In April 2020, Amanda L’Heureux died of COVID-19 at a Kansas nursing home called Brighton Gardens, which is owned and operated by HCP Prairie Village KS OpCo LLC. Ms. L’Heureux’s daughter, Lane Hatcher, sued the nursing home in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, alleging that her mother’s death was the result of Brighton Gardens’ persistent understaffing, failure to take basic safety precautions in response to COVID-19, and failure to provide adequate medical care after Ms. L’Heureux was diagnosed with COVID-19. The complaint explains that Brighton Gardens allowed symptomatic staff members to continue to interact with patients, failed to adequately clean the facility, and failed to keep her mother’s doctor apprised of changes in her medical condition, follow her doctor’s instructions, or timely transfer her mother to a hospital where she could receive appropriate care. Ms. Hatcher also alleged that Brighton Garden’s negligence in 2019 led her mother to fall and fracture her hip, causing her pain and suffering and increasing her susceptibility to infection.
Brighton Gardens filed a motion to dismiss all of Ms. Hatcher’s claims, arguing, among other things, that they were barred by the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act. The PREP Act, which was enacted in 2005 to encourage the production and distribution of vaccines, creates an administrative remedy for claims relating to the “administration or use” of certain “covered countermeasures.” The district court denied the motion, holding that Ms. Hatcher’s claims were not related to the administration or use of covered countermeasures and, therefore, do not fall under the PREP Act. Brighton Gardens filed an appeal of 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 whenever they reject a claimed PREP Act defense.
Public Citizen represents Ms. Hatcher on appeal. As explained in the appellate brief, the DC Circuit does not have jurisdiction over Brighton Gardens’ appeal from a decision of the district court in Kansas. Therefore, the appeal should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. On the merits, the brief explains that the district court properly denied the motion to dismiss: Ms. Hatcher’s claims do not relate to the administration or use of a “covered countermeasure,” and the mere fact that Brighton Gardens may have been administering covered countermeasures to others does not entitle it to immunity for all claims related to COVID-19.
Oral argument is scheduled for October 2021.