Supreme Court skeptical of rejection of civil rights precedent

WASHINGTON (AP) — On Tuesday, the Supreme Court seemed unlikely to agree to overturn decades of precedent in a case involving civil rights lawsuits, an outcome that would preserve individuals’ ability to use federal law to sue. lawsuits.

Judges had been told to use a case involving a nursing home resident who claimed a violation of his rights to limit the right to sue more broadly. Judges were told the result could leave tens of millions of people who have rights under federal programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, without access to the courts.

But members of the court’s six-judge conservative majority and three-judge liberal wing appeared to have little appetite to speak broadly on the case.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor pointed out the repercussions of such a decision. “Neither the federal government nor the states can investigate and remedy every violation of these rights granted to people,” she said, adding that federal law “says clearly” that people have the right to go to court. justice. “Why shouldn’t we just respect our precedent?” she asked.

The court was asked to say that when states agree to accept federal money to provide services — the so-called spending clause legislation for programs like Medicare and Medicaid — they shouldn’t face prosecution of individuals for violation of civil rights unless the legislation itself gives states clear notice that they are liable to prosecution.

But the court previously said a section of federal law – “Section 1983” – applies universally to give people the right to sue government employees when they violate rights created by federal law.

The specific case the justices heard involves the interplay of Section 1983 and the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act, a 1987 law that sets requirements for nursing homes that accept federal Medicare and Medicaid funds. The court is being asked to answer whether a person can use Section 1983 to go to court alleging that their rights under the Care Homes Act are being violated.

On this narrower issue, it was unclear whether the court would rule that prosecution under Section 1983 is permitted. Justice Brett Kavanaugh said care home legislation ‘reaffirms rights again and again’ but also noted there is a separate administrative process in place for people to complain when their rights are violated . “What’s wrong with an administrative process…if it’s complete and working?” he asked at one point.

Biden administration lawyer Benjamin Snyder tells court Congress had no intention of authorizing Section 1983 lawsuits when it enacted the nursing home legislation . Snyder said most nursing homes that participate in Medicare and Medicaid are private facilities. This means that residents of these facilities cannot sue under Section 1983, but only have access to administrative remedies. He argued that it would not make sense for different rules to apply to government-run facilities.

The specific case before the court concerns Gorgi Talevski, who resided at Valparaiso Care and Rehabilitation, a government retirement home in Indiana. His family say the nursing home struggled to care for Talevski, who suffered from dementia, and so gave him strong medication to subdue him, then involuntarily moved him to another facility.

Talevski’s family sued under Section 1983, claiming their rights had been violated. A trial court dismissed the case, but a federal appeals court said it could proceed. Talevski died in 2021. A family lawyer, Andrew Tutt, told the court that a trial under Section 1983 was the family’s “last resort” and that it was “a lifeline for people who can’t actually use administrative remedies effectively. in the law.

The case is Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County v. Talevsky, 21-806.

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