A resident walks down the darkened hall of a nursing home.

Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County v. Talevski

Location: Indiana
Court Type: U.S. Supreme Court
Status: Closed (Judgment)
Last Update: March 7, 2023

What's at Stake

The ACLU filed an amicus brief in Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County v. Talevski to urge the Supreme Court to uphold private individuals’ right to sue state and local actors for violations of their federal civil rights under Section 1983.

Using its Spending Clause powers, Congress enacted the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA) in 1987 to provide funds to nursing care facilities on the condition that these facilities comply with specific obligations, including limitations on the use of physical and chemical restraints and on transferring or discharging patients.

Gorgi Talevski resided in a nursing facility owned by Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County where he was both chemically restrained and later moved to a different facility. After his death, Talevski’s family sued the health corporation under Section 1983 for depriving Talevski of his federal rights guaranteed by FNHRA.

Historically, the courts have understood Section 1983 as a vehicle for private citizens to protect their federal rights when state governments or actors violate them. However, the nursing facility now asks the Supreme Court to overturn this line of precedent and bar private citizens from using Section 1983 to vindicate their federal rights created by statutes, like FNRHA, enacted pursuant to the Spending Clause.

The facility claims these statutes are functionally contracts between the federal government and fund recipients, and that third-party beneficiaries of these contracts, like nursing home residents, cannot enforce these contracts under Section 1983.

The ACLU argues that such a carve-out of Section 1983 would ignore its plain text and history, and argues that Section 1983 permits suit for all rights-creating statutes, and brooks no exception for rights created by Spending Clause statutes.

In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court held that the provisions of the Federal Nursing Home Amendments Act of 1987 at issue unambiguously create rights enforceable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and private enforcement under Section 1983 is compatible with the FNHRA’s remedial scheme.

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