2010 Georgia Code
O.C.G.A. 31-6-44 (2010)
TITLE 31 - HEALTH
CHAPTER 6 - STATE HEALTH PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT
ARTICLE 3 - CERTIFICATE OF NEED PROGRAM
§ 31-6-44 - Certificate of Need Appeal Panel
31-6-44. Certificate of Need Appeal Panel
(a) Effective July 1, 2008, there is created the Certificate of Need Appeal Panel, which shall be an agency separate and apart from the department and shall consist of a panel of independent hearing officers. The purpose of the appeal panel shall be to serve as a panel of independent hearing officers to review the department's initial decision to grant or deny a certificate of need application. The Health Planning Review Board which existed on June 30, 2008, shall cease to exist after that date and the Certificate of Need Appeal Panel shall be constituted effective July 1, 2008, pursuant to this Code section. The terms of all members of the Health Planning Review Board serving as such on June 30, 2008, shall automatically terminate on such date.
(b) On and after July 1, 2008, the appeal panel shall be composed of five members appointed by the Governor for a term of up to four years each. The Governor shall appoint to the appeal panel attorneys who practice law in this state and who are familiar with the health care industry but who do not have a financial interest in or represent or have any compensation arrangement with any health care facility. Each member of the appeal panel shall be an active member of the State Bar of Georgia in good standing, and each attorney shall have maintained such active status for the five years immediately preceding such person's appointment. The Governor shall name from among such members a chairperson and a vice chairperson of the appeal panel. The vice chairperson shall have the same authority as the chairperson; provided, however, the vice chairperson shall not exercise such authority unless expressly delegated by the chairperson or in the event the chairperson becomes incapacitated, as determined by the Governor. Vacancies on the appeal panel caused by resignation, death, or any other cause shall be filled for the unexpired term in the same manner as the original appointment. No person required to register with the Secretary of State as a lobbyist or registered agent shall be eligible for appointment by the Governor to the appeal panel.
(c) The appeal panel shall promulgate reasonable rules for its operation and rules of procedure for the conduct of initial administrative appeal hearings held by the appointed hearing officers, including an appropriate fee schedule for filing such appeals. Members of the appeal panel shall serve as hearing officers for appeals that are assigned to them on a random basis by the chairperson of the appeal panel. The members of the appeal panel shall receive no salary but shall be reimbursed for their expenses in attending meetings and for transportation costs as authorized by Code Section 45-7-21, which provides for compensation and allowances of certain state officials; provided, however, that the chairperson and vice chairperson of the appeal panel shall also be compensated for their services rendered to the appeal panel outside of attendance at an appeal panel meeting, such as for time spent assigning hearing officers, the amount of which compensation shall be determined according to regulations of the Department of Administrative Services. Appeal panel members shall receive compensation for the administration of the cases assigned to them, including prehearing, hearing, and posthearing work, in an amount determined to be appropriate and reasonable by the Department of Administrative Services. Such compensation to the members of the appeal panel shall be made by the Department of Administrative Services.
(d) Any applicant for a project, any competing applicant in the same batching cycle, any competing health care facility that has notified the department prior to its decision that such facility is opposed to the application before the department, or any county or municipal government in whose boundaries the proposed project will be located who is aggrieved by a decision of the department shall have the right to an initial administrative appeal hearing before an appeal panel hearing officer or to intervene in such hearing. Such request for hearing or intervention shall be filed with the chairperson of the appeal panel within 30 days of the date of the decision made pursuant to Code Section 31-6-43. In the event an appeal is filed by a competing applicant, or any competing health care facility, or any county or municipal government, the appeal shall be accompanied by payment of such fee as is established by the appeal panel. In the event an appeal is requested, the chairperson of the appeal panel shall appoint a hearing officer for each such hearing within 30 days after the date the appeal is received. Within 14 days after the appointment of the hearing officer, such hearing officer shall confer with the parties and set the date or dates for the hearing, provided that no hearing shall be scheduled less than 60 days nor more than 120 days after the filing of the request for a hearing, unless the applicant consents or, in the case of competing applicants, all applicants consent to an extension of this time period to a specified date. Unless the applicant consents or, in the case of competing applicants, all applicants consent to an extension of said 120 day period, any hearing officer who regularly fails to commence a hearing within the required time period shall not be eligible for continued service as a hearing officer for the purposes of this Code section. The hearing officer shall have the authority to dispose of all motions made by any party before the issuance of the hearing officer's decision and shall make such rulings as may be required for the conduct of the hearing.
(e) In fulfilling the functions and duties of this chapter, the hearing officer shall act, and the hearing shall be conducted as a full evidentiary hearing, in accordance with Chapter 13 of Title 50, the "Georgia Administrative Procedure Act," relating to contested cases, except as otherwise specified in this Code section. Subject to the provisions of Article 4 of Chapter 18 of Title 50, all files, working papers, studies, notes, and other writings or information used by the department in making its decision shall be public records and available to the parties, and the hearing officer may permit each party to exercise such reasonable rights of prehearing discovery of such information used by the parties as will expedite the hearing.
(f) In addition to evidence submitted to the department, a party may present any additional relevant evidence to the appeal panel hearing officer reviewing the decision of the department if the evidence was not reasonably available to the party presenting the evidence at the time of the department's review. The burden of proof as to whether the evidence was reasonably available shall be on the party attempting to introduce the new evidence. The issue for the decision by the hearing officer shall be whether, and the hearing officer shall order the issuance of a certificate of need if, in the hearing officer's judgment, the application is consistent with the considerations as set forth in Code Section 31-6-42 and the department's rules, as the hearing officer deems such considerations and rules applicable to the review of the project. The appeal hearing conducted by the appeal panel hearing officer shall be a de novo review of the decision of the department. The hearing officer shall also consider:
(1) Whether the department committed prejudicial procedural error in its consideration of the application;
(2) Whether the appeal lacks substantial justification; and
(3) Whether such appeal was undertaken primarily for the purpose of delay or harassment.
The burden of proof shall be on the appellant. Appellants or applicants shall proceed first with their cases before the hearing officer in the order determined by the hearing officer, and the department, if a party, shall proceed last. In the event of a consolidated hearing on applications which were joined for comparative review pursuant to subsection (f) of Code Section 31-6-43, the hearing officer shall have the same powers specified for the department in subsection (f) of Code Section 31-6-43 to order the issuance of no certificate of need or one or more certificates of need.
(g) All evidence shall be presented at the initial administrative appeal hearing conducted by the appointed hearing officer. A party or intervenor may present any relevant evidence on all issues raised by the hearing officer or any party to the hearing or revealed during discovery and shall not be limited to evidence or information presented to the department prior to its decision, except that an applicant may not present a new need study or analysis responsive to the general need consideration or service-specific need formula as provided in the applicable rules that is substantially different from any such study or analysis submitted to the department prior to its decision and that could have reasonably been available for submission. The hearing officer may consider the latest data available, including updates of studies previously submitted, in deciding whether an application is consistent with the applicable considerations or rules. The hearing officer shall consider the applicable considerations and rules in effect on the date the appeal is filed, even if the provisions of those considerations or rules were changed after the department's decision. The hearing officer may remand a matter to the department if the hearing officer determines that it would be beneficial for the department to consider new data, studies, or analyses that were not available before the decision or changes to the provisions of the applicable considerations or rules made after the department's decision. The hearing officer shall establish the time deadlines for completion of the remand and shall retain jurisdiction of the matter throughout the completion of the remand.
(h) After the issuance of a decision by the department pursuant to Code Section 31-6-43, no party to an appeal hearing, nor any person on behalf of such party, including the department, shall make any ex parte contact with the appeal panel hearing officer appointed to conduct the appeal hearing, any other member of the appeal panel, or the commissioner in regard to a decision under appeal.
(i) Within 30 days after the conclusion of the hearing, the hearing officer shall make written findings of fact and conclusions of law as to each consideration as set forth in Code Section 31-6-42 and the department's rules, including a detailed statement of the reasons for the decision of the hearing officer. If any party has alleged that an appeal lacks substantial justification or was undertaken primarily for the purpose of delay or harassment, the decision of the hearing officer shall make findings of fact addressing the merits of the allegation. The hearing officer shall file such decision with the chairperson of the appeal panel who shall serve such decision upon all parties, and shall transmit the administrative record to the commissioner. Any party, including the department, which disputes any finding of fact or conclusion of law rendered by the hearing officer in such hearing officer's decision and which wishes to appeal that decision may appeal to the commissioner and shall file its specific objections with the commissioner or his or her designee within 30 days of the date of the hearing officer's decision pursuant to rules adopted by the department.
(j) The decision of the appeal panel hearing officer will become the final decision of the department upon the sixty-first day following the date of the decision unless an objection thereto is filed with the commissioner within the time limit established in subsection (i) of this Code section.
(k) (1) In the event an appeal of the hearing officer's decision is filed, the commissioner may adopt the hearing officer's order as the final order of the department or the commissioner may reject or modify the conclusions of law over which the department has substantive jurisdiction and the interpretation of administrative rules over which it has substantive jurisdiction. By rejecting or modifying such conclusion of law or interpretation of administrative rule, the department must state with particularity its reasons for rejecting or modifying such conclusion of law or interpretation of administrative rule and must make a finding that its substituted conclusion of law or interpretation of administrative rule is as or more reasonable than that which was rejected or modified. Rejection or modification of conclusions of law may not form the basis for rejection or modification of findings of fact. The commissioner may not reject or modify the findings of fact unless the commissioner first determines from a review of the entire record, and states with particularity in the order, that the findings of fact were not based upon any competent substantial evidence or that the proceedings on which the findings were based did not comply with the essential requirements of law.
(2) If, before the date set for the commissioner's decision, application is made to the commissioner for leave to present additional evidence and it is shown to the satisfaction of the commissioner that the additional evidence is material and there were good reasons for failure to present it in the proceedings before the hearing officer, the commissioner may order that the additional evidence be taken before the same hearing officer who rendered the initial decision upon conditions determined by the commissioner. The hearing officer may modify the initial decision by reason of the additional evidence and shall file that evidence and any modifications, new findings, or decision with the commissioner. Unless leave is given by the commissioner in accordance with the provisions of this subsection, the appeal panel may not consider new evidence under any circumstances. In all circumstances, the commissioner's decision shall be based upon considerations as set forth in Code Section 31-6-42 and the department's rules.
(l) If, based upon the findings of fact by the hearing officer, the commissioner determines that the appeal filed by any party of a decision of the department lacks substantial justification and was undertaken primarily for the purpose of delay or harassment, the commissioner may enter an award in his or her written order against such party and in favor of the successful party or parties, including the department, of all or any part of their respective reasonable and necessary attorney's fees and expenses of litigation, as the commissioner deems just. Such award may be enforced by any court undertaking judicial review of the final decision. In the absence of any petition for judicial review, then such award shall be enforced, upon due application, by any court having personal jurisdiction over the party against whom such an award is made.
(m) Unless the hearing officer's decision becomes the department's final decision by operation of law as provided in subsection (j) of this Code section, the decision of the commissioner shall become the department's final decision by operation of law. Such final decision shall be the final department decision for purposes of Chapter 13 of Title 50, the "Georgia Administrative Procedure Act." The appeals process provided by this Code section shall be the administrative remedy only for decisions made by the department pursuant to Code Section 31-6-43 which involve the approval or denial of applications for certificates of need.
(n) A party responding to an appeal to the commissioner may be entitled to reasonable attorney's fees and costs of such appeal if it is determined that the appeal lacked substantial justification and was undertaken primarily for the purpose of delay or harassment; provided, however, that the department shall not be required to pay attorney's fees or costs. This subsection shall not apply to the portion of attorney's fees accrued on behalf of a party responding to or bringing a challenge to the department's authority to enact a rule or regulation or the department's jurisdiction or another challenge that could not have been decided in the administrative proceeding, nor shall it apply to costs accrued when the only argument raised by the appealing party is one described in this subsection.
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