Supreme Court Holds Some Provisions Of Federal Nursing Home Reform Act Are Privately Enforceable Under 42 U.S.C. '1983

Published date28 July 2023
Subject MatterLitigation, Mediation & Arbitration, Food, Drugs, Healthcare, Life Sciences, Trials & Appeals & Compensation
Law FirmSquire Patton Boggs LLP
AuthorMr Robert D. Nauman

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County v. Talevski, holding that certain provisions of the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA) confer rights that are enforceable by individuals under 42 U.S.C. '1983. The case arises over HHC's alleged treatment of a resident, Gorgi Talevski. Mr. Talevski's family filed suit against HHC claiming that HHC's treatment of Mr. Talevski violated certain rights guaranteed to him under the FNHRA, specifically the right to be free from unnecessary chemical restraints and certain discharge rights. The question before the Court was whether these FNHRA provisions conferred individual rights which may be privately enforced under '1983, or whether the fact that the FNHRA was enacted pursuant to Congress's spending power precluded such action.

The Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit's ruling holding that the unnecessary restraint and predischarge-notice provisions of the FNHRA create individual rights and are enforceable under '1983. Health & Hosp. Corp. of Marion Cnty. v. Talevski, 599 U.S. _____ (2023). The Court rejected HHC's argument that Talevski could not invoke '1983 because Congress enacted the FNHRA pursuant to its spending power. HHC argued that the FNHRA is essentially a contract between the federal government and state governments and Talevski should not be able to interfere as a third-party beneficiary. Id. at 8. The majority disagreed, holding that HHC's assertion that third-party beneficiaries cannot sue to enforce contractual obligations is not a "firmly rooted" common law principle and causes of action under '1983 have always been considered tort claims. Id. at 9.

Concluding that the FNHRA can create '1983-enforceable rights, the Court went on to consider whether the FNHRA provisions at issue actually do confer such rights. For federal statutes to create '1983-enforceable rights, the statute must "unambiguously confer individual federal rights." Id. at 11. To satisfy the corresponding test, it must be determined that 'Congress intended to create a federal right' for the identified class, not merely that the plaintiffs fall 'within the general zone of interest that the statute intended to protect.'" Id. at 14. (quoting Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 280, 122 S.Ct. 2268, 153 L.Ed.2d 3090). The Court found the unnecessary-restraint and predischarge-notice provisions of the FNHRA satisfy this condition. Both provisions fall under "[r]equirements...

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