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Health and Hospital Corp. of Marion County v. Talevski

A nursing home resident and his family sued Valparaiso Care, the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, and American Senior Communities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA), including failing to provide adequate medical care; administering powerful and unnecessary psychotropic medications for purposes of chemical restraint, resulting in cognitive decline; and discharging and transferring him to other facilities without the consent of his family or guardian. Section 1983 provides a private right of action to any person who has been deprived of any “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States” by someone acting under color of state law. In this case, the district court held that the rights provided in FNHRA, which was enacted pursuant to Congress’s Spending Clause power, are not enforceable under § 1983. The Seventh Circuit reversed, and the Supreme Court granted review.

Public Citizen submitted a brief as amicus curiae in support of the plaintiff. The brief explained that there is no exception to the express right of action in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for laws enacted pursuant to Congress’s Spending Clause power and that a separate right of action in a law enacted pursuant to Congress’s Spending Clause power is not necessary for an injured person to bring an action under § 1983.

In a 7-2 decision, the Court agreed with our position. The Court held that the FNHRA provisions at issue unambiguously create rights enforceable under § 1983 and stated that it discerned no intent by Congress to preclude private enforcement.