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09/26/22

The pending Supreme Court case could also undermine the authority of Congressional spending clauses

WASHINGTON- On Friday, US Senator Patty Murray, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined House and Senate leaders in tabling a motion amicus short to the US Supreme Court in the case of Health and Hospital Corp. by Marion County vs. Talevski. Democrats supported the ability of individuals to use federal courts to enforce the requirements of certain federal programs, including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 1973the Fair Housing Assistance Program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Head Start, the Veterans Rehabilitation Program and more.

The case concerns Gorgi Talevski, who suffered from dementia and had his rights violated multiple times in a nursing home. Talevski’s wife is suing his nursing home and its affiliates for violating his rights as a nursing home resident under the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (FNHRA). A lower court ruled in favor of Talevski, and on appeal, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed. The appeals court ruled that the law is designed to protect the rights of vulnerable nursing home residents like Talevski and that the rights are enforceable under 42 USC § 1983 (Section 1983). Section 1983 is a long-standing federal law that allows individuals to sue for violations of their rights under the Constitution or federal statutes. However, the Seventh Court ruling is now in jeopardy as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the case in November.

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“If this court were to reverse the Seventh Circuit Court’s decision and limit the ability of nursing home residents to sue for certain violations of the FNHRA, this court would impede Congress’ express intent to provide efficient and effective remedies for nursing home quality violations that compromise the authority of Congress and jeopardize the separation of powers between Congress and this court.” wrote the Congressional Democratic leaders in the amicus brief.

The Democrat leaders wrote that, under its spending clause powers, Congress has long passed legislation allowing private suits under Section 1983 to remedy violations of those laws. They argued that the Court should reject efforts to change its established, uniform precedent for two main reasons. First, for decades, Congress has legislated with the understanding that express rights arising from federal spending statutes may be enforced through Section 1983. Second, to disrupt this court’s broader teaching of Section 1983—by restricting Congress’ ability to authorize the private enforcement of spending clause legislation and the programs instituted by that legislation—would be disastrous.

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Congress allocates billions of dollars in federal funding each year to help states provide services to the most vulnerable in the country. The legislature wrote that neither federal nor state agencies have sufficient resources to ensure full oversight of state program funding. Instead, their attention must often be focused on systemic abuses while preserving the ability of injured individuals to seek individual remedies in federal courts.

“By removing the right of Congress to set up these private enforcement mechanisms, state programs will have limited oversight. And individual violators are effectively immunized from the lawsuit.” the lawmakers continued in their amicus brief. “Thus, a reversal of the unitary doctrine of the 1983 section of this court would leave beneficiaries of the Spending Clause little recourse and undermine the purpose of Congress in passing these statutes.”

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The amicus letter was delivered by Senator Murray, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), House Representative James E. Clyburn (D-SC ), House of Representatives on Energy and Commerce signed by Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA), House Financial Services Committee Chairman Maxine Waters (D-CA ), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), House Education and Labor Chairman, Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), House Agriculture Committee Chairman, David Scott (D-GA), Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs, Mark Takano (D-CA), Senate Majority Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking n, Housing and Urban Development, and Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA).

The full text of the amicus brief is available here.

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