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Supreme Court Upholds Family’s Lawsuit Against Nursing Home Over Dementia Care


In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court decided in favor of a family who had sued a nursing home over the care of their family member with dementia. The court declined to use this case as an opportunity to limit the right to sue government workers more broadly.

The family alleged that the nursing home administered drugs to their relative in order to make him easier to manage, which they claimed violated his rights.

The court was asked to consider this case as a means to restrict people’s ability to use a federal law to file lawsuits for civil rights violations. Such a limitation could have left millions of individuals participating in federal programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, without a legal recourse to enforce their rights.

Previously, the Supreme Court had stated that a section of federal law, known as “Section 1983,” grants individuals the right to sue state and local governments when their employees violate rights established by any federal statute.

In a 7-2 decision, the court reiterated this principle, with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson writing that Section 1983 “can presumptively be used to enforce unambiguously conferred federal individual rights.” Justices from both liberal and conservative sides joined her majority opinion, while Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

The court was asked to determine whether individuals could use Section 1983 to file lawsuits claiming that their rights under the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act, a 1987 law that sets requirements for nursing homes accepting federal Medicare and Medicaid funds, had been violated. The court answered in the affirmative, stating that individuals can indeed use Section 1983 for such claims.

The Biden administration argued to the court that Congress did not intend for Section 1983 lawsuits to be permitted when enacting the nursing home legislation.

The case in question involved Gorgi Talevski, a resident of Valparaiso Care and Rehabilitation, a government-operated nursing home in Indiana.

Talevski’s family contended that the nursing home struggled to care for him, leading to the administration of powerful drugs for restraint purposes and his involuntary transfer to another facility.

The nursing home claimed that Talevski had exhibited violent and sexually aggressive behavior, and the drugs were prescribed by doctors.

Talevski’s family sued under Section 1983, alleging a violation of his rights. Initially, a trial court dismissed the case, but a federal appeals court allowed it to proceed. Talevski passed away in 2021.

In addition to this ruling, the Supreme Court issued three other opinions on the same day, including a 5-4 decision in favor of Black voters in Alabama in a case involving congressional redistricting. This particular case had attracted significant attention due to its potential impact on the landmark Voting Rights Act.

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