Nursing Home Case Sent Off to State Court

     TAMPA, Fla. (CN) - Claims that Florida's plan to close down a nursing home will leave mentally impaired residents without adequate care belong in state court, a federal judge ruled.
     The Rehabilitation Center of St. Petersburg caters to Medicaid patients, some of whom suffer from dementia, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and other severe health conditions.
     The Secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration decided to terminate the center's provider agreement with Medicaid and revoke its operating license after determining that its residents faced "harm, death, serious injury or impairment," according to court filings.
     Fourteen residents sued the secretary to stop their forced relocation, claiming they will have a hard time finding similar care reasonably close to their current location. Joined by representatives for other residents, they argued that relocation will disrupt patients' daily lives, affecting their health and well-being.
     On Aug. 15, the plaintiffs asked a state court to enjoin the agency from stopping Medicaid payments to the center and from transferring patients while their rights were being determined. After the court temporarily stopped the plaintiffs' transfer, the secretary removed the lawsuit to federal court, claiming it involved a federal issue.
     But U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction. The plaintiffs are Medicaid recipients who seek to determine their rights under a state statute, and their mere reference to a federal statute under a state-law claim is insufficient to invoke federal jurisdiction, according to the ruling.
     Even though the federal Medicaid regulatory scheme is discussed in the complaint, it takes more than a federal element to establish jurisdiction, the court concluded.
     The residents, who have the right to choose their forum, have brought state-law claims for declaratory relief under Florida law, which belong in state court, according to the nine-page order.
     Kirk Davis, a Tampa-based attorney who represents the residents, and a spokeswoman for the Agency for Health Care Administration declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.