June 08, 2023

Supreme Court Decides Health & Hospital Corp. of Marion Cty. v. Talevski

On June 8, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Health & Hospital Corp. of Marion Cty. v. Talevski, No. 21-806, holding that certain rights contained in the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA) can be enforced through a private right of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 

The FNHRA requires nursing homes receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding to “protect and promote the rights of each resident” as a condition of receiving funds. Among those rights are that facilities cannot impose physical or chemical restraints as disciplinary or convenience methods not required to treat medical symptoms. Facilities must also allow a resident to remain at a facility, not transferring or discharging except for specific reasons. 

In 2016, Gorgi Talevski’s family filed a lawsuit claiming that the government facility where Taleveski was staying — owned by Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County (HHC) — violated Talevski’s FNHRA rights. Because the FNHRA does not contain a private right of action, however, Talevski filed his suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 authorizes private suits against state and local governments who deprive the plaintiff of rights “secured by the Constitution and laws.” The district court granted HHC’s motion to dismiss — holding that Talevski could not enforce the FNHRA through Section 1983 — but the Seventh Circuit reversed. 

The Supreme Court agreed with the Seventh Circuit and held that Talevski’s FNHRA lawsuit could proceed under Section 1983. At the outset, HHC argued that the Court should narrow or overrule its precedents in this area, which permit plaintiffs to use Section 1983 to infer private rights of action across a broad swath of federal statutes involving the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution. HHC contended that these precedents lacked historical support and were out-of-step with recent Court jurisprudence disfavoring the implication of private rights of action. The Court, however, rejected these arguments, holding that its Section 1983 private-right-of-action precedents are “firmly rooted” in both Section 1983’s text and common-law principles. 

With that threshold question resolved, the Court then proceeded to apply its precedent to the FNHRA rights at issue. Under its precedent, the Court emphasized, Section 1983 may “presumptively” be used to enforce “unambiguous” federal statutory rights, “unless a private right of action under § 1983 would thwart any enforcement mechanism that the rights-protecting statute contains for protection of the rights it has created.” Because the FNHRA rights at issue were “unambiguous,” and because there was no “incompatibility” between a private right of action under Section 1983 and the FNHRA’s administrative enforcement mechanisms, Talevski’s suit could proceed. 

Justice Jackson delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett joined. Justice Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion. Justice Barrett filed a concurring opinion, in which Chief Justice Roberts joined. Justices Thomas and Alito filed dissenting opinions. 

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