In June 2020, Christopher David Beaty died after contracting COVID-19 at a Pennsylvania nursing home called Fair Acres Geriatric Center, which is owned by Delaware County. On behalf of themselves and Mr. Beaty’s estate, Mr. Beaty’s surviving children sued the nursing home and the county in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania , alleging that their father’s death was the result of Fair Acres’ failure to adopt adequate infection control policies in the first several months of the pandemic, and allowing patients and staff to freely intermingle—including those who had been exposed to the coronavirus or demonstrated symptoms of COVID-19. Mr. Beaty’s roommate had shown symptoms of COVID-19 for several days before Fair Acres isolated him, which was too late for Mr. Beaty.
Fair Acres filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the claims were barred by the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act. That law was passed in 2005 to encourage the production and distribution of vaccines that immunizes certain claims with a “causal relationship” to the “administration to or use by an individual” of certain “covered countermeasures.” Fair Acres also argued that Mr. Beaty’s rights under the Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendments (FNHRA) were not enforceable under section 1983 and that the complaint failed to allege a municipal custom or policy, as required to state a Monell claim against a municipal entity like Fair Acres. The district court denied the motion, holding that the plaintiffs’ claims lacked a causal relationship to the administration or use of covered countermeasures and, therefore, did not fall under the PREP Act. It also found that the plaintiffs had adequately alleged that Fair Acres was deliberately indifferent to the rights of patients under the FNHRA, which, under Third Circuit precedent, is enforceable via section 1983. Fair Acres appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, arguing that a provision of the PREP Act authorizes interlocutory appeals from district courts around the country to the D.C. Circuit.
Public Citizen represented the plaintiffs on appeal. The appellate brief explained that the DC Circuit did not have jurisdiction over Fair Acres’ appeal from a decision of the district court in Pennsylvania and, therefore, that the appeal should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. On the merits, the brief explained that the district court properly denied the motion to dismiss as to all of the claims. Agreeing with our jurisdictional argument, the D.C. Circuit issued an opinion dismissing Fair Acres’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction.