BAPTIST HEALTH SYSTEMS, MERCY HEALTH SYSTEM, AND WASHINGTON REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, APPELLANTS/CROSS-APPELLEES
LESLIE RUTLEDGE, ARKANSAS ATTORNEY GENERAL; ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH; AND NATHANIEL SMITH, MD, MPH, DIRECTOR, APPELLEES/CROSS-APPELLANTS
FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. 60CV-14-2218.
HONORABLE TIMOTHY DAVIS FOX, JUDGE.
Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard, P.L.L.C., by: Megan D.
Hargraves, for appellants.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Bourgon B. Reynolds, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellees.
Blackstock, Ivers, Sneddon & Marshall, PLLC, by: Emily
Sneddon and Michael W. Mitchell, amicus curiae in support of
White, Vice President and General Counsel, Arkansas Hospital
Association, amicus curiae in support of appellants.
F. WYNNE, Associate Justice. DANIELSON and WOOD, JJ.,
F. WYNNE, Associate Justice
issue in this appeal is Act 766 of 2013, known as the
Arkansas Peer Review Fairness Act (the Act). Act of Apr. 5,
2013, No. 766, 2013 Ark. Acts 2890 (codified at Ark. Code
Ann. § 20-9-1301 (Repl. 2014)). Before the Pulaski
County Circuit Court, the case was decided on competing
motions for summary judgment. The hospitals appealed, and the
defendants cross-appealed. The Arkansas Hospital Association
and the Arkansas Medical Society have filed amicus
curiae briefs. We reverse the circuit court's denial
of the defendants' motion for summary judgment as to
whether this case presents a justiciable controversy, and we
dismiss the direct appeal.
appellants, plaintiffs below, are three Arkansas corporations
that operate private hospitals in the state (the Hospitals).
In June 2014, the Hospitals filed a complaint for declaratory
judgment in the Pulaski County Circuit Court seeking a
judgment declaring the Act unconstitutional under the
Arkansas and United States Constitutions. The complaint named
the following parties as defendants: the Attorney
General in his official capacity; the Arkansas
Department of Health; and Nathaniel Smith, MD, MPH, Director.
The defendants answered, denying that they were proper
parties to this action, denying that the Act is
unconstitutional, and pleading various affirmative defenses.
Eventually, the parties filed competing motions for summary
judgment. No hearing was held, and the circuit court entered
two separate orders on April 24, 2015. The circuit court
denied paragraph four of the defendants' motion for
summary judgment, which stated as follows:
This Court should also enter summary judgment in favor of the
state defendants because plaintiffs lack standing to file
this declaratory judgment action. There is no justiciable
controversy between plaintiffs and these state defendants,
and plaintiffs' declaratory judgment complaint is not
ripe for consideration.
elaboration, the circuit court ruled that the Act is not
unconstitutional for the following reasons: the Act is not
pre-empted by federal law; the Act does not
unconstitutionally treat the Hospitals
differently from other healthcare entities; the Act does not
restrict the Hospitals' right to retain the attorney of
their choice; the Act does not unconstitutionally interfere
with the exclusive jurisdiction of Arkansas courts to
regulate the practice of law; and the Act is not
unconstitutionally vague and ambiguous. The Hospitals filed a
timely notice of appeal; the defendants filed a timely notice
Is this a proper declaratory judgment action?
review is a process for monitoring quality and improving care
within a healthcare institution. See Ark. Code Ann.
§ 20-9-1302(a)(1). It was addressed by Congress in 1986
with the passage of the Health Care Quality Improvement Act
(HCQIA), codified at 42 U.S.C. § § 11101 et seq.
Generally speaking, HCQIA provides immunity from liability
for civil damages for those who participate in a
professional-review action and meet the standards set forth
in HCQIA (regarding the purpose of the action, notice and
hearing, and procedures). See 42 U.S.C. §
11111. In 2013, our General Assembly passed the Act, codified
at Ark. Code Ann. § § 20-9-1301 to -1308. Arkansas
Code Annotated section 20-9-1302 provides as follows:
( a) The General Assembly finds that:
(1) The peer review process is well established as the most
important and effective means of monitoring quality and