Vicksburg Healthcare, LLC v. Miss. State Dep't of Health

Citation292 So.3d 223
Decision Date19 March 2020
Docket NumberNO. 2018-CC-01057-SCT,2018-CC-01057-SCT
Parties VICKSBURG HEALTHCARE, LLC d/b/a Merit Health River Region v. MISSISSIPPI STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH and Wound Care Management, LLC d/b/a MedCentris
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: THOMAS L. KIRKLAND, JR., ANDY LOWRY, ALLISON C. SIMPSON, BEA TOLSDORF, Jackson

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: INGRID DAVE WILLIAMS, CASSANDRA WALTER, STAN T. INGRAM, TRAVIS CONNER, Jackson, JULIE B. MITCHELL, Ridgeland

BEFORE RANDOLPH, C.J., COLEMAN AND CHAMBERLIN, JJ.

COLEMAN, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

¶1. The Mississippi State Department of Health entered a final order approving a Certificate of Need for Wound Care Management, LLC, d/b/a MedCentris for the "[p]rovision of [d]igital [s]ubtraction [a]ngiography (DSA) services (Limb Salvage Program)." Vicksburg Healthcare, LLC, d/b/a Merit Health River Region—a hospital in Vicksburg that opposes the certificate of need—appealed the Department’s statutorily affirmed decision pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 41-7-201(2) (Rev. 2018). After considering the record and issues presented, we entered an order on our own motion requiring supplemental briefing regarding whether Section 41-7-201(2), as amended, governs the appeal process pertaining to facilities established for the private practice, either independently or by incorporated medical groups of physicians. We hold that River Region lacked the right to petition the chancery court for review of the certificate of need under Section 41-7-201(2). Accordingly, we dismiss the case and remand it to the Hinds County Chancery Court for further proceedings.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. On May 27, 2016, MedCentris, an LLC consisting of a medical doctor, a veterinarian, and other individuals submitted a certificate of need application for providing in-office digital subtraction angiography

services to patients in and around Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Division of Health Planning and Resource Development prepared a staff analysis in accordance with the 2015 State Health Plan, a plan that governs the criteria and standards for the provision of digital subtraction angiography services. The staff analysis found that the proposed "project is in substantial compliance with the criteria and standards for the provision of digital subtraction angiography services contained in the FY 2015 Mississippi State Health Plan; the Mississippi Certificate of Need Review Manual, (2011 Revision) ; and duly adopted rules, procedures, and plans of the Mississippi Department of Health." The staff analysis recommended approval of the application.

¶3. River Region opposed the grant and requested a hearing under Mississippi Code Section 41-7-197(2) (Rev. 2018). A multiple-day hearing was held before Hearing Officer Janet McMurtry. On August 14, 2017, the hearing officer issued findings of fact and conclusions of law. The hearing officer found that MedCentris’ application met the general requirements of the digital subtraction angiography

certificate of need and recommended approval of the application.

¶4. On September 28, 2017, State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier issued a letter, constituting the Department’s final order. Currier granted MedCentris’ application for a certificate of need, finding that MedCentris’ application was "in substantial compliance with the Mississippi State Department of Health’s adopted Plans, criteria and standards." Under Mississippi Code Section 41-7-201(2), River Region appealed to the chancery court. River Region argued that, among other things, MedCentris’ project failed to meet the general criteria of the 2015 State Health Plan to improve Mississippians’ health and to increase healthcare access.

¶5. On January 26, 2018, the chancery court held a hearing and heard oral arguments. The chancery court ruled from the bench, vacated the Department’s order, and remanded the matter. The chancery court asked counsel for River Region to prepare an order and explained that

[T]he [chancery c]ourt’s intent is not to, of course, suggest anything to the [Department], but to have specific findings of fact as to specifically what [MedCentris] has an opportunity to do or what they’re authorized to do. The specifics. So this is not so much a reversal, but a remand for clarification.

On the same day, the chancery court entered a written order vacating the Department’s final order and remanding the matter "for further consideration of whether a DSA certificate of need is for the provision of surgical procedures and/or diagnostic imaging services and for clarity as to the types of procedures and/or services MedCentris shall be able to perform in its clinic under the DSA CON."

