Health Law Daily Personal care home license not fundamental property interest 
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Monday, June 10, 2019

Personal care home license not fundamental property interest 

By Jeffrey H. Brochin, J.D.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services was not required to convene a pre-deprivation hearing prior to revoking a "regular" personal care home license and issuing a "provisional" one.

A federal district court in Pennsylvania has ruled that a personal care home (PCH) operator whose regular license was revoked and a provisional license issued after a patient died under suspicions of patient neglect, did not have a protected property right in the regular license for the purposes of substantive due process. The operator was not entitled to a pre-deprivation hearing because their asserted deprivation was slight, and the risk of erroneous deprivation was lessened by internal review procedures and adequate post-deprivation procedures (Saucon Valley Manor, Inc. v. MillerJune 6, 2019, Smith, E.).

Complaint to regulators. Saucon Valley Manor, Inc. (Saucon) operates a PCH, a facility that provides food, shelter and personal assistance or supervision for a period exceeding twenty-four hours for four or more adults who do not require the services of a licensed long-term care facility. On December 8, 2014, an individual residing at Saucon was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital where the medical staff became concerned that the resident had suffered possible "caregiver neglect." They reported the potential neglect to the area agency on aging, who contacted the Department of Human Service’s (DHS) regional office. The matter was designated a "high level complaint" (also known as a PCH Licensing Alert), and on December 9, 2014, DHS staff was informed that the resident passed away.

Revocation of regular license. As a result of DHS’s investigation, several violations were identified, and the operator was provided with a written License Inspection Summary (LIS) in April 2015. Saucon was afforded the opportunity to submit a plan of correction (POC) which was initially rejected, but the revised POC was approved on or about May 26, 2015. On that same day, however, the DHS regional director recommended that DHS initiate an enforcement action against Saucon, in which he specifically recommended revocation of the PCH’s regular license and issuance of a "first provisional license." DHS followed the recommendations, and Saucon filed suit claiming violations of its constitutional right to due process, right to equal protection, section 1983 civil rights violations, and other claims. DHS and related parties moved for summary judgment arguing that Saucon’s claims should fail as a matter of law.

Substantive Due Process. The court noted that whether the Fourteenth Amendment protects a property interest depends on whether that interest is "fundamental" under the U.S. Constitution. The category of interests that qualify as fundamental for purposes of substantive due process is narrower than those protected by procedural due process. To state a substantive due process claim, Saucon needed to have been deprived of a particular qualityof property interest. Saucon asked the court to expand the category of recognized property interests to include a regular PCH license. However, the court ruled that such a license did not constitute a fundamental property interest entitled to constitutional protection.

No right to pre-deprivation hearing. Although generally the constitution requires some kind of a hearing beforethe state can deprive a person of liberty or property, a pre-deprivation hearing is not always required. The court examined whether due process mandated that the DHS provide Saucon with a pre-deprivation hearing based on established factors. The court found that the interest asserted by Saucon was an interest in operating a PCH without the reputational stain of a provisional license (and financial harms flowing from said reputational harm), and not the company’s actual livelihood. Furthermore, DHS’s process for reviewing complaints and issuing violations appeared to err on the side of requiring greater credibility determinations, and that factor ultimately weighed against requiring a pre-deprivation hearing because Saucon’s asserted deprivation was slight, and the risk of erroneous deprivation was lessened by internal review procedures and adequate post-deprivation procedures. The deprivation here, even if erroneous, was not severe.

For the foregoing reasons, the court granted DHS’s motions for summary judgment pertaining to the above issues.

The case is Civil Action No. 17-2568.

Attorneys: William T. Hangley (Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin) for Saucon Valley Manor, Inc. Matthew R. Skolnik, Office of Attorney General, for Teresa Miller.

Companies: Saucon Valley Manor, Inc.

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