U.S. justices overturn two decisions by 11th Circuit

Unanimous decisions favor the FTC in hospital case and father in custody matter

, The Associated Press


The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously overturned two decisions by Atlanta's federal appeals court, dealing a setback to an Albany hospital merger and ruling that American courts could get involved in a child custody fight in which the child is in another country.

Atlanta lawyer Michael Manely represented the winning party in the custody case, a father in Alabama fighting his estranged wife in Scotland for custody of their daughter also living there.

"We are very pleased," said Manely. He said that had the high court upheld the ruling of the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, it might as well have established in any custody battle that "If you want to keep your kid, get out of the country."

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the case that ruling for the mother "might also encourage flight in future Hague Convention cases, as prevailing parents try to flee the jurisdiction to moot the case."

In the Albany hospital case, the justices said lower courts improperly dismissed complaints that the merger, aided by a public hospital authority, created a monopoly in hospital services in the Southwest Georgia city.

The Federal Trade Commission tried to block the deal by arguing that it violated federal antitrust law.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her opinion for the court that an exception in antitrust law for actions taken by a state or its agencies—in this case, the hospital authority—did not shield the transaction from federal antitrust concerns.

Lower courts allowed Albany's Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital to buy Palmyra Medical Center from Hospital Corp. of America for $195 million over the FTC's objection.

Both hospitals now are nominally owned by the Hospital Authority of Albany-Dougherty County, but run by the Phoebe Putney Health System under long-term leases. The money for the Palmyra purchase came from the health system, not the authority.

The court has long accepted that some business deals that lead to monopolies that otherwise would raise antitrust concerns are allowable if they are done by states. But in such cases, the states have to explain clearly why competition is not in the public interest and they have to ensure a level of control and oversight of the monopolies.

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