Smith v. Northside Hospital, Inc.
The Georgia Supreme Court held that an open records requestor was not required to show that a government agency was involved with certain transactions in order to be entitled to compliance with the open records request. Northside Hospital was created when a government agency entered into a long-term lease with Northside for all of its assets to be used by Northside, including the hospital itself. Smith learned of a number of transactions Northside was entering into whereby it sought to acquire some privately-owned physician groups and filed an open records request with Northside and the government authority seeking to assess financial statements and other documents related to the acquisitions.
The authority responded to to request stating that it did not have any responsive documents and Northside responded by declining to comply with the request. Northside claimed it was exempt from the open records act but even if it was subject to the act the records would have been exempt under various provisions of the act. Smith filed suit requesting that the trial court get Northside to comply with the open records request. The Court held that evidence of any authority involvement was the wrong question to ask. Instead, the Court held that the authority's agreement with Northside did not amount to the authority getting out of the business of healthcare. The Court held that Northside remained accountable to the authority, even if the authority did not keep up with the day-to-day operations of the hospital. Whether Northside's actions were on behalf on the authority was a tougher question that the Court remanded, but the Court did find that at least some of Northside's work was on behalf of the authority for purposes of the open records act.