A California nursing home must face a possible class action suit claiming “chronic understaffing” led to resident right violations — despite its arguments that workforce standards are the purview of state regulators rather than courts.

The ruling last week in the US District Court for Central California runs counter to some previous cases in which nursing homes have won stays while state agencies weighed in on their regulatory compliance.

But in an eight-page ruling on March 22, Judge Cormac J. Carney denied Country Oaks Partners’ motion to dismiss. He said the defendants failed to show that a stay under the so-called primary jurisdiction doctrine was appropriate.

“Plaintiff’s claims do not pose any novel issues or suggest a need for the [California Department of Public Health’s] expertise,” he wrote, noting that precedent reserves stays for cases where Congress intended to give an administrative agency “total responsibility” to resolve a particular issue.

“A judicial determination as to whether Country Oaks satisfies its obligation to provide adequate staffing ‘does not appear to implicate technical or policy determinations usually reserved to an administrative agency,’ ” Carney wrote, citing previous case law.

That means Country Oaks and its management arm will have to face the dangerous understaffing claims by former resident Erma Parker. Her attorneys have argued that Country Oaks failed to provide enough direct caregiving staff to provide appropriate care based on residents’ collective acuity level. An admissions document pledged staffing would be consistent with the Resident Bill of Rights set forth in the California Code of Regulations, Parker’s team said.

Her attorneys might be able to form a class action related to the claims of residents’ rights violations under California Health and Safety Code and for a violation of California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

The court also let stand Parker’s claims against Country Oaks’ Sun Mar Management Services arm under an “alter-ego” premise. Essentially, Parker claims that the two companies are so entwined that it’s hard to view them separately.

Carney acknowledged a weak standard to bring that claim to trial but said Parker had met it.

“Plaintiff alleges that Sun Mar commingles funds and diverts corporate funds for non-corporate uses,” he wrote. Parker’s claim alleges Country Oaks paid Sun Mar $680,600 for services in 2020, shares an office location with Sun Mar, and that Sun Mar uses Country Oaks as a “mere instrumentality for a single venture.”