ManorCare counterattacks law firm in 'deceptive' ad suit

Toledo-based HCR ManorCare landed a punch last week against a Houston law firm it is suing for libel, defamation and deceptive trade practices. The giant nursing home chain has asked the judge in the case to remand it to an Ohio state court after the defendant used a tactic that argued the case should be heard in U.S. District Court.

At the heart of ManorCare's most recent legal maneuver are a series of ads Johnson Law Group ran online and in Ohio area newspapers in late January. They claim ManorCare's Canton, OH-based nursing home, Belden Village, has been “cited” for multiple deficiencies known to cause severe injury, health deterioration, bedsores and even death. The ads invited readers to consult freely with Johnson's firm if they or loved ones are “affected by one of these deficiencies, hospitalized, or injured,” according to published reports.

On February 17, Johnson Law Group's Texas attorney filed a notice of removal in the case, transferring the suit to an Ohio federal court on the grounds of “diversity of citizenship,” a legal argument that a civil suit should be tried in a federal court when parties on both sides are from different states.

ManorCare shot back the next day, asking that its suit be sent to a lower court, arguing the “diversity” argument could not be absolutely proven.

The nursing provider's suit seeks an injunction against Johnson Law Group from using the ads, which it calls misleading. The term “cited” used in the ads mislead readers into thinking the deficiencies in the Belden Village facility are linked to the most negative consequences of injury and death.

“Johnson Law Group's advertisements fail to disclose that only very few of the alleged citations quoted in the advertisement caused any harm to nursing home patients, or that the facility promptly corrected and removed the alleged deficiencies, and is currently in substantial compliance with all OBRA conditions of participation,” ManorCare stated in its original suit filed Feb. 6.