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Released Opinions

June 1, 2010

This morning, the Georgia Supreme Court released opinions in eight cases, two of which are civil.  A brief summary of each case is below, along with a summary of the decision with a link to the written opinion.

S09G1928 E. I. Dupont De Nemours & Company v. Waters et al.

In a purported class action case, the Liberty County trial court appointed a special master to oversee the discovery process, in spite of the objections of DuPont.  The Court of Appeals granted DuPont’s application for interlocutory review.

The Court of Appeals (Bernes, Smith, and Phipps) then unanimously reversed the trial court decision, finding that the trial court was authorized to appoint an auditor (called a special master in this case) consistent with the equitable relief sought and the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 9-7-1, but had improperly delegated duties to the special master exceeding the statutory authority of the auditor provisions.  The Court of Appeals vacated the order appointing the special master and remanded the case for entry of an order consistently with O.C.G.A. § 9-7-1 et seq.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in a 5-2 vote (Thompson and Hines dissenting) to review the following issue:

  1. Was the trial court authorized to appoint a special master in this case?

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on May 10, 2010.

On June 1, 2010 the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed in part and reversed in part.  Justice Melton wrote for the Court, finding that the adoption of Uniform Superior Court Rule 46, authorizing the appointment of special masters in difficult cases, authorizes the appointment of a special master in this case.  However, because there are certain procedural requirements to be followed in a special master appointment, the case was remanded for further consideration, including the entry of a proper special master order pursuant to Rule 46.

S10A0994 Baker v. Wellstar Health System, Inc., d/b/a Wellstar Kennestone Hospital et al.

This case originates from Cobb County State Court on a protective order.   After being injured as a result of a medical procedure at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Baker filed a medical malpractice suit.  The hospital requested a “qualified protective order,” which allowed it to interview Baker’s doctors about the care he received without having Baker’s attorney present.  The trial court granted the protective order with specific limits about the use of the protected health information in the litigation, and the Court of Appeals refused the interlocutory application to review the grant of the order.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in a 5-2 vote (Hines and Melton dissenting) to review the following issue:

  1. Whether the protective order entered in this case comports with Moreland v. Austin, 284 Ga. 730 (2008) and the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act?

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on the case on May 10, 2010.

On June 1, 2010 the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the trial court.  Justice Melton wrote for the Court as to Divisions 1 and 3 of the opinion and in judgment, but not as to Division 2.  Chief Justice Hunstein, and Justices Carley and Thompson disagreed with Division 2 but did not author a separate dissent.  The Court determined that ex parte interviews for medical records are appropriate under HIPAA, as long as procedural safeguards are met.  The procedural safeguards can be met by a qualified protective order like the one in this case.  But the qualified protective order in this case was found to be too broad, because it included medical records that were not relevant to the underlying malpractice claim.  The Court reversed the protective order on this basis.

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