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Grammer v. John J. Kane Regional Center - Glen Hazel

June 30, 2009


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 06-cv-00781) District Judge: The Honorable Gary L. Lancaster.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nygaard, Circuit Judge


ARGUED MAY 20, 2008

BEFORE: SMITH and NYGAARD, Circuit Judges, and STAFFORD,*fn1 District Judge.


We are asked in this appeal to determine whether an action will lie under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to challenge the treatment Appellant's decedent received (or did not receive) at the Appellee nursing home -- treatment Appellant argues violated the Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendments (FNRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1396r et seq. We answer that question in the affirmative and will reverse and remand the cause to the District Court.

In so holding, we conclude that the language of the FNHRA is sufficiently rights-creating and that the rights conferred by its various provisions are neither "vague and amorphous" nor impose upon states a mere precatory obligation. See Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 287 (2002) (citing Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275-288-89 (2001)). Further, we conclude that § 1983 provides the proper avenue for relief because the Appellee has failed to demonstrate that Congress foreclosed that option by adopting another, more comprehensive enforcement scheme. See Gonzaga Univ., 536 U.S. at 284.


Appellant's mother, Melviteen Daniels, was a resident of the John J. Kane Regional Center at Glen Hazel, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Kane Center is a residential skilled nursing care and rehabilitation center for short-term and/or long-term needs, and is operated by Allegheny County. The Appellant maintains that, as a result of Kane Center's failure to provide proper care, her mother developed decubitus ulcers, became malnourished and eventually developed sepsis, from which she died.

Grammer sued Kane Center bringing claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for wrongful death (Count I) and survival (Count II). Grammer alleged that the Kane Center deprived Mrs. Daniels of her civil rights by breaching a duty to ensure quality care under the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 (OBRA) and, more specifically, the FNHRA thereto. The Kane Center filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that neither the OBRA nor the FNHRA provide a right that is enforceable through § 1983. The Kane Center maintained that the statutes merely set forth requirements a nursing facility must comply with to receive federal Medicaid funds. The District Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's recommendation finding no right of action under the statutes, and dismissed the case pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).


Our jurisdiction is found in 28 U.S.C. § 1291 which gives us jurisdiction over final decisions of the district courts. When deciding a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a district court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). Our review of such a dismissal is plenary. Leveto v. Lapina, 258 F.3d 156, 161 (3d Cir. 2001).


Title XIX of the Social Security Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 1396-1396v is popularly known as the "Medicaid Act." This Act established a "cooperative federal-state program under which the federal government furnishes funding to states for the purpose of providing medical assistance to eligible low-income persons." Sabree ex rel. Sabree v. Richman, 367 F.3d 180, 182 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Pa. Pharm. Ass'n v. Houstoun, 283 F.3d 531, 533 (3d Cir. 2002)). States are, of course, not required to participate in this program, but those that do accept federal funding must comply with the Medicaid Act and with regulations promulgated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Id.

Before Congress amended the Medicare and Medicaid Acts in 1987, only two sanctions were available against nursing homes for noncompliance with federal participation requirements. First, the Secretary of Health and Human Services or the states themselves could decertify the facility and terminate the nursing home's eligibility to receive Medicaid reimbursements. Second, if noncompliance was not an immediate and serious threat to the residents' health and safety, the Secretary or the states could deny payment for new admissions for up to eleven months. These sanctions were rarely invoked. As a result, the programs permitted too many substandard nursing homes to continue operations. Congress thus became "deeply troubled that the Federal Government, through the Medicaid program, continue[d] to pay nursing facilities for providing poor quality care to vulnerable elderly and disabled beneficiaries." H.R.Rep. No. 100-3901, at 471 (1987), reprinted in 1987 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2313-1, 2313-272.

In 1987, Congress passed the FNHRA, contained in OBRA, to provide for the oversight and inspection of nursing homes that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs.*fn2 The requirements for certification include satisfying certain standards in areas such as "quality of care" and "resident rights." 42 U.S.C. §§ 1395i-3(g), 1396r(g).

Grammer's complaint alleged claims under § 1983 for wrongful death (Count I) and survival (Count II). Grammer contends that the Kane Center's failure to provide the standards of care delineated by the FNHRA deprived her mother of her civil rights. Grammer's complaint focuses on the following provisions of the FNHRA:

* A nursing home must care for its residents in such a manner and in such an environment as will promote maintenance or enhancement of the quality of life of each resident, 42 U.S.C. § 1396r(b)(1)(A);

* A nursing facility must provide services and activities to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental and psychosocial well-being of each resident in accordance with a written plan of care which (a) describes the medical, nursing and psychosocial needs of the resident and how such needs will be met; 42 U.S.C. § 1396r(b)(2)(A);

* A nursing facility must conduct a comprehensive, accurate, standardized reproducible assessment of each resident's functional capacity, which assessment (i) describes the resident's capability to perform daily life functions and significant impairments in functional capacity; (iv) including identification of medical problems; 42 U.S.C. § 1396r(b)(3)(A);

* To the extent needed to fulfill all plans of care described in paragraph (2), a nursing facility must provide (or arrange the provision of) dietary services that assure the meals meet the daily nutritional and special dietary needs of each resident. Services described in clause (iv) must be provided by qualified persons in ...

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