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Experts believe SCOTUS case involving Health and Hospital Corporation could impact millions of Americans

What began as a local lawsuit against the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, over the care of a man in an Indiana nursing home, is set to go before the Supreme Court.
HHC vs Talevski
Posted at 1:26 PM, Oct 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-03 23:38:39-04

EDITOR'S NOTE: While this story was originally published on October 19, the information is still relevant in regards to the case below that is set to be argued before SCOTUS on November 8. This is why we're republishing it.

INDIANAPOLIS — Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, et al., Petitioners v. Ivanka Talevski, Personal Representative of the Estate of Gorgi Talevski, Deceased will have a hearing at SCOTUS on November 8.

In court filings dating back to 2019, the Estate of Gorgi Talevski claims Valparaiso Care, a nursing home ran by HHC, gave Talevski "powerful and unnecessary psychotropic medications for purposes of chemical restraint, the use of which resulted in Gorgi’s rapid physical and cognitive decline."

Ivanka Talevski, wife to the deceased, also claimed her husband was illegally transferred to another nursing facility which she argued is a violation of federal rights granted to nursing home patients.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit determined Talevski’s estate could sue under the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act provisions of Medicaid, but that decision was appealed by the Health & Hospital Corp. of Marion County which is how the case ended up before SCOTUS.

May a plaintiff file a federal civil rights claim for violation of the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act, which was enacted under Congress’s Spending Clause power? That's the question at hand and it's what lawyers for HHC want SCOTUS to decide against.

RELATED: Supreme Court Report from the National Association of Attorneys General on Health and Hospital Corp. of Marion County v. Talevski

Public policy experts and advocates alike believe a ruling in favor of HHC would go far beyond nursing home residents. They say those who receive federal benefits like Medicaid (elderly, disabled, or poor) will no longer have an option to seek recourse if they feel their rights have been violated by a state entity that receives federal dollars to take care of them.

Led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, members of Congress filed a brief in support of Talevski where they argued against the lawsuit for two main reasons. Those arguments are below.

"First, for decades, Congress has legislated against the backdrop that express rights derived from federal spending statutes may be enforced through Section 1983. The Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (“FNHRA”) is one such piece of legislation. The text, legislative history, and origins of FNHRA show that Congress intended to permit individuals to seek remedies for violations of FNHRA’s “[r]equirements relating to residents’ rights” under Section 1983. Alteration of this precedent would undermine the text and purpose of FNHRA. Were this Court to reverse the Seventh Circuit’s decision and restrict a nursing home resident’s ability to sue for certain violations of FNHRA, this Court would impede Congress’ intention to provide efficient and effective means of redress for nursing home quality-of-care violations, impinge on congressional authority, and imperil the separation of powers between Congress and the Court.

Second, disturbing this Court’s Section 1983 doctrine more broadly—by curtailing Congress’ ability to permit private enforcement of Spending Clause legislation and the programs established by that legislation—would have disastrous consequences. Congress allocates billions of dollars each year in federal funds to assist the states in providing services for the nation’s most vulnerable individuals. Neither federal nor state authorities have sufficient resources to provide complete oversight over the funding funneled into state programs. Instead, their attention must often be dedicated to remedying systemic abuses, while preserving the option for aggrieved persons to seek individual remedies in federal court. Both Congress and the states depend on private enforcement of rights encapsulated in these statutes to protect vulnerable individuals and groups. Limiting Congress’ ability to establish such private enforcement mechanisms will leave federal-state programs with modest oversight. And individual violators will effectively be immunized from suit. Thus, reversal of this Court’s uniform Section 1983 doctrine would leave Spending Clause beneficiaries with little recourse and would egregiously undermine Congress’ purpose in enacting these statutes."

Dozens of non-profits in Indiana and across the country, who serve vulnerable populations, also filed a brief in support of Talevski.

RELATED: Advocates break down basics, possible repercussions of Talevski v. Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County

On the other side, HHC has found an ally in Attorney General Todd Rokita. He, along with 21 other AGs filed a brief in support of the corporation. Below is the statement Rokita released on this matter.

“Alongside the Marion County Health and Hospital Corporation, our team is preparing to argue important principles of law before the U.S. Supreme Court next month in the case Marion County Health and Hospital v. Talevski. At issue is whether someone who is not a party to a contract with the federal government may sue to enforce the terms of that contract. Specifically, this case pertains to grants issued by a federal agency to a state or local government. Such lawsuits by non-parties impose significant burdens on state and local governments — and thereby upon individual taxpayers. In the last three years, Indiana alone has litigated over 1,200 civil rights cases. Some commentators have construed this case as being principally about the rights of the elderly and their families to use the legal system to advocate for their proper care. And we all want nothing but the best care for our seniors. But this case principally concerns the need to hold grant relationships accountable to voters — and the need to respect the authority of Congress. That means that individual beneficiaries who are not parties to the contracts should not be able to sue to enforce grant conditions unless Congress expressly authorizes them to do so. When individual beneficiaries bring unauthorized lawsuits to enforce federal grant conditions, they invite unelected federal judges to interfere with how state and federal officials carry out the jobs the public expects them to perform. The proper functioning of democracy requires that such judicial interference not occur unless Congress has expressly authorized it. The chaotic state of implied-rights doctrine only exacerbates the litigation burden — and therefore the taxpayer burden — imposed by these kinds of cases. So, the issue of whether federal grant conditions confer enforceable civil rights is a nationally important issue warranting the Court’s consideration. Our office is proud to fight for the fiscal integrity of the state when administering federal programs. We look forward to combining forces with the Marion County Health and Hospital Corporation to argue this case in the U.S. Supreme Court next month.”

At Tuesday's public meeting of the Health and Hospital Corporation Board of Trustees, there was no mention of the lawsuit on the agenda. This was the last public meeting before oral arguments in front of SCOTUS.

Chair Robert Lazard reminded the crowd, before public comment, they were doing those who wanted to speak a courtesy by giving them time to voice their concerns. Lazard said public comments are not a requirement at their meetings.

All 21 speakers urged the HHC Trustees to drop the lawsuit. "Shame" and "take a vote" were shouted at the Board who tried to appear unfazed by the, at times, raucous crowd. WRTV asked Trustee Lazard if he could respond to any of the public comments he had heard.

"I'm glad the public came out and voiced their opinion but this is a matter of ongoing litigation and we as a Board are not allowed to comment on ongoing litigation," he said.

WRTV's Cornelius Hocker followed up, asking if they could take a vote or stance on the matter. Lazard said "no comment" and walked away.

WRTV has reached out to Health and Hospital Corporation to see if the Board of Trustees have the power to withdraw the case. We have not got an answer back at this time. We also asked who decided to appeal to SCOTUS regarding this case. We have not heard back on that question.