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US Supreme Court preserves civil rights lawsuits under 19th century law

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday preserved the ability of people to sue for civil rights violations under an 1871 law as it rejected a bid to prevent an Indiana nursing home resident’s family from suing over his care at a government-run facility.

The justices in a 7-2 ruling written by liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson upheld a lower court’s ruling that allowed the wife of Gorgi Talevski, a nursing home resident diagnosed with dementia, to sue Indiana municipal corporation Health and Hospital Corp of Marion County over claims it violated his rights.

The lawsuit was filed under a measure known as Section 1983 that was enacted as part of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, a law passed in the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era to protect the rights of Black Americans. Section 1983 gives people the power to sue in federal court when state officials violate their constitutional or statutory rights.

Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented from the decision.

The lawsuit stemmed from Talevski’s admission in 2016 to Valparaiso Care and Rehabilitation, a nursing home operated by the Health and Hospital Corp after his family determined his dementia needed professional care.

In a 2019 lawsuit, his wife, Ivanka Talevski, said Talevski was subjected to harmful psychotropic drugs and unlawfully transferred to an all-male facility. He died in 2021, while the litigation was pending.

A law called the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act places limits the use of physical or chemical restraints and on transferring patients. Talevski’s wife contended her husband’s rights under it were violated.

President Joe Biden’s administration had urged the justices to reject a broad limitation on lawsuits pursued under Section 1983. But it had also argued that the federal nursing home statute provided comprehensive administrative processes and remedies that made a lawsuit unnecessary by exposing nursing homes that violate residents’ rights to financial penalties and the termination of their Medicaid funding.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

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