR found caring for him difficult, so it administered psychotropic drugs to restrain him, then involuntarily transferred him to another facility. The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA) specifies that nursing homes in the Medicaid program “must protect” “the right” of “each resident” to be “free from … chemical restraints imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience,” 42 U.S.C. § 1396r(c)(1)(A)(ii), and “must not transfer or discharge the resident” without notice and consent except in narrow circumstances not present here, § 1396r(c)(2)(A). The Civil Rights Act of 1871 provides a cause of action against any person who, under color of state law, deprives another of “any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” § 1983. Respondent’s wife, his guardian, sued VCR and its affiliates under § 1983 on his behalf for violating his FNHRA rights. The questions presented are:

    1. Whether this Court should overrule a half-century of precedent that has consistently interpreted § 1983 as capable of securing “rights” under “laws” enacted pursuant to the Spending Clause.
    2. Whether the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act’s rights against chemical restraint and improper discharge and transfer are federal rights that § 1983 protects.

The full docket, with links to all the briefs, is here.

An NPR story, about the case, "A SCOTUS nursing home case could limit the rights of millions of patients," is here.

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