Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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E. Kendrick Smith, an Atlanta lawyer, brought this action to compel a corporation, Northside Hospital, Inc. and its parent company, Northside Health Services, Inc., (collectively, “Northside”), to provide him with access to certain documents in response to his request under the Georgia Open Records Act (“the Act”). A government agency owns and operates a large and complex hospital as part of its mission to provide healthcare throughout Fulton County. The agency leased its assets (including the hospital) to the Northside for a 40-year term at a relatively minimal rent. All governmental powers were delegated to Northside with respect to running the hospital and other assets. Northside’s organizing documents reflected that its purpose aligned with the agency’s: to provide healthcare for the benefit of the public. Thirty years into the arrangement, the corporation became “massive,” and owned other assets in surrounding counties. In resisting Smith’s request for records, Northside argued it no didn’t really do anything on behalf of the agency (in part because the now nearly-nonexistent agency has no idea what the corporation is doing), and thus the corporation’s records of a series of healthcare-related acquisitions weren’t subject to public inspection. The Georgia Supreme Court surmised that if the corporation’s aggressive position were wholly correct, it would cast serious doubt on the legality of the whole arrangement between Northside and the agency. Smith argued everything Northside did was for the agency’s benefit and thus all of its records were public. The Supreme Court concluded both were wrong: Northside’s operation of the hospital and other leased facilities was a service it performed on behalf of the agency, so records related to that operation were public records. But whether the acquisition-related records sought here were also public records depended on how closely related the acquisition was to the operation of the leased facilities, a factual question for the trial court to determine on remand. View "Smith v. Northside Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

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Women’s Surgical Center, LLC d/b/a Georgia Advanced Surgery Center for Women (the “Center”) planned to add a second operating room to its premises in order to create opportunities to form contracts with additional surgeons who could then use the Center in connection with their medical practices. However, any such change to the Center could only be legally accomplished if the Center sought and was granted a certificate of need (“CON”) by the Georgia Department of Community Health (the “Department”). Because the Center believed that it should not be subject to the CON requirements, it filed an action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Department in an effort to have Georgia’s applicable CON law and the regulations authorizing it declared unconstitutional. The Department moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing, among other things, that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the case because the Center failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before filing its lawsuit. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, then both the Center and the Department filed motions for summary judgment with regard to the Center’s constitutional claims. The trial court rejected all of the Center’s constitutional challenges and granted summary judgment to the Department. In Case No. S17A1317, the Center appealed that ruling, and in Case No. S17X1318, the Department appealed the denial of its motion to dismiss. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed in both cases. View "Womens Surgical Center, LLC v. Berry" on Justia Law

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Bernard Norton, by and through Kim Norton, brought a wrongful death action against a number of defendants who were affiliated with a nursing home in which his wife, Lola Norton, died. Bernard claimed that negligent treatment caused Lola’s death. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration of all claims in accordance with an agreement entered into by Lola at the time she was admitted to the nursing home. The trial court granted the motion to stay and compel arbitration, and Bernard appealed, contending that, as a wrongful death beneficiary, he could not be bound to Lola’s arbitration agreement. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and found that Lola’s beneficiaries were not required to arbitrate their wrongful death claims against the defendants. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether an arbitration agreement governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and entered into by a decedent and/or her power of attorney, which bound the decedent and her estate to arbitration, was also enforceable against the decedent’s beneficiaries in a wrongful death action. The Court found that such an arbitration agreement did bind the decedent’s beneficiaries with respect to their wrongful death claims, and, accordingly, reversed the Court of Appeals. View "United Health Services of Georgia, Inc. v. Norton" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Olga Zarate-Martinez filed a medical malpractice complaint against Dr. Michael D. Echemendia, Atlanta Women’s Health Group, P.C., Atlanta Women’s Health Group, II, LLC, and North Crescent Surgery Center, LLC (collectively “Echemendia”), for damages for injuries she sustained during an open laparoscopic tubal ligation that was allegedly negligently performed and which resulted in a perforated bowel. Zarate-Martinez attached to her complaint an affidavit from Dr. Errol G. Jacobi. She later identified Dr. Charles J. Ward as an expert for summary judgment purposes, but she never submitted an affidavit from Dr. Ward in support of her complaint. Echemendia deposed Dr. Ward and Dr. Jacobi, moved to strike the testimony from both doctors on the grounds that they did not qualify as experts, and also moved for summary judgment. Without any reference to some constitutional issues raised, on February 21, 2013, the trial court issued an order striking both experts’ testimony, but granted Zarate-Martinez 45 days in which to file an affidavit from a competent expert witness. Zarate-Martinez timely submitted another affidavit, this time from Dr. Nancy Hendrix, and Echemendia again moved to strike. Zarate-Martinez then filed a supplemental affidavit from Hendrix outside of the 45-day time frame, and, in her reply to the motion to strike, reasserted her constitutional challenges to OCGA 24-7-702 (c). Zarate-Martinez also asserted a new constitutional claim, specifically, that the provisions of OCGA 24-7-702 (c) (2) (A) and (B) were unconstitutionally vague. The trial court struck Hendrix's affidavits, and, without any affidavits from qualified medical experts to support her claim, the trial court dismissed Zarate-Martinez's complaint. The Court of Appeals affirmed and did not reach the constitutional issues since the trial court never addressed them. The Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals decision and that of the trial court with respect to the application of OCGA 24-7-702 (c) and remanded for the trial court to reconsider the admissibility of Hendrix's testimony. View "Zarate-Martinez v. Echemendia" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs in this case were providers and recipients of Medicaid services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who claimed that the defendant administrative agencies and their commissioners failed to follow the required procedures before reducing the reimbursement rates paid to the providers and limiting the services available to the recipients. The plaintiffs did not submit their claims to the agencies for administrative review, instead filing their lawsuit with the trial court. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, but the Court of Appeals reversed that ruling. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the defendants’ alleged failure to give the plaintiffs proper notice of adverse agency decisions excused the plaintiffs from the exhaustion requirement. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the plaintiffs were required to raise their defective notice claims in the administrative review process in the first instance. View "Georgia Dept. of Behavioral Health Developmental Disabilities v. United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia, Inc." on Justia Law