Can alleged inadequate nursing home care lead to a civil rights lawsuit? According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the answer is “yes.” In July of 2009, in the case of John J. Kane Regional Centers-Glen Hazel v. Grammer, the Third Circuit held that the Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendments (FNHRA) guarantee a nursing home resident’s civil rights. Consequently, according to the Third Circuit, private civil rights lawsuits may be brought against nursing homes in the event of alleged wrongful death or inadequate patient care. Recently, the United States Supreme Court declined to review the case, allowing the Third Circuit decision to stand.

The Third Circuit’s ruling was the result of a claim brought by Sarah Grammer against a Pittsburgh-area nursing home in which Grammer alleged that her mother, Melvinteen Daniels, was neglected by the John J. Kane Regional Center. According to Ms. Grammer, the facility provided inadequate care which eventually resulted in her mother’s death. Instead of filing a typical negligence claim against the nursing home, Ms. Grammer chose to sue under the Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendments.

According to Ms. Grammer, the FNHRA guarantee various patient rights, including the right to quality care. Therefore, Ms. Grammer contended that the alleged inadequate care received by her mother constituted a civil rights violation for which she could bring a civil rights lawsuit under the FNHRA. The nursing home, however, contended that the FNHRA were simply meant to outline requirements for Medicaid and Medicare certification.

Initially, the District Court ruled in favor of the nursing home facility. However, the Third Circuit overturned the District Court’s ruling, holding that the FNHRA creates the right to a private civil rights lawsuit in the event of inadequate care. Various groups, including the AHCA, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, and various individual states petitioned the Supreme Court to review the holding of the Third District. However, despite this petition, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Therefore, it appears as if nursing homes throughout the country may be exposed to potential civil rights lawsuits in the event of alleged inadequate patient care.

Laura E. Troshynski