In Jarman v. HCR ManorCare, Inc., a 5-2 Supreme Court today sets at one the number of statutory, up-to-$500 recoveries a patient can get in an action against a skilled nursing facility for violating the patient’s rights provided in various regulations.  The court’s opinion by Justice Ming Chin says the statutory language “is far from
clear,” but ultimately concludes Health and Safety Code section 1430‘s “cap applies per action, not per regulatory violation.”

In the case before it, the court apparently wipes out almost all of the $95,500 in statutory damages — $250 for each of 382 regulatory violations — awarded by a jury.

The court did not decide whether punitive damages are recoverable in a section 1430 action, an issue the court indicated it might reach in the case (see here).  This is so even though the jury made the factual finding necessary to award punitive damages and the superior court later struck the punitive damage claim.

Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar dissents, joined by Justice Goodwin Liu.  Noting that “[n]owhere has the pain of the COVID-19 virus been more acutely felt than in our state’s nursing homes,” Justice Cuéllar says that “the language, statutory structure, and history” of section 1430 supports allowing patients to recover up to $500 for each regulatory violation and that the majority’s contrary conclusion “deprives nursing home residents of an important tool to deter and vindicate violations of their rights.”

The majority rejects the contention that its interpretation leaves section 1430 “toothless,” because the statute also allows for the recovery of attorney fees and costs, as well as injunctive relief.  The dissent dismisses the assurance, saying “[i]t makes little difference that the majority leaves a few teeth awkwardly hanging in the mouth after pulling most of them out.”

The court reverses the Fourth District, Division Three, Court of Appeal.