The Impact of Overturning Chevron on Nursing Home Litigation: A New Defense Strategy

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Chevron deference marks a significant shift in regulatory interpretation, with profound implications for nursing home litigation. This development is particularly relevant in cases involving multiple federal regulations violations. The Texas AHCA legal case and the recent pivotal decision by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor underscore the potential for a more favorable landscape for defense strategies in nursing home lawsuits.

The Texas AHCA Case and CMS Minimum Staffing Rule

The Texas AHCA case challenges the CMS rule mandating minimum staffing levels in nursing homes. While this rule aims to ensure adequate care for residents, it has faced significant opposition from industry stakeholders who argue that it imposes excessive financial and operational burdens.

The overturning of Chevron deference means that courts will no longer automatically defer to CMS’s interpretation of these staffing regulations. Instead, courts will independently interpret the regulations, leading to varied and inconsistent rulings. This newfound judicial discretion provides a unique opportunity for nursing home defense attorneys to challenge the validity and application of these regulations more robustly.

The Northern District of Texas Decision: A Pivotal Precedent

In a landmark case, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in favor of Americans for Beneficiary Choice and the Council for Medicare Choice against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The court blocked the enforcement of new CMS rules that capped administrative payments and restricted contract terms for Medicare agents, arguing that the rule could harm plaintiffs more than it would benefit CMS.

This decision signals a willingness of the courts to scrutinize and potentially halt CMS rules deemed overly burdensome. This judicial approach can extend to nursing home regulations, such as the minimum staffing rule, potentially weakening the basis for plaintiffs’ claims.

Broader Implications for Nursing Home Litigation

Nursing home lawsuits often involve multiple federal regulations violations, not just issues of understaffing. These can include resident care standards, safety protocols, and financial practices. The recent judicial trends suggest that the regulatory basis for these claims may become more vulnerable to challenges:

  1. Increased Judicial Scrutiny: Courts are now more likely to independently scrutinize and interpret CMS regulations, making it easier for defense attorneys to challenge the regulatory basis of plaintiffs’ claims.
  2. Weaker Basis for Plaintiffs: The lack of automatic deference to CMS interpretations means that regulations may not withstand judicial scrutiny as easily. Plaintiffs and their experts might find it more difficult to rely on these regulations as the foundation for their lawsuits.
  3. Opportunity for Robust Defense: Defense attorneys can capitalize on this shift by proactively challenging the interpretations and applications of federal regulations. This can undermine plaintiffs’ claims and potentially lead to more favorable outcomes for nursing homes.

Proactive Defense Strategies in a Post-Chevron Landscape

Given these developments, it is essential to adapt our defense strategies to take advantage of the evolving legal environment. Here are some proactive measures we are exploring:

  1. Enhanced Data Analysis: Investing in advanced data analytics to better understand and interpret PBJ data and other regulatory metrics. This enables us to counter plaintiffs’ claims effectively and provide courts with clear, accurate representations of compliance efforts.
  2. Comprehensive Expert Testimony: Engaging recognized experts in various fields relevant to nursing home operations, including staffing, financial practices, and resident care. Expert testimony can provide critical context and clarity, helping to challenge plaintiffs’ reliance on complex regulations.
  3. Regulatory Advocacy and Clarification: Collaborating with industry associations to advocate for clearer guidelines and interpretations from CMS. Strong and unambiguous regulatory guidance can still influence judicial interpretations, even without Chevron deference.
  4. Meticulous Documentation: Ensuring thorough documentation of all compliance efforts, including staffing levels, safety protocols, and financial practices. Detailed records can serve as crucial evidence in demonstrating adherence to regulations and mitigating claims of violations.
  5. Ongoing Staff Training and Education: Continuously educating staff on regulatory requirements and the importance of accurate data reporting. Proper training ensures that all regulatory metrics are reliable and reflective of actual practices.
  6. Affirmative Defense Strategies: Developing robust affirmative defenses to challenge plaintiffs’ claims at their core. This can include demonstrating substantial compliance with all applicable regulations and highlighting the efforts made to exceed minimum standards.
  7. Motion Practice: Utilizing motions to dismiss or for summary judgment to challenge the sufficiency of plaintiffs’ claims early in the litigation process. By demonstrating that plaintiffs’ reliance on regulations is unfounded or misinterpreted, we can seek early resolution in favor of the defense.
    • Motions to Dismiss: Arguing that the plaintiffs’ claims fail to state a cause of action based on the regulations in question, especially if the regulations are found to be ambiguous or not directly applicable.
    • Motions for Summary Judgment: Presenting evidence that there is no genuine issue of material fact regarding compliance with the regulations. This can include detailed documentation, expert testimony, and comprehensive data analysis.


The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Chevron has introduced a new era of regulatory interpretation, potentially making federal regulations a weaker basis for plaintiffs in nursing home litigation. The Texas AHCA case and Judge O’Connor’s ruling exemplify the evolving judicial landscape and the opportunities it presents for defense strategies. As a defense attorney specializing in senior living, it is crucial to anticipate these changes and adapt our strategies to effectively navigate this complex legal environment. By doing so, we can better protect our clients and ensure that nursing homes can continue to provide high-quality care without undue regulatory burdens.