Ruling affirms OBRA limits

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A federal court recently ruled in favor of a Pennsylvania long-term care facility, upholding an argument that individuals cannot bring lawsuits under the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act.

Solomon White filed the suit against the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, where White's mother lived from 2009 to 2010. He charged that the nursing home violated the FNHRA by making him a financial guarantor for his mother as a precondition of her admission.

CMNRC argued that White did not have standing to sue under the nursing home reform law, which was passed as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987.

District Court Judge Nora Barry Fischer granted the motion to dismiss, stating that individuals do not have the power to sue under the FNHRA.

Courts have been divided on this issue, Fischer noted in her Nov. 7 ruling. 

The question involves Congress' intentions in creating the law. The law does create ways for public officials to enforce its provisions through oversight and inspections, Fischer wrote. She determined it does not explicitly create a “private right of action” — that is, a right for individuals to sue nursing homes for breaching the law.

A thornier question is whether the law implicitly creates a right for individuals to sue; Fischer sided with courts that have said it does not. A federal appeals court has ruled that individuals can enforce FNHRA provisions by bringing lawsuits under the civil rights statute, but White filed directly under the nursing home law.

The judge sided with CMNRC on the facts of the case, as well. White actually was only contractually obligated to use his mother's own funds to pay for her care, which Fischer said is clearly lawful.