The Georgia Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in favor of WellStar Windy Hill Hospital regarding two key points of healthcare and administrative law. Five months after Parker Hudson’s argument on behalf of Wellstar, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals, and ruled that the right to offer health services under a Certificate of Need is a protected private right, and that deference is generally not owed to agencies’ interpretations of their own regulations.

The first holding – that certain CON rights are private rights capable of vesting – means that such rights cannot be retroactively impaired without running afoul of the Georgia constitution. This is an important point for any CON-holder facing arguments that their rights have been curtailed by changes in the law or regulations, and places CON provider rights on a similar footing to land use rights. The Court’s ruling on this point also provides more guidance on how the Court determines whether any particular right is “private,” and therefore subject to protection against retroactive impairment, or “public,” and therefore subject to changes in Georgia’s public policy.

The second holding – that courts are to independently assess the meaning of agency regulations, rather than simply defer to the promulgating agency – reinforces the Court’s decisions from recent years on that subject. Any party facing an adverse rule interpretation from a Georgia administrative agency should be heartened that the Supreme Court instructs lower courts to independently evaluate regulations for themselves, rather than blindly deferring to any agency interpretation that seems “reasonable.”

The team representing Wellstar includes Parker Hudson lawyers David Darden, Armando Basarrate, and Grace Blood, and outside co-counsel Robert Ingram, David Conley, and Amy Levin Weil.

To view David Darden’s argument before the Supreme Court of Georgia in 2023, please click here (scroll down to the third video).

To view the media coverage of the decision (“Judgment Vacated: Hospital's Certificate of Need Conveyed Private Right,” published in the Daily Report on February 8, 2024), please click here (subscription required).