¶6. As directed, on February 26, 2018, the State Health Officer issued a letter to serve as the final order of the Department. On April 24, 2018, the Department filed its final order of February 26, 2018, as a response to the chancery court. On April 30, 2018, River Region filed a motion to strike the Department’s order and requested that the matter be remanded for additional administrative hearing proceedings. MedCentris filed a response and a competing motion to strike. On July 5, 2018, the chancery court denied both motions to strike and ordered the appeal to proceed. However, Mississippi Code Section 41-7-201(2)(c) (Rev. 2018) requires that a final order affirming or reversing the Department be entered within 120 days. Because the chancery court did not enter a final order within 120 days, the parties agreed that the Department’s final order of February 26, 2018, was statutorily affirmed. Therefore, the present appeal proceeded from the final order of February 26, 2018.

¶7. On Tuesday, September 17, 2019, the Court, after considering the record and issues presented, determined that supplemental briefing was required. We ordered the parties and the Mississippi State Department of Health to address four issues. Two of the four issues are dispositive. The first of the two dispositive issues is whether MedCentris’ proposed clinic is a "health care facility" as defined by Section 41-7-173(h) (Rev. 2018). The last dispositive issue presented is whether, if MedCentris’ clinic is not a "health care facility" as defined by Section 41-7-173(h), the Court has jurisdiction over the appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶8. "For statutory interpretation, the initial inquiry is whether the statute at issue is ambiguous." Hall v. State , 241 So. 3d 629, 631 (¶ 5) (Miss. 2018) (citing Miss. Ins. Guar. Ass’n v. Cole ex rel. Dillon , 954 So. 2d 407, 412-13 (¶ 20) (Miss. 2007) ). "If the words of a statute are clear and unambiguous, the Court applies the plain meaning of the statute and refrains from using principles of statutory construction." Id. at 631 (¶ 5) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Lawson v. Honeywell Int’l, Inc. , 75 So. 3d 1024, 1027 (¶ 7) (Miss. 2011) ).

DISCUSSION

¶9. The Supreme Court in all cases is bound to inquire into its own jurisdiction, and decline to exercise a power not conferred upon it by law. And, if the question of jurisdiction is not raised by either of the parties to a cause, it is the duty of the Supreme Court to raise it of its own motion.

Drummond v. State , 184 Miss. 738, 185 So. 207, 209 (1938) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Miss. State Highway Dep’t v. Haines , 162 Miss. 216, 139 So. 168, 171 (1932) ).

I. Whether MedCentris is a health care facility as defined by Section 41-7-173(h).

¶10. Mississippi Code Section 41-7-173(h) defines a "health care facility" as follows:

(h) "Health care facility" includes hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, chemical dependency hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, end-stage renal disease

(ESRD) facilities, including freestanding hemodialysis units, intermediate care facilities, ambulatory surgical facilities, intermediate care facilities for the mentally retarded, home health agencies, psychiatric residential treatment facilities, pediatric skilled nursing facilities, long-term care hospitals, comprehensive medical rehabilitation facilities, including facilities owned or operated by the state or a political subdivision or instrumentality of the state, but does not include Christian Science sanatoriums operated or listed and certified by the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, Massachusetts. This definition shall not apply to facilities for the private practice, either independently or by incorporated medical groups, of physicians , dentists or health care professionals except where such facilities are an integral part of an institutional health service.

Miss. Code. Ann. § 41-7-173(h) (Rev. 2018) (emphasis added).

¶11. River Region argues that MedCentris’ proposed clinic does not constitute an "office of private physicians" because MedCentris is an LLC made up of a mixture of a doctor, a veterinarian, and others who will not actually practice at the clinic. However, the statute contains no specific requirements or qualifications for the owners of a private office. Indeed, "th[e] [Mississippi State] Board [of Medical Licensure] [chose] not to concern itself with the form or type of business arrangements entered into ...." Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure Policies 3.02 (Sept. 2019), https://www.msbml.ms.gov/sites/default/files/Policies/9-20-19Policies.pdf.

¶12. MedCentris unequivocally stated in its application that it is a private physician clinic. MedCentris argues that it "is clearly a private physician practice, ... and therefore falls squarely into the exception to the health care facility classification." Moreover, the Department, in its determination of whether MedCentris qualified as a "health care facility" stated, "MedCentris is not a health care facility as defined by Miss. Code Ann. § 41-7-173(h)." (Emphasis added.) The Department continued, explaining that "taking these [statutory] words at their face value, since health care facilities do not include facilities for private practice, ... MedCentris is not a ‘health care facility.’ "...

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