Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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This case involved a variety of constitutional challenges to Georgia’s Child Abuse Registry that a group of high school teachers and administrators filed directly to superior court after their names were put on the Registry. The Georgia Supreme Court determined it could not properly reach the merits of those challenges - and neither could the trial court – because some of the claims were barred by sovereign immunity and the remaining ones should have been raised in the then-pending administrative proceeding also initiated by the teachers and administrators. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the part of the trial court’s order concluding that the trial court could decide the merits of the challenges, vacated the part of the order declaring the Registry statutes and rules to be unconstitutional and granting injunctive relief, and remanded with direction to dismiss the case. View "Georgia Dept. of Human Services v. Addison" on Justia Law

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Appellee Bobby Schroeder received a traffic ticket in DeKalb County in 2013. He alleged he appeared in recorder’s court and was ordered to pay a fine and that he timely paid the fine, but the staff of the recorder’s court failed to close his case. He asserted the court staff falsely informed the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) that he failed to appear for his hearing or pay his fine, leading to the suspension of his driving privilege. In August, an officer with the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office arrested appellee for driving on a suspended license and took him into custody. Appellee claimed he spent significant time in custody before bonding out. Approximately one month later, an officer with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office arrested appellee for driving on a suspended license and took him into custody. According to appellee, at the time of his Rockdale and Newton County arrests, he was on first offender probation; the arrests led to the revocation of his probation, for which appellee was ultimately arrested and spent one month in jail. According to appellee, at some point, the recorder’s court realized that it had provided DDS with incorrect information, and sent a notice of suspension withdrawal to the department. This led to the dismissal of the Rockdale and Newton charges and the withdrawal of the probation revocation petition. Appellee claimed he lost his job because of these events. Appellee alleged DeKalb County Recorder's Court Chief Judge Nelly Withers and court administrator Troy Thompson were aware that the recorder’s court was "understaffed, dysfunctional, and unable to process its cases," and knew the court’s computer systems produced unreliable data because the systems were flawed or "because employees routinely entered data incorrectly, and that employees routinely failed to communicate correct information to DDS." Appellee filed this action for damages alleging that defendants failed to perform their ministerial duties with due care and that their actions led to appellee’s unlawful arrests. In addition to state law claims, appellee asserted claims under 42 USC 1983. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded appellants were protected from suit by the doctrine of judicial immunity and its derivative quasi-judicial immunity, and reversed the Court of Appeals’ opinion to the extent it allowed appellee’s suit to move forward against these two appellants. View "Withers v. Schroeder" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court concerned the constitutionality of the appointment process created by House Bill 597 (HB 597), a DeKalb County local law that delegated to private entities the power to appoint certain members of the DeKalb County Board of Ethics. The trial court found the appointment process created by HB 597 was unconstitutional and granted the writ of quo warranto as to four challenged Board members. The Board appealed this ruling, and the Supreme Court found the the trial court correctly granted the writ of quo warranto as to the four challenged Board members appointed by private entities, as these appointments were unconstitutional. View "Delay v. Sutton" on Justia Law

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After she was terminated from her employment as a firefighter, Appellee Chawanda Martin sued the City of College Park, the city council, and various interim officials, including the two individuals responsible for her dismissal, alleging that the interim appointments were made in violation of the Open Meetings Act, and, thus, the interim officials lacked the authority to take adverse employment action against her. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding that Martin’s claims were untimely and lacked evidentiary support. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed in part, determining that Martin’s challenge to Chess’ appointment was timely and, further, that the undisputed evidence demonstrated that the mayor made the challenged appointment in “consensus” with the city council without ever having taken a vote. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review to consider the Court of Appeals’ application of the Open Meetings Act and concluded the Court of Appeals should have first determined whether the charter for the City of College Park actually required a vote to effectuate such an interim appointment before considering the applicability of the public-vote requirement of the Open Meetings Act. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals in part and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "City of College Park v. Martin" on Justia Law

