Amid all the U.S. Supreme Court rulings at the end of its most recent term that garnered considerable media attention was one that received considerably less press. However, it should be of interest to anyone with a loved one in a public nursing home.
The case that made it all the way to the high court was brought by the family of a man who had been in a county-owned nursing home. The family claimed that employees at the facility gave the man drugs to make him easier to manage (“sometimes referred to as chemical restraint”) and that the drugs left him unable to even feed himself.
According to the lawsuit, the facility also began taking him to a psychiatric hospital for treatment, reportedly because he was harassing female employees and residents, but without notifying the family. It also allegedly tried to move him to a facility for patients with dementia as his condition worsened — again without notifying the family.
Arguments over the use of Section 1983
The lawsuit referenced the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act, which governs facilities that take Medicare and Medicaid as well as a federal law known as Section 1983 that allows people to sue government employees who have violated their civil rights. Section 1983 is often cited in debates around whether individual police officers can be sued for their actions against individuals.
The lawsuit was originally dismissed by a district court that claimed Section 1983 didn’t apply to the case. A federal appeals court reversed that decision on that grounds that the law “unambiguously confer[s] individually enforceable rights on nursing-home residents.”
The defendants, which included the nursing home and a local government agency that oversees it argued that Section 1983, which dates back to the post-Civil War era, was not meant to be used for all alleged violations of civil rights and not as part of the nursing home law.
However, the Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court in a 7-2 ruling. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote in the majority opinion that it could be applied to any rights “secured by the Constitution and federal laws.”
This ruling will no doubt be referenced in future cases involving the violation of nursing home residents’ rights. If you have a loved one who has been harmed in a long-term-care facility, it’s important to explore your options for seeking justice and compensation.