476 U.S. 610 (1986), 84-1529, Bowen v. American Hosp. Association

Docket Nº:No. 84-1529
Citation:476 U.S. 610, 106 S.Ct. 2101, 90 L.Ed.2d 584, 54 U.S.L.W. 4579
Party Name:Bowen v. American Hosp. Association
Case Date:June 09, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 610

476 U.S. 610 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 2101, 90 L.Ed.2d 584, 54 U.S.L.W. 4579

Bowen

v.

American Hosp. Association

No. 84-1529

United States Supreme Court

June 9, 1986

Argued January 15, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides that

[n]o otherwise qualified handicapped individual . . . shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

In 1984, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) promulgated regulations requiring: (1) health care providers receiving federal funds to post notices that, because of § 504's prohibition against discrimination on the basis of handicap, health care should not be withheld from infants on the basis of their mental or physical impairments; (2) state child protective services agencies to establish procedures to prevent unlawful medical neglect of handicapped infants, and when considered necessary, in the judgment of the responsible official of the Department of Health and Human Services, to protect a handicapped infant's life or health; (3) immediate access to patient records; and (4) expedited compliance actions. In consolidated actions in Federal District Court, respondents sought to declare the regulations invalid and to enjoin their enforcement. The court granted the requested relief on the authority of United States v. University Hospital, 729 F.2d 144 (CA2), and the Court of Appeals affirmed on the basis of that earlier decision.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

794 F.2d 676, affirmed.

JUSTICE STEVENS, joined by JUSTICE MARSHALL, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE POWELL, concluded that the regulations in question are not authorized by § 504. Pp. 624-647.

(a) A hospital's withholding of treatment from a handicapped infant when no parental consent has been given cannot violate § 504, for, without the parents' consent, the infant is neither "otherwise qualified" for treatment nor has he been denied care "solely by reason of his handicap." There is nothing in the administrative record documenting the Secretary's belief that there exists "discriminatory withholding of medical care" in violation of § 504 which would justify federal regulation. None

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of the examples cited by the Secretary as justification for the regulation suggests that the hospitals receiving federal funds, as opposed to parents, withheld medical care on the basis of handicap. Pp. 630-636.

(b) The complaint-handling process the Secretary would impose on unwilling state agencies is totally foreign to the authority to prevent discrimination conferred on him by § 504. While the Secretary can require state agencies to document their own compliance with § 504, nothing in § 504 authorizes him to commandeer state agencies to enforce compliance by other recipients of federal funds (in this instance, hospitals). Pp. 637-642.

(c) The Secretary's basis for federal intervention is perceived discrimination against handicapped infants in violation of § 504, and yet the Secretary has pointed to no evidence that such discrimination occurs. The administrative record does not contain the reasoning and evidence necessary to sustain federal intervention into a historically state-administered decisional process that appears -- for lack of any contrary evidence -- to be functioning in full compliance with § 504. Nothing in § 504 authorizes the Secretary to dispense with the law's focus on discrimination, and instead to employ federal resources to save the lives of handicapped newborns without regard to whether they are victims of discrimination by recipients of federal funds or not. Section 504 does not authorize the Secretary to give unsolicited advice either to parents, to hospitals, or to state officials who are faced with difficult treatment decisions concerning handicapped children. The administrative record demonstrates that the Secretary has asserted the authority to conduct on-site investigations, to inspect hospital records, and to participate in the decisional process in emergency cases in which there was no colorable basis for believing that a violation of § 504 had occurred or was about to occur. These investigative actions are not authorized by § 504, and the regulations that purport to authorize a continuation of them are invalid. Pp. 642-647.

STEVENS, J., announced the judgment of the Court, and delivered an opinion in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., concurred [106 S.Ct. 2105] in the judgment. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined and in Parts I, II, IV, and V of which O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 648. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 665. REHNQUIST, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which JUSTICE MARSHALL, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE POWELL join.

This case presents the question whether certain regulations governing the provision of health care to handicapped infants are authorized by § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. That section provides, in part:

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No otherwise qualified handicapped individual . . . shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

87 Stat. 394, 29 U.S.C. § 794.1

I

The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and several other respondents2 challenge the validity of Final Rules promulgated on January 12, 1984, by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.3 These Rules establish "Procedures relating to health care for handicapped infants," and in particular require the posting of informational notices, authorize expedited access to records and expedited compliance actions, and command state child protective services agencies to "prevent instances of unlawful medical neglect of handicapped infants." 45 CFR § 84.55 (1985).

Although the Final Rules comprise six parts, only the four mandatory components are challenged here.4 Subsection (b)

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is [106 S.Ct. 2106] entitled "Posting of informational notice," and requires every "recipient health care provider that provides health care services to infants in programs or activities receiving

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Federal financial assistance" -- a group to which we refer generically as "hospitals" -- to post an informational notice in one of two approved forms. 45 CFR § 84.55(b) (1985). Both forms include a statement that § 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of handicap, and indicate that, because of this prohibition

nourishment and medically beneficial treatment (as determined with respect for reasonable medical judgments) should not be withheld from handicapped infants solely on the basis of their present or anticipated mental or physical impairments.

45 CFR §§ 84.55(b)(3), (4) (1985). The notice's statement of the legal requirement does not distinguish between medical care for which parental consent has been obtained and that for which it has not. The notice must identify the telephone number of the appropriate child protective services agency and, in addition, a toll-free number for the Department that is available 24 hours a day. Ibid. Finally, the notice must state that the "identity of callers will be kept confidential," and that federal law prohibits retaliation "against any person who provides information about possible violations." Ibid.

Subsection (c), which contains the second mandatory requirement, sets forth "Responsibilities of recipient state child protective services agencies." Subsection (c) does not mention § 504 (or any other federal statute), and does not even use the word "discriminate." It requires every designated agency to establish and maintain procedures to ensure that

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"the agency utilizes its full authority pursuant to state law to prevent instances of unlawful medical neglect of handicapped infants." 45 CFR § 84.55(c)(1). Mandated procedures must include (1)

[a] requirement that health care providers report on a timely basis . . . known or suspected instances of unlawful medical neglect of handicapped infants,

§ 84.55(c)(1)(i); (2) a method by which the state agency can receive timely reports of such cases, § 84.55(c)(1)(ii); (3) "immediate" review of those reports, including "on-site investigation," where appropriate, § 84.55(c)(1)(iii); (4) protection of "medically neglected handicapped infants" including, where appropriate, legal action to secure "timely court order[s] to compel the provision of necessary nourishment and medical treatment," § 84.55(c)(1)(iv); and (5) "[t]imely notification" to HHS of every report of "suspected unlawful medical neglect" of handicapped infants. The preamble to the Final Rules makes clear that this subsection applies

where a refusal to provide medically beneficial treatment is a result, not of decisions by a health care provider, but of decisions by parents.

49 Fed.Reg. 1627 (1984).

The two remaining mandatory regulations authorize "[e]xpedited access to records" and "[e]xpedited action to effect compliance." 45 CFR §§ 84.55(d), (e) (1985). Subsection (d) provides broadly for immediate access to patient records on a 24-hour basis, with or without parental consent,

when, in the judgment of the responsible Department official, immediate access is necessary to protect the life or health of a handicapped individual.

...

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