Lathrop v. Deal

Court: Georgia Supreme Court
Case Number: 301 Ga. 408
Decision Date: June 19, 2017
Case Type: Immunity - Sovereign
The Supreme Court of Georgia held that the doctrine of sovereign immunity extends to claims for injunctive or declaratory relief that rest upon constitutional grounds. A group of physicians licensed to practice in Georgia filed suit alleging that legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2012 violated the state constitution by violating their patients' right to privacy, equal protection under the law, and because it attached criminal penalties to violations of statutory requirements that were vague and uncertain. The physicians sought a declaratory judgment that certain provisions of the legislation were unconstitutional. In 2014, the Court issued its decision in Sustainable Coast and the state filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the physicians claims were barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. 

The Court held that a suit against a state officer in his or her official capacity was tantamount to a suit against the state itself and that the doctrine of sovereign immunity barred suits against the state to which the state had not consented. The Court held that the physicians had not pointed to any statutory authority waiving sovereign immunity. Specifically, the Court rejected the idea that constitutional provisions implied a right of action against the government sufficient enough to waive sovereign immunity. The physicians also argued that the Judicial Review Clause of the Georgia Constitution waived sovereign immunity because it directed the judiciary to declare legislative acts void if they were in violation of the Constitution. The Court did not agree and held that the Judicial Review Clause was a constitutional recognition of the authority of courts to resolve conflicts between statutory law and the constitution itself when the resolution of such was essential to a case before the court. Finally, the physicians argued that if sovereign immunity barred suits such as this one, then the courts would be left powerless. Again, the Court disagreed and found that there were a number of ways an aggrieved citizen could pursue claims against the state.