Women’s Surgical Center, LLC v. Reese

Georgia Constitution disallows economic protectionism

Cases > Equality Under the Law > Women’s Surgical Center, LLC v. Reese
Lost: Georgia Supreme Court held that Georgia's medical certificate of needs law does not violate the constitution.
Case Court: Georgia Supreme Court

Women’s Surgical Center specializes in conducting outpatient procedures for traditionally inpatient surgeries, which benefits patients by providing less expensive and less invasive operations. Women’s Surgical wants to expand its practice, building more operating rooms and contracting with more doctors. However, Georgia’s Certificate of Need law allows competing medical practices to object to the issuance of a Certificate of Need and triggers a hearing by the Department of Community Health to determine whether there is a “need” in the community for the applicant’s proposed new services. As amicus, PLF urged the Georgia Supreme Court to strike down this unconstitutional law.

Women’s Surgical Center provides state-of-the-art healthcare for women at a relatively low cost. Since 2010, Women’s Surgical has grown their practice and wants to build a second operating room and contract with additional doctors to provide more care for more Georgia women. The state’s Certificate of Need (CON) law prohibits this expansion unless the Georgia Department of Health determines that there is a “need” for such expansion. To make this decision, the Department invites competing medical practices to object to the applicant’s proposed new services and conducts a hearing to consider the objections. The applicant may not speak at the hearing to rebut arguments advanced by competitors. The Center sued under several state and federal constitutional provisions.

The Georgia Constitution offers greater protection for economic liberty than the federal constitution, expressing a policy against “defeating or lessening competition, or encouraging monopoly.” As such, Georgia courts consistently subject economic regulations to a more stringent standard of review than the “rational basis” standard applied in federal courts. PLF filed an amicus brief urging the Georgia Supreme Court to strike down the CON law because it does not achieve any benefit to the public health, safety, or general welfare, and therefore violates the state constitutional prohibition against protectionist legislation.

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What’s at stake?

  • State constitutions may provide greater protections than the federal constitution and courts should invoke those greater protections when necessary for the benefit of individual rights and the right to earn a living.
  • A law that establishes economic protectionism does not advance any legitimate governmental interest. Instead, it achieves the private interests of some at the expense of others.

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