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Appellant Maxim Cabaret, Inc. d/b/a Maxim Cabaret was a strip club in Sandy Springs, Georgia, and appellant Theo Lambros was the club’s operator, sole shareholder, and president (collectively “Maxim”). Maxim appealed the superior court's order granting summary judgment to the City of Sandy Springs on Maxim’s legal challenges to city ordinances. The Georgia Supreme Court held that Maxim’s challenges to prior versions of the City’s ordinances that have since been replaced or amended were moot; current adult business ordinances prohibiting the sale of alcohol at businesses that offer live nude entertainment constitutionally regulate negative secondary effects of strip clubs without unduly inhibiting free speech or expression; and because the City may constitutionally prohibit Maxim from obtaining a license to sell liquor on its premises under the City’s adult business licensing ordinances, Maxim lacked standing to challenge the City’s alcohol licensing regulations. View "Maxim Cabaret v. City of Sandy Springs" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme COurt's review centered on whether the contract involved in this case between the City of Atlanta and a private business for the lease of retail concession space at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport created a taxable interest subject to ad valorem taxation by Clayton County. The City of Atlanta owned the Airport, which was partially in Clayton County outside the City’s boundaries. Appellee Aldeasa Atlanta Joint Venture entered into the written agreement with the City to lease space on two different concourses at the Airport for the non-exclusive rights to operate two duty free retail stores. Appellant Clayton County Board of Tax Assessors (“County”) issued real property tax assessments to Aldeasa for the 2011 and 2012 tax years on Aldeasa’s purported leasehold improvements on the two parcels involved in the Concessions Agreement and also on Aldeasa’s purported possessory interest in the two parcels. Aldeasa appealed the assessments and paid the tax pending the outcome of the appeal. The trial court found the Concessions Agreement created a usufruct interest in the property, and not an estate in real property; it rejected the County’s assertion that it was legally authorized to impose a property tax on usufructs located at the Airport; and it also rejected the County’s assertion that the Concessions Agreement created a taxable franchise. Accordingly, the trial court granted Aldeasa’s motion for summary judgement and denied the motion filed by the County. The County appealed, asserting four different taxable interests were created by the Concessions Agreement. The Supreme Court disagreed with the State's assertions and affirmed the trial court. View "Clayton County Bd. of Assessors v. Aldeasa Atlanta Joint Venture" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Family and Children Services (“DFCS”) appealed a superior court decision that found Georgia’s central child abuse registry was unconstitutional, both on its face and as applied to appellee Christopher Steiner. The trial court also found that DFCS failed to prove that Steiner committed an act of child abuse by a preponderance of the evidence as required to maintain Steiner’s listing in the registry. The Georgia Supreme Court granted DFCS’s application for discretionary review, and held that Steiner failed to demonstrate a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest sufficient to trigger the due process protections that he claimed were violated by operation of the registry. And because the Act was constitutionally applied to Steiner, he lacked standing to bring his facial challenge on that ground. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held the child abuse registry was not criminal in nature, and that the superior court therefore erred in finding it to be so. And because an abuse investigator’s determination about whether a report of child abuse was supported by the evidence was not a judicial function, the superior court erred in finding that the statute requiring the investigator to report such cases to DFCS for inclusion in the child abuse registry violates the separation of powers provision of the Georgia Constitution. Finally, because at least “some evidence” supported the administrative hearing officer’s conclusion that DFCS had proved an act of child abuse as defined for purposes of the child abuse registry, the superior court erred in reversing the administrative law court. View "Georgia Dept. of Human Services v. Steiner" on Justia Law

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In November 2013, the Consumer Credit Research Foundation (CCRF) entered a consulting agreement with the Kennesaw State University Research and Service Foundation under which Dr. Jennifer Lewis Priestley, a professor at Kennesaw State University (KSU), would research the effects of payday loans on the financial health of their consumers. As part of this project, Dr. Priestley – but not KSU or the KSU foundation – signed a confidentiality agreement with CCRF agreeing not to disclose any information “relating in any manner to CCRF or CCRF’s contributing sponsors.” Dr. Priestley published an article about her findings in December 2014. In June 2015, the Campaign for Accountability (CFA) sent a request to KSU under Georgia’s Open Records Act, asking for copies of all correspondence, electronic or otherwise, between Dr. Priestley and a number of organizations and individuals, including CCRF and its chairman and CEO. After KSU notified CFA and CCRF that it intended to disclose the requested records subject to possible redactions, CCRF filed a complaint against the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (the Board). CCRF sought a declaratory judgment that the records requested by CFA were exempt from disclosure under OCGA 50-18-72(a)(35) and (36) and a permanent injunction prohibiting the Board from disclosing the records. The trial court granted CFA’s motion to intervene in the case as a party defendant. The Court of Appeals held, based on its reading of the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision in Bowers v. Shelton, 453 SE2d 741 (1995), Georgia’s Open Records Act prohibited the disclosure of all information that was not required to be disclosed based on the ORA exemptions listed the statute. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to address that issue, disapproved of the Court of Appeals’ broad reading of Bowers and reversed the court’s judgment. View "Campaign for Accountability v. Consumer Credit Research Foundation" on Justia Law

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Amy Cazier and four other consumers of retail electrical service brought this putative class action against Georgia Power Company, asserting that Georgia Power for several years has collected municipal franchise fees from customers in amounts exceeding those approved by the Public Service Commission, and sought to recover the excess fees for themselves and a class of Georgia Power customers. The Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs were not required to exhaust administrative remedies before bringing their putative class action. The Georgia Supreme Court found no reversible error in the appellate court's judgment and affirmed. View "Georgia Power Company v. Cazier" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Department of Revenue denied New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC; Chattanooga MSA LP; Georgia RSA No. 3, LP; and Northeastern Georgia RSA Limited Partnership (collectively “AT&T”) a tax refund. The appellants alleged that from November 1, 2005 until September 7, 2010, they sold wireless Internet access services to Georgia customers, which were exempt from state sales tax under OCGA 48-8-2. In November 2010, the appellants filed refund claims with the Department for sales tax that they claimed was, until September 2010, erroneously charged to Georgia customers on the purchase of wireless Internet access service. The Department officially refused to pay the requested refund claims. On April 17, 2015, the appellants filed their complaint to challenge this denial. The Department answered and moved to dismiss for a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and the failure to state a claim, because: (1) appellants did not reimburse the alleged illegally collected sales tax to customers before seeking a refund from the Department, in violation of Department Regulation 560-12-1-.25; (2) the appellants lacked standing to file sales-tax-refund claims on behalf of customers for periods prior to May 5, 2009; and (3) the action was barred by Georgia class-action law. Following a hearing on the motion to dismiss, the trial court granted it on all three grounds. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review to determine whether Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. R. 560-12-1-.25 (2) properly required a dealer seeking a sales tax refund reimburse its customer before applying for a refund from the Department of Revenue. The Supreme Court determined this was not a requirement, and that the Court of Appeals’ opinion had to be vacated in part and reversed in part, and that the case remanded with direction. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC v. Georgia Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law