Disability advocates are hailing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case that they feared could lead to severe restrictions on the rights of people who rely on Medicaid and other government programs.

The high court issued an opinion late last week in a case known as Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County v. Talevski.

The 7-2 ruling preserves the ability of individuals receiving services through programs like Medicaid to sue state and local governments if their civil rights are violated.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The case was brought by Ivanka Talevski, who alleges that her now-deceased husband Gorgi Talevski was chemically restrained and medicated so that he would go to sleep instead of being treated for his dementia while living in an Indiana nursing home.

Talevski’s estate sued under the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act and a lower court sided with them, but the nursing home’s owner, Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, or HHC, appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that nursing home residents shouldn’t be able to sue in federal court.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, however, wrote in the majority opinion that the court was “unpersuaded” and “rejects HHC’s argument.”

The decision is a “major victory” for people with disabilities, according to Megan Schuller, legal director at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

“The Supreme Court rejected a cynical gambit to overturn decades of legal precedent and strike another legal blow to civil rights,” Schuller said. “Governments should be accountable to the people they serve when they violate their rights, including under Medicaid law.”

Bazelon and other disability advocacy groups who filed amicus briefs supporting the Talevski estate said that the case threatened the rights of millions of beneficiaries of Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and more.

“(This) is a monumental win for disability rights and the principle that a private right of action is critical in the access, accountability and antidiscrimination of our country’s Medicaid and safety net programs,” said Shira Wakschlag, senior director of legal advocacy and general counsel for The Arc of the United States. “It sets a crucial precedent that will have far-reaching implications for people with disabilities in our health care system, housing, nutrition, education, disability and other safety net programs.”

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.