Case: Lathrop v. Deal

2012-cv-224423 | Georgia state trial court

Filed Date: Nov. 30, 2012

Closed Date: June 19, 2017

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

On November 30, 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia filed this lawsuit in Georgia's Superior Court of Fulton County on behalf of three Georgia obstetrician-gynecologists. The plaintiffs sued twenty state officers in their official capacities. They challenged Georgia Bill H.B. 954, which criminalized virtually all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except for abortions in medical emergencies. Violations of the law were subject to a penalty of ten years imprisonme…

On November 30, 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia filed this lawsuit in Georgia's Superior Court of Fulton County on behalf of three Georgia obstetrician-gynecologists. The plaintiffs sued twenty state officers in their official capacities. They challenged Georgia Bill H.B. 954, which criminalized virtually all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except for abortions in medical emergencies. Violations of the law were subject to a penalty of ten years imprisonment as well as disciplinary and licensing sanctions for providers. The plaintiffs argued that this ban would force a physician to wait for a pregnant woman's health to deteriorate until she was in a medical emergency before offering necessary care. They also argued that the ban would prevent other abortions, such as abortions that were medically necessary but non-emergency, abortions in response to emerging fetal diagnoses, or abortions undertaken in advance of inevitable miscarriage. 

The plaintiffs claimed that the law violated the Georgia Constitution's fundamental right to reproductive privacy, as established by portions of the constitution including due process, freedom of conscience, and inherent rights, by prohibiting pre-viability abortions, allowing district attorneys to access patient medical records without due process, and requiring medical providers to administer emergency pre-viability abortions using the method most likely to result in live births. They also claimed that district attorney access to medical records would violate the Georgia Constitution's right to equal protection. Additionally, the plaintiffs claimed that the law's language, like "medically futile pregnancy," was vague enough that for the state to subject plaintiffs to criminal prosecution based on the law would violate the Georgia Constitution's right to due process. The plaintiffs requested declaratory relief as well as preliminary and permanent injunctive relief plus attorneys' fees. 

On December 20, 2012, Judge Doris L. Downs granted the plaintiffs their preliminary injunction against the bill's prohibition on pre-viability abortion and against district attorneys obtaining health facility abortion records. In 2013, the State filed a first motion to dismiss the claims, which Judge Esmond Adams denied. In October 2015, the State filed a second motion to dismiss, but this time on the basis of sovereign immunity. On May 25, 2016, the Superior Court granted this second motion to dismiss.

The plaintiffs appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court on October 12, 2016, arguing that the Georgia Constitution of 1983 (including its Judicial Review Clause), the Georgia Bill of Rights, and other state documents meant sovereign immunity did not apply to constitutional claims and that sovereign immunity did not bar injunctive and declaratory relief. On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's dismissal, holding that sovereign immunity bars any suits against the state or its constituents to which the state has not consented, including suits for injunctive and declaratory relief from the enforcement of allegedly unconstitutional laws. The Court said that Georgia had consented to some such suits (for instance, about the Takings Clause), but had not specifically consented to this type of suit. However, the Court claimed that other remedies were available to the plaintiffs if they sued state officials solely in their individual capacities, where the State was not the real party in interest. 301 Ga. 408.

There was no subsequent lawsuit against state officials in their individual capacities regarding the twenty-week ban. This case is closed.

Summary Authors

Sophia Bucci (5/5/2023)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

2012-cv-224423

Verified Complaint

Nov. 30, 2012

Nov. 30, 2012

Complaint

2012-cv-224423

Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Interlocutory Injunctive Relief

Dec. 21, 2012

Dec. 21, 2012

Order/Opinion

S17A0196

Opinion

Georgia state supreme court

June 19, 2017

June 19, 2017

Order/Opinion

801 S.E.2d 801

Docket

Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:53 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Georgia

Case Type(s):

Reproductive Issues

Key Dates

Filing Date: Nov. 30, 2012

Closing Date: June 19, 2017

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Three Georgia obstetrician-gynecologists, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU National (all projects)

ACLU Affiliates (any)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Georgia, State

Georgia (Fulton), County

Georgia (De Kalb), County

Georgia, State

Georgia, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Available Documents:

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Defendant

Nature of Relief:

Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Content of Injunction:

Preliminary relief granted

Order Duration: 2012 - 2016

Issues

General/Misc.:

Record-keeping

Records Disclosure

Discrimination Basis:

Sex discrimination

Affected Sex/Gender(s):

Female

Medical/Mental Health Care:

Medical care, general

Reproductive rights:

Abortion

Criminalization

Method-based abortion procedures

Reproductive health care (including birth control, abortion, and others)

Time-based abortion prohibition