In a setback to nursing-home operators facing hundreds of COVID-19 negligence and wrongful-death lawsuits, a federal appeals court on Wednesday said cases against two New Jersey facilities should proceed in state courts.

The nursing homes had argued that the suits against them belonged in federal court, citing an emergency U.S. law known as the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, which shields those fighting the pandemic from lawsuits.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia affirmed a lower court ruling and rejected the nursing homes’ argument that the PREP Act was so far reaching that families’ state-law negligence claims were really federal claims that belonged in federal court.

The families “asserted only garden-variety state-law claims, so state court is where these cases belong,” the court said.

Neil Lapinski, a Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella attorney who represented the families, said “the court has provided a clear roadmap for litigants” that was consistent with lower court rulings.

The cases were filed in state court in April 2020 by families of four residents who died of COVID-19.

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