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Forthcoming Opinions

June 27, 2014

On Monday, June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court of Georgia will release opinions in 14 cases, six of which are within the scope of our coverage. Summaries of the cases are below and we will update on Monday morning with links to the opinions.

S13G1167. RODRIGUEZ v. THE STATE

This case is a criminal case, but raises procedural issues related to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. (A reader alerted us to this case.) The case began when Sonia Rodriguez was stopped based on an automated scan of her license plate. During the stop, the officer found marijuana in the vehicle. Rodriguez moved to suppress the marijuana found during the stop, claiming the officer lacked a sufficient basis for the stop and unreasonably prolonged the detention after stopping her. The trial court denied her motion and Rodriguez filed an interlocutory appeal.

The Court of Appeals (Doyle, Andrews, Boggs) initially affirmed the trial court decision, but after a motion for reconsideration, issued a new, fractured decision, which still apparently affirmed the trial court ruling. The 12-member Court of Appeals issued a per curiam decision joined by two judges, and with respect to division 2 and the judgment by two other judges. Two additional judges concurred in the judgment only and six judges dissented, but on varying grounds. The per curiam opinion found that Rodriguez waived her claim that the initial stop was invalid, because the written amended motion did not make that assertion. But that opinion also found that Rodriguez had failed to show the search was not allowed because of an improper expansion of the duration of the stop. Judge Doyle (joined by three other judges) would have reversed the decision, finding that there was not a sufficient basis for the initial stop. Judge Dillard would have found that Rodriguez’s failure to give the state pre-hearing notice regarding the legal issues to be considered justifies vacating and remanding the case.

On September 9, 2013, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issues:

  1. Whether the Court of Appeals was equally divided in this case and, therefore, ought to have transferred the case to this Court? See Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. V, Par. V.
  2. If so, whether the trial court erred when it denied the motion to suppress?

The case was heard on January 7, 2014.

S13G1651. MURPHY v. MURPHY

This case is purportedly an appeal of a ruling on a recusal motion, but hinges on the jurisdiction of Georgia appellate courts to hear direct appeals of child custody provisions of divorce decrees. Nancy and John Murphy were divorced in 2006, but John sought to modify the child support provisions of the decree in 2012. Nancy moved to disqualify the judge to whom the modification case was assigned and after the motion was denied, Nancy filed a notice of appeal.

The entire Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal in a 12-0 decision. Writing for the Court of Appeals, Judge McFadden explained that the statute previously allowed appeals from “[a]ll judgments or orders in child custody cases” but that in May 2013 (after Nancy filed her notice of appeal), the legislature limited the types of orders that were directly appealable to orders that awarded, refused to change, or modified child custody. Because the denial of the motion to disqualify did not award, refuse to change, or modify child custody, it was not immediately appealable and the appeal must be dismissed because the amended statute applied retroactively to the notice filed by Nancy. The Court of Appeals then explained why the collateral order doctrine did not apply to give it jurisdiction.

On November 4, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issue:

  1. Whether the Court of Appeals erred when it concluded that the 2013 amendment of OCGA § 5-6-34 (a) (11) applies retroactively in an appeal filed before the enactment of the amendment.

The case was heard on February 4, 2014.

S14G0341 Georgia Dept. of Community Health v. Northside Hospital, Inc.S14G0346 Kennestone Hospital, Inc. v. Northside Hospital, Inc.

This case involves the placement of an ambulatory surgery center in Cobb County. Kennestone Hospital sought a certificate of need (CON) for an ambulatory surgery center. After the Department of Community Health granted initial approval based on the determination that the center would be part of a hospital, Northside Hospital sought administrative review. An appeal panel upheld the initial approval and Northside sought review in superior court. The superior court reversed the approval, finding the “case by case” provision of the Department’s rules regarding CONs to be unconstitutionally vague. The Department and Kennestone sought review and the Court of Appeals granted the applications.

The Court of Appeals (Miller, Barnes, Ray) unanimously affirmed the trial court ruling, finding that the Department’s rule is unconstitutionally vague. The rule does not provide anyone with a common understanding of how the Department would apply its “case by case” determinations in situations involving hospitals. The lack of guidelines and unlimited discretion make the regulation unconstitutionally vague.

On February 24, 2014, the Supreme Court of Georgia granted the petition for certiorari in a 4-2 vote (Hunstein and Melton, dissenting; Blackwell, not participating) to consider the following question:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. r. 111-2-2-.40(1) (a) was unconstitutionally vague?

The case was heard on May 5, 2014.

S14A0433 Lilly et al. v. Heard

This case involves an attempt to remove a member of the Baker County Board of Education. The plaintiffs brought this quo warranto action, seeking to remove the Board chair, claiming that he did not meet the residency requirements at the time he was elected. The trial court ruled in favor of the chair and the plaintiffs appealed.

The case was heard on March 3, 2014.

S14A0792 Avery et al. v. State of Georgia et al.

This case is an appeal of a bond validation proceeding involving an expansion of the taxiway at the Paulding County Airport. The Paulding County Airport Authority approved a bond resolution in September 2013 to expand the taxiway at the airport, allowing it to accommodate commercial aircraft. Paulding County agreed to pay the principal and interest on the bonds and the State filed a petition to validate the bonds. After a hearing, including allowing some residents to intervene, the judge validated the bonds and the residents appealed.

The case was heard on May 6, 2014.

S14A0926 Cooksey v. Landry et al.

This case involves whether a psychiatrist can refuse to turn over mental health records after a patient’s death. Dr. Crit Cooksey treated Christopher Landry for eight years. While under Cooksey’s care, Christopher committed suicide. Christopher had given his parents an authorization allowing Cooksey to disclose his protected health information to them, plus Christopher’s father was appointed the administrator of his estate. When the Landrys requested Christopher’s records, Cooksey refused, stating that he was prohibited from disclosing the records due to psychiatrist-patient privilege. The Landrys sued and the trial court ruled against Cooksey, requiring the records to be disclosed. Cooksey appealed.

The case was heard on June 2, 2014.

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