Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
Williams v. DeKalb County
Edward Williams appealed a superior court order dismissing his second amended complaint with prejudice. Acting pro se, Williams sued DeKalb County and members of its governing authority, the Chief Executive Officer and the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, in their official and individual capacities (collectively, “Appellees”). Williams challenged the legality of a DeKalb County ordinance, which increased the salaries of the members of the county governing authority, setting forth claims for mandamus, declaratory and injunctive relief, criminal and civil penalties for violating the Open Meetings Act, and attorney fees and costs of litigation. On appeal, Williams argued the trial court erred in dismissing his claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against the members of the governing authority in their individual capacities for acting unlawfully in increasing their own pay. He argued the trial court erred in dismissing his claim that the County Home Rule Paragraph of the Georgia Constitution, precluded county governing authorities from having the power to increase their own pay. The Georgia Supreme Court did not reach the merits of these claims of error because Williams lacked standing to sue the members of the governing authority for declaratory relief, he lacked standing to sue the commissioners for injunctive relief, and whether he has standing to seek injunctive relief against Thurmond required proper analysis by the trial court on remand. Williams also contended the trial court erred in dismissing his claims against the commissioners for violating the Open Meetings Act before passing the salary ordinance, making them individually liable for civil penalties under the Act. To this contention, the Supreme Court agreed, reversing that portion of the court’s order dismissing Williams’ claim against the commissioners for civil penalties under the Open Meetings Act. The matter was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Williams v. DeKalb County" on Justia Law
Parham v. Stewart
This case stemmed from a challenge to the results of the March 2018 special election for the mayor of the City of Blythe, Georgia, wherein Appellee Phillip Stewart defeated Appellant Cynthia Parham by a margin of four votes. Appellant filed a petition contesting the election results, alleging that illegal votes had been cast in the mayoral election. After a bench trial, the court concluded that Appellant had failed to show that enough illegal votes had been cast to change or place in doubt the result of the election. Appellant filed a notice of appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court and, finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Parham v. Stewart" on Justia Law
Dept. of Public Safety v. Ragsdale
Matthew Ragsdale filed this personal injury action against the Georgia Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) after he was injured during an October 31, 2014 motor vehicle accident that occurred when Ross Singleton, the driver of another vehicle, fled from law enforcement. Ragsdale sent an ante litem notice to the Department of Administrative Services (“DOAS”) on December 3, 2014. The notice provided on that date failed to include all the information required by OCGA 50-21-26 (a) (5). Ragsdale filed suit, but dismissed this initial filing based on the deficiency of his first ante litem notice. Thereafter, in March 2017, Ragsdale sent a second ante litem notice to DOAS. Ragsdale then renewed the action, and [DPS] filed its motion to dismiss the appeal, contending that the March 2017 ante litem notice was untimely. In response, Ragsdale argued that because he was the victim of Singleton’s crime, the time for filing the ante litem notice had been tolled “from the date of the commission of the alleged crime or the act giving rise to such action in tort until the prosecution of such crime or act has become final or otherwise terminated” pursuant to OCGA 9-3-99. The trial court agreed and denied the motion to dismiss in a single-sentence order, citing Ragsdale's arguments in response to the motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of DPS’s motion to dismiss, following cases in which that court had previously “determined that limitation period tolling statutes apply to the period for filing ante litem notice as well as for filing suit.” The Georgia Supreme Court found the Georgia Tort Claims Act's ante litem notice period was not subject to tolling under OCGA 9-3-99. View "Dept. of Public Safety v. Ragsdale" on Justia Law
City of Atlanta v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys.
City of Atlanta (“the City”) and the Atlanta Independent School System (“APS”) were involved in a dispute over the City’s annexing property in Fulton County, while it expressly prohibiting the co-expansion of APS’s territory. The Georgia Supreme Court granted the City’s application for interlocutory appeal challenging the trial court’s denial of its motion to dismiss. The Court concluded this matter did not amount to an actual, justiciable controversy; consequently, it vacated the trial court’s order and remanded for this case to be dismissed by the trial court. “These parties have appeared before this Court numerous times, and the instant dispute is part of a larger, ongoing disagreement between the City and APS. … Mere disagreement about the ‘abstract meaning or validity of a statute [or ordinance]’ does not constitute an actual controversy within the meaning of the Declaratory Judgment Act. … APS has failed to establish the existence of an actual controversy, for purposes of declaratory relief, because it has failed to demonstrate that a ruling in its favor would have any immediate legal consequence.” View "City of Atlanta v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys." on Justia Law
Cobb Hospital v. Department of Community Health et al.
This case involved Cobb Hospital, Inc.'s and Kennestone Hospital, Inc.'s (collectively, “Wellstar”) challenge to the decision by the Georgia Department of Community Health (“DCH”) to grant Emory University Hospital Smyrna (“Emory”) a new certificate of need (“CON”) to renovate a hospital that Emory had recently acquired. After DCH made an initial decision granting the CON, Wellstar appealed to the CON Appeal Panel. The panel’s hearing officer affirmed the decision, ruling that as a matter of law he could not consider Wellstar’s arguments regarding the validity of Emory’s existing CON, and that he would not allow Wellstar to present evidence related to those arguments. Wellstar then appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the DCH Commissioner, allegedly arguing among other things that the decision violated Wellstar’s constitutional right to due process. The Commissioner affirmed the hearing officer’s decision without ruling on the constitutional claim. In Division 2 of its opinion in this case, the Georgia Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred by holding that the constitutional due process claim enumerated by Wellstar was not preserved for appellate review because it was not ruled on during the administrative proceeding that led to the filing of this case in the trial court. The Supreme Court thus granted Wellstar’s petition for a writ of certiorari to address that issue, reversed the Court of Appeals’s opinion, and remanded for that court to reconsider Wellstar’s constitutional claim. View "Cobb Hospital v. Department of Community Health et al." on Justia Law
Dekalb County School District v. Gold
In March 2011, Appellees Elaine Gold, Amy Shaye, Heather Hunter, and Roderick Benson sued Appellants, the DeKalb County School District (“the District”) and the DeKalb County Board of Education (“the Board”) for, inter alia, breaching an agreement to provide two-years advance notice prior to suspending contributions to their DeKalb County Tax-Sheltered Annuity Plan (“TSA Plan”) accounts. Finding that Appellees failed to establish the existence of an enforceable contract, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellants, and Appellees appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment on the issue of liability, vacated the remainder of the court’s order and remanded the case with direction. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the outcome of the appellate court’s decision: summary judgment was granted in error, and denying Appellee’s summary judgment on the issue of liability for breach of contract was made in error too. The Court determined that based upon the language of the Board’s own bylaws, the TSA Plan’s provision providing for the termination or suspension of the plan “at any time” could not amend the two-year notice provision embodied in the bylaws by way of a 1982 Amendment. View "Dekalb County School District v. Gold" on Justia Law
Polo Golf & Country Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Cunard
Appellant Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners Association, Inc. (“PGHOA”) filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against appellees John Cunard, Director of Forsyth County, Georgia's Department of Engineering, and Benny Dempsey, Stormwater Division Manager of Forsyth County’s Department of Engineering (the “stormwater executives”), in their individual capacities to determine their constitutional authority to prospectively enforce an addendum to Forsyth County’s stormwater ordinance. In January 2014, Forsyth County enacted a new version of Section 4.2.2 of the Georgia Stormwater Management Design Manual. PGHOA argued the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2 was unconstitutional because: (1) it impaired PGHOA’s contractual obligations with homeowners inasmuch as the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2 made PGHOA responsible for the maintenance of all stormwater mechanisms within the subdivision; and (2) it was retrospective in nature. According to PGHOA’s complaint, the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2 precluded it from enforcing the Declaration of Covenants, Restrictions and Easements (the “Declaration”), which required individual homeowners of the Polo Fields to maintain such drainage and stormwater mechanisms. The trial court rejected these constitutional challenges to the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2. Because it determined that the 2014 version of 4.2.2 was constitutional, the trial court concluded the stormwater executives were immune from suit based on the doctrine of sovereign immunity and granted the stormwater executives’ motion for judgment on the pleadings. The trial court granted the executives' motion, denying the motions for summary judgment as moot. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it did not make a ruling on whether sovereign immunity applied before it considered more substantive matters. Likewise, the trial court erred in its finding that sovereign immunity barred PGHOA's suit. Therefore, that portion of the trial court's judgment dismissing the case on sovereign immunity grounds was reversed. The Court affirmed the trial court's grant of the motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the constitutional issues concerning PGHOA's contract rights. The trial court did not address PGHOA's various other claims, including trespass and involuntary servitude. The case was remanded for the trial court to address those claims in order to fully resolve the stormwater executives' motion for judgment on the pleadings. View "Polo Golf & Country Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Cunard" on Justia Law
Cowen v. Clayton County
Linda Cowen, a Clayton County State Court judge since December 1995, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, in which she sought, among other things, over $120,000 in back pay from Clayton County and several of its county commissioners1 for allegedly violating Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. VII, Par. V. Cowen claimed that the County had been improperly calculating her compensation under County Ordinance 30-4 (the “Supplemental Ordinance”) and Local Law 2006 Ga. Laws 926 passed by the General Assembly (the “Local Law”), which, she alleged, resulted in an illegal reduction in her overall compensation each year between 2007 and 2017. She also alleged that, when the County repealed the Supplemental Ordinance effective December 20, 2016, the County, once again, illegally reduced her compensation in violation of Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. VII, Par. V. The trial court rejected all of Cowen’s claims, concluding in part that: (1) Cowen’s mandamus action was barred by gross laches; (2) even if the mandamus action was not barred, it was subject to dismissal because mandamus was not an appropriate vehicle through which Cowen could seek her back pay; and (3) even if mandamus were an appropriate vehicle, the mandamus action was without merit. Cowen appealed. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded, after review, that: (1) some, but not all, of Cowen’s claims for back pay were time barred; and (2) the trial court erred in concluding that mandamus was not an appropriate vehicle here; but (3) the trial court properly denied the claim for mandamus. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cowen v. Clayton County" on Justia Law
City of College Park v. Clayton County et al.
In this case’s previous appearance before the Georgia Supreme Court, the primary issue involved taxation of alcoholic beverages at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Clayton County appealed the trial court’s partial grant of summary judgment to the City of College Park on claims the City was not receiving its statutorily mandated share of taxes collected on alcoholic beverages. When the parties could not resolve their dispute, the City filed a complaint naming as defendants the County and two businesses that operated within the Airport, Mack II, Inc. and General Wholesale Company (the “taxpayer defendants”). The complaint sought an interlocutory and permanent injunction against the County (as well as the taxpayer defendants), and a declaratory judgment as to the City’s and County’s division and collection of alcoholic beverage taxes, as well as the taxpayer defendants’ payment of those taxes. The complaint also asserted claims against the County for an accounting, unjust enrichment, attorney fees, and damages. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the County’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding that sovereign immunity does not