In a 9-0 decision, the Georgia Supreme Court sided with Northeast Georgia Medical Center and other parties against the Department of Community Health, reversing a Court of Appeals’ decision upholding the Department’s award of a certificate of need (“CON”) to Northside Gwinnett Hospital for a radiation therapy project. The Department Commissioner’s authority in contested CON matters, and the role of hearing officers to act as the sole fact finders in those matters, was addressed by the Supreme Court for the first time in its decision.

The Court explained that the language of the CON Act gives hearing officers, not the Commissioner, the task of weighing evidence, assessing the credibility of witnesses, and making findings of fact. The Supreme Court rejected the Department and Northside Gwinnett Hospital’s arguments that, as the head of the agency, the Commissioner has broad powers to review a hearing officer’s findings of fact. The case was remanded to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision.

The decision is another in a recent string of Supreme Court rulings applying a critical eye to agency assertions of power. While the holding of the Supreme Court opinion is specific to the CON Act and its review scheme, it illustrates how parties who have business before any state agency may call on Georgia’s courts to require agencies to follow the relevant statutes and regulations, rather than simply defer to the agency.

The team representing Northeast Georgia Medical Center includes Parker Hudson lawyers David Darden, Armando Basarrate, Elizabeth Kitchens, Grace Blood, and Jay Bilsborrow.