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Mat-Su Valley Medical Center, LLC v. Advanced Pain Centers of Alaska, Inc.

Supreme Court of Alaska

November 6, 2009

MAT-SU VALLEY MEDICAL CENTER, LLC, an Alaska limited liability company, d/b/a Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, Appellant,
v.
ADVANCED PAIN CENTERS OF ALASKA, INC., an Alaskan corporation, d/b/a Advanced Medical Centers of Alaska; State Of Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services, and Karleen Jackson, in her capacity as Commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services, State of Alaska, Appellees.

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John F. Sullivan, Inslee, Best, Doezie & Ryder, P.S., Bellevue, Washington, for Appellant.

Stanley T. Lewis, Birch, Horton, Bittner and Cherot, and Linda A. Webb, Hagans, Ahearn & Webb, Anchorage, for Advanced Pain Centers of Alaska, Inc.

Kelly E. Henriksen, Assistant Attorney General, and Talis J. Colberg, Attorney General, Juneau, for State of Alaska, Department of Health and Social Services and Karleen Jackson.

Before : FABE, Chief Justice, EASTAUGH, CARPENETI, WINFREE, and CHRISTEN, Justices.

OPINION

EASTAUGH, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

After the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services decided no certificate of need (CON) was required for a health care facility proposed by Advanced Pain Centers of Alaska, Inc., Mat-Su Valley Medical Center sued Advanced Pain, the department, and its commissioner. Mat-Su's lawsuit sought to enjoin construction and operation of the facility and also sought a judgment declaring that the state's CON decision was contrary to law and void. The superior court granted summary judgment against Mat-Su. It held that because there was no violation of an existing CON, Mat-Su lacked standing under AS 18.07.091(a) to seek injunctive relief for the alleged violations. It also held that Mat-Su's claim against the state defendants was an untimely administrative appeal. Because Mat-Su did not lack standing under the statute and because an appeal would not have been untimely, we reverse and remand.

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II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Advanced Pain Centers of Alaska, Inc. is a health care provider specializing in interventional pain management. It wished to convert office space in Wasilla into a single-suite ambulatory surgery center. It therefore wrote the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) in February 2006, asking the department to determine whether a certificate of need (CON) was required for Advanced Pain's proposed project. Advanced Pain's letter stated that the estimated total cost of the project would be $966,035.54.

Alaska Statute 18.07.031 provides that a CON is required whenever the intended cost of constructing a new health care facility is over a certain statutory threshold. For the year between July 1, 2005 and July 1, 2006, that statutory threshold was $1,050,000.[1] Because the estimated total cost of Advanced Pain's project was under the threshold, DHSS Commissioner Karleen Jackson determined that a CON was not required.

DHSS published notice of the commissioner's determination on March 15, 2006. The notice invited " person[s] substantially affected" by the CON determination to request reconsideration. It stated that any request for reconsideration " must be postmarked no later than 4:30 P.M. April 14, 2006 and must be made in accordance with 7 [Alaska Administrative Code] AAC 07.033."

On April 26, 2006, twelve days after the deadline for seeking reconsideration had expired, Mat-Su Valley Medical Center sent the commissioner a letter requesting that she investigate Advanced Pain's project and " make a determination as to whether the requirements of AS 18.07 and the [CON] regulations are applicable." By letter of May 3, Commissioner Jackson denied Mat-Su's request because it had not been postmarked by April 14.

In October 2006 Mat-Su sued Advanced Pain, DHSS, and Commissioner Jackson in her official capacity. Its complaint alleged that Advanced Pain " knowingly misrepresented material facts" in requesting and obtaining its CON determination. Mat-Su sought to enjoin construction and operation of Advanced Pain's Wasilla surgery center under AS 18.07.091 and requested a declaratory judgment that the commissioner's CON determination was contrary to law and therefore void.[2]

DHSS and the commissioner (collectively " the state" or " the state defendants" ) and Advanced Pain filed motions for summary judgment. The superior court granted the state's motion, reasoning that Mat-Su lost the chance to obtain a judicial ruling reversing the commissioner's CON determination " when timely appeal of the decision was not taken." The court granted Advanced Pain's motion for summary judgment, reasoning that AS 18.07.091(a) permitted Mat-Su to challenge only a violation of an existing CON, not a violation of a CON statute or regulation. Mat-Su unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration.

Mat-Su appeals.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

We review grants of summary judgment de novo, drawing all factual inferences in favor of, and viewing the facts in the light most favorable to, the non-prevailing party.[3] We affirm grants of summary judgment when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the prevailing party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[4]

Questions regarding the interpretation and application of a statute are questions of law to which we apply our independent judgment. [5] When construing the meaning of

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a statute under this standard, we " look to the meaning of the language, the legislative history, and the purpose of the statute and adopt the rule of law that is most persuasive in light of precedent, reason, and policy." [6]

We review for abuse of discretion a superior court's decision to strictly enforce the thirty-day deadline for filing an administrative appeal under Alaska Appellate Rule 602(a)(2).[7]

B. Whether It Was Error To Grant Summary Judgment in Favor of Advanced Pain

Mat-Su argues that it had standing under AS 18.07.091(a) to seek injunctive relief, and that it was therefore error to grant summary judgment to Advanced Pain.

Alaska Statute 18.07.091(a) describes three categories of complainants eligible to obtain injunctive relief for violations of Alaska's CON statutes or regulations. Subsection .091(a) provides, with ...


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