Health and Hospital Corp. v. Talevski

Health and Hospital Corp. v. Talevski

Public Justice filed an amicus brief on behalf of Statutory Interpretation Scholars in Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County v. Talevski, a case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court that raises the question of whether § 1983 can be used to enforce Congress’s Spending Clause statutes. 

This case involves claims by the family of a now-deceased nursing home resident, Gorgi Talevski, under the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA) for violations of his rights under the Act’s “Resident’s Bill of Rights.”

Gorgi, who suffered from dementia, went to live in a state-run nursing facility, where he was overmedicated with six powerful psychotropic drugs, and then repeatedly subject to involuntary transfers to other facilities far from his family. Through his wife, he sued the nursing home under § 1983 for violations of his rights under FNHRA, including the right to be free from any “chemical restraints imposed for discipline or convenience” and the right not to be involuntarily transferred or discharged except in narrow situations.

The district court dismissed the action, finding that the FNHRA rights at issue were not enforceable under § 1983, but the Seventh Circuit reversed, applying the test the Supreme Court had created to decide whether Congress intended to make a statutory right enforceable under § 1983, and concluded that it had, particularly given the specific rights-creating language in the statute.

The nursing home petitioned for certiorari, raising two questions: (1) whether the Supreme Court should overrule its past cases holding that rights in Spending Clause statutes were enforceable through § 1983 and describing the test for determining whether a right was enforceable; and (2) whether the rights at issue in this case were enforceable under § 1983. The Court accepted review of both questions.

Our filed amicus brief explains the high stare decisis standard for overruling a prior statutory interpretation, demonstrates that Congress has relied on and ratified the Supreme Court’s interpretation of § 1983 for decades, and concludes that overruling settled precedent now would have the effect of intruding on the legislative powers of Congress by removing a cause of action that Congress intended to incorporate into dozens of statutes.

We argued that overruling the decades of settled precedent enforcing § 1983 would eliminate the rights of private litigants to enforce a range of federal statutes governing everything from Medicaid and nursing homes, to food stamps and public housing. Notably, because of the nature of Spending Clause statutes, removing the private right of action under section 1983 would have a disproportionate effect on access to justice for people who receive federal benefits — often people who are already disadvantaged.

In June 2023, the Supreme Court rejected the Petitioner’s request and instead reaffirmed its prior case law, holding that Section 1983 can be used to enforce any federal law that creates rights for individuals. The Court also held that the statute at issue did create rights that were enforceable under section 1983—the first time in the modern history of this line of cases that the Court has done so. This decision expands the scope of Section 1983, empowering individuals when it comes to protecting their rights and holding the government accountable for spending in accordance with the Constitution.

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