COVID-19 Resource Center

December 03, 2009

Federal Law Creates Private Rights For Nursing Home Residents

In order to obtain a remedy under Title 42 U.S.C.§1983, a plaintiff must assert the violation of a federal right, not merely the violation of a federal law. Whether a federal statute creates such a right, which is enforceable by an action for damages, requires a court to determine if Congress, in enacting the statute, intended to confer individual rights upon a class of beneficiaries.

Section 1983 is an instrument for imposing liability against anyone who, under color of state law, deprives a person of rights that are secured by the Constitution and federal laws. One of the most significant points to remember about Section 1983 claims is that they provide for the recovery of attorneys’ fees by a successful plaintiff.

The Federal Nursing Home Reform Amendments places certain requirements on nursing homes with respect to the care provided to residents. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals (which encompasses both Pennsylvania and New Jersey) in the Grammer case held that the requirements of the federal statute bind States and nursing homes to a defined standard of care. Moreover, the federal statute contains “rights-creating language” thereby granting nursing home residents individual federal rights enforceable under §1983. 

What It Means to You

The Third Circuit in Grammer determined that the federal statute governing nursing homes confers an individual right, enforceable by Section 1983. The Court thus expanded the scope of Section 1983 to cover nursing homes that are acting “under color of state law.” Any entity that is shown to act under the color of state law may be vulnerable to a Section 1983 claim based on the federal law under which it operates, even if no court has yet to determine that that law creates a protected individual right. The attorneys at Cipriani & Werner can help you navigate this potentially dangerous expansion of Section 1983 claims.


Grammer v. John J. Kane Regional Centers-Glen Hazel, 570 F.3d 520 (3rd Cir. 2009)