In California Nursing Home Patient-Dumping Suit, Court Rules that State Law Provides Adequate Mechanisms for Enforcing Readmittance Orders

A U.S. district court rules in favor of California in a lawsuit by nursing home residents alleging the state did not enforce readmission orders against nursing homes that had refused to readmit them after a hospitalization, holding that state law provides the authority to enforce readmittance orders by issuing penalties against nursing homes. Anderson v. Ghaly (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., No. 15-cv-05120-HSG, March 11, 2022).

Bruce Anderson, John Wilson, and Robert Austin were nursing home residents in California who were transferred to a hospital and then were refused readmittance by their nursing homes. All three appealed the nursing homes' decision not to readmit them and all three prevailed, but the nursing homes did not readmit them. The residents complained to the state, but the state failed to enforce the readmission orders.

The residents sued the state under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the state violated the Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendments (FNHRA). The residents argued that because the state doesn't enforce readmission orders, the state has not provided residents with their right to an administrative procedure that provides for prompt readmission if they are successful. The district court dismissed the complaint, holding that FNHRA’s appeals provision is not enforceable under § 1983. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the decision, holding that § 1983 does provide a remedy for enforcement of the right to an appeal under FNHRA. On remand, the residents filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the court to order the state to enforce readmission orders. The district court denied the motions and held a hearing on the case.

The U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, grants summary judgment to the state, holding that the residents did not prove that the state provided “no mechanism whatsoever” to enforce readmittance orders. The court finds that a newly passed state law gives the state the authority to issue penalties for each day a nursing home fails to comply with a readmission order, and the fact that the state “may choose not to issue a penalty if it first finds that the nursing home already took sufficient action to remedy the unlawful discharge” does not mean that the state “has ‘no mechanism whatsoever’ to enforce its readmission decisions.” In addition, the court notes that residents have the right to bring private actions to remedy violations of their rights.

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