Administrative Law

5th Circuit parses runny-egg rule, issues sunny-side-up decision for nursing home


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A Texas nursing home sizzling over severe penalties imposed after a state inspection found two residents had been served unpasteurized eggs that were inadequately cooked has presumably simmered down after the latest chapter in the runny-egg saga.

Reversing an administrative law judge and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Appeals Board, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that Elgin Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in fact, did not violate an egg-cooking rule in a Medicare and Medicaid operations manual, Courthouse News reports .

At issue, explains Chief Judge Jerry Smith in an opinion earlier this month, is whether two provisions of the rule, one based on temperature and the other on the extent to which the egg has congealed, apply simultaneously to the same egg.

The appellate panel found the two provisions operated independently of each other. Hence, satisfying either the temperature prong or the ‘congealing’ prong of the runny-egg rule was sufficient, and the nursing home was out of the frying pan as far an the already-reduced $5,000 fine for noncompliance was concerned.

HHS “may not issue ambiguous interpretive documents and then interpret those in enforcement actions—we will not defer to that level of agency interpretation,” Smith wrote.

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