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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit issues on Indiana decision today

In Golden Years Homestead v. C. Angela Buckland (SD Ind., Judge Barker), a 13-page opinion, Judge Stykes summarizes:

Golden Years Homestead, Inc., operates a licensed nursing facility in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and participates in the Federal Medicaid program. As such, it is subject to periodic inspections, or “surveys,” by the Indiana State Department of Health. Golden Years underwent a series of surveys in 2000 and was cited for numerous Medicaid-participation and state- licensing violations. All but one of the citations, however, were dismissed after administrative and judicial review. Golden Years then brought this suit against the inspectors alleging violations of its Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and also asserting state-law claims for malicious prosecution and abuse of process. The district court concluded that Golden Years’ evidence was insufficient as a matter of law on all claims and entered summary judgment for the inspectors.

On appeal, Golden Years challenges only the dismissal of its state-law claims, raising both procedural and sub- stantive arguments. As to procedure, Golden Years argues that because the inspectors never asked for a merits dismissal of the malicious-prosecution and abuse- of-process claims, the district court’s order amounted to an improper sua sponte entry of summary judgment on these claims. As to substance, Golden Years contends that its evidence of unprofessional and abusive conduct by the inspectors, considered together with the fact that only one of the original citations survived admin- istrative and judicial review, raised a material issue of fact on the state-law claims.

We reject both arguments and affirm. The inspectors sought summary judgment on all claims, and although they focused most of their argument on certain affirmative defenses and the sufficiency of the proof on the federal claims, they did assert that Golden Years’ evidence raised no material issues of fact as a general matter. As importantly, Golden Years responded on the substance of the state-law claims in its brief in opposition. The deficiency that led the court to dismiss the federal claims—lack of sufficient evidence that the inspectors behaved unreasonably or harbored any improper mo- tive—also required dismissal of the state-law claims. Accordingly, the district court’s order was not an improper sua sponte summary judgment on the state- law claims. Summary judgment was also appropriate on the merits; the state-law claims require proof of malice or ulterior motive, and there was insufficient evidence of that here.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 19, 2009 12:12 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions