Justia Health Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
Premier Health Care Investments, LLC v. UHS of Anchor, LP
In 2005, the Georgia Department of Community Health (Department) promulgated a rule, commonly known as the “Psychiatric Rule” (“the Rule”), that required hospitals to obtain a Certificate of Need (“CON”) “prior to the establishment of a new or the expansion of an existing acute care adult psychiatric and/or substance abuse inpatient program,” and defined “expansion” as “the addition of beds to an existing CON-authorized or grandfathered psychiatric and/or substance abuse inpatient program.” The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Department could, through the Rule, require a licensed hospital with a psychiatric/substance-abuse program authorized by a CON, to obtain an additional CON to redistribute inpatient beds in excess of those identified in its CON to operate a psychiatric/substance-abuse program, but within its total licensed bed capacity. In UHS of Anchor, L.P. v. Department of Community Health, 830 SE2d 413 (2019), the Court of Appeals held that the Department could. The Supreme Court determined the appellate court erred in that conclusion, and reversed. "The General Assembly’s delegation of legislative authority to the Department to promulgate rules as part of its administration of the CON program does not include the authority to define additional new institutional health services requiring a CON, beyond those listed in OCGA 31-6-40 (a)." View "Premier Health Care Investments, LLC v. UHS of Anchor, LP" on Justia Law
Norman et al. v. Xytex Corp., et al.
Wendy and Janet Norman alleged that Xytex Corporation, a sperm bank, sold them human sperm under false pretenses about the characteristics of its donor, and that the child conceived with that sperm once born suffered from a variety of impairments inherited from the sperm donor. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of all but one of the Normans’ claims on the basis of Etkind v. Suarez, 519 SE2d 210 (1999), and Atlanta Obstetrics & Gynecology Group v. Abelson, 398 SE2d 557 (1990). The Georgia Supreme Court granted review, and held that claims arising from the very existence of the child were barred, but claims arising from specific impairments caused or exacerbated by defendants’ alleged wrongs could proceed, as could other claims that essentially amounted to ordinary consumer fraud. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Norman et al. v. Xytex Corp., et al." on Justia Law
Atlanta Womens Specialists, LLC et al. v. Trabue et al.
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to the Court of Appeals in five consolidated appeals to address two discrete issues – one related to pleading vicarious liability, and the other related to vicarious liability and apportionment. In 2009, Shannon Trabue suffered a catastrophic brain injury resulting from pulmonary edema leading to full cardiac arrest within days of giving birth to her daughter at Northside Hospital in Atlanta. At the hospital, Shannon was treated by physician-employees of AWS, including Dr. Stanley Angus and Dr. Rebecca Simonsen. Kenneth Trabue (husband) and the bank serving as his wife’s conservator (Plaintiffs) later filed a medical malpractice action naming as defendants only Dr. Angus and Atlanta Women’s Specialists, LLC (AWS), although the complaint contained allegations regarding Dr. Simonsen’s conduct and alleged that AWS was vicariously responsible for the acts and omissions of both Dr. Angus and Dr. Simonsen. The complaint did not allege any independent acts of negligence on the part of AWS. The issues the appellate court presented for the Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that plaintiffs sufficiently pled a claim for vicarious liability against AWS based on Dr. Simonsen's conduct; and (2) whether the appellate court erred in holding that, to obtain apportionment of damages with regard to the negligence of Dr. Simonsen, the defendants were required to comply with OCGA 51-12-33 (d) by filing a pretrial notice of nonparty fault? The Supreme Court answered both questions in the negative and affirmed the Court of Appeals’ judgment. View "Atlanta Womens Specialists, LLC et al. v. Trabue et al." on Justia Law
Bowden v. The Medical Center
The Court of Appeals affirmed a superior court decision to certify a class action lawsuit against The Medical Center, Inc. ("TMC"). Class representatives were uninsured patients who received medical treatment from TMC and who claimed that TMC charged them unreasonable rates for their medical care, which rates TMC then used as a basis for filing hospital liens against any potential tort recovery by the patients. The Court of Appeals also ruled on the causes of action raised by the plaintiffs. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to answer three questions: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in its determination that class certification was proper; (2) whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the denial of summary judgment for TMC on common law claims of fraud and negligent misrepresentation; and (3) whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the denial of summary judgment to TMC on claims brought under the Georgia RICO Act. The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred with regard to the first two questions, but not the third. Therefore, judgment was reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bowden v. The Medical Center" on Justia Law
Cobb Hospital v. Department of Community Health et al.
This case involved Cobb Hospital, Inc.'s and Kennestone Hospital, Inc.'s (collectively, “Wellstar”) challenge to the decision by the Georgia Department of Community Health (“DCH”) to grant Emory University Hospital Smyrna (“Emory”) a new certificate of need (“CON”) to renovate a hospital that Emory had recently acquired. After DCH made an initial decision granting the CON, Wellstar appealed to the CON Appeal Panel. The panel’s hearing officer affirmed the decision, ruling that as a matter of law he could not consider Wellstar’s arguments regarding the validity of Emory’s existing CON, and that he would not allow Wellstar to present evidence related to those arguments. Wellstar then appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the DCH Commissioner, allegedly arguing among other things that the decision violated Wellstar’s constitutional right to due process. The Commissioner affirmed the hearing officer’s decision without ruling on the constitutional claim. In Division 2 of its opinion in this case, the Georgia Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred by holding that the constitutional due process claim enumerated by Wellstar was not preserved for appellate review because it was not ruled on during the administrative proceeding that led to the filing of this case in the trial court. The Supreme Court thus granted Wellstar’s petition for a writ of certiorari to address that issue, reversed the Court of Appeals’s opinion, and remanded for that court to reconsider Wellstar’s constitutional claim. View "Cobb Hospital v. Department of Community Health et al." on Justia Law
Collins et al. v. Athens Orthopedic Clinic, P.A.
Plaintiffs alleged in 2016, an anonymous hacker stole the personally identifiable information, including Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and health insurance details, of at least 200,000 current and former patients of Athens Orthopedic Clinic (“the Clinic”) from the Clinic’s computer databases. The hacker demanded a ransom, but the Clinic refused to pay. The hacker offered at least some of the stolen personal data for sale on the so-called “dark web,” and some of the information was made available, at least temporarily, on Pastebin, a data-storage website. The Clinic notified plaintiffs of the breach in August 2016. Each named plaintiff alleges that she has “spent time calling a credit reporting agency and placing a fraud or credit alert on her credit report to try to contain the impact of the data breach and anticipates having to spend more time and money in the future on similar activities.” Plaintiffs sought class certification and asserted claims for negligence, breach of implied contract, and unjust enrichment, seeking damages based on costs related to credit monitoring and identity theft protection, as well as attorneys’ fees. They also sought injunctive relief under the Georgia Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act (“UDTPA”), and a declaratory judgment to the effect that the Clinic must take certain actions to ensure the security of class members’ personal data in the future. The Clinic filed a motion to dismiss based on both OCGA 9-11-12 (b) (1) and OCGA 9-11-12 (b)(6), which the trial court granted summarily. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the injury plaintiffs alleged they suffered was legally cognizable. Because the Court of Appeals held otherwise in affirming dismissal of plaintiffs’ negligence claims, the Supreme Court reversed that holding. Because that error may have affected the Court of Appeals’s other holdings, the Court vacated those other holdings and remanded the case. View "Collins et al. v. Athens Orthopedic Clinic, P.A." on Justia Law
Smith v. Northside Hospital, Inc.
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
Womens Surgical Center, LLC v. Berry
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
United Health Services of Georgia, Inc. v. Norton
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
Zarate-Martinez v. Echemendia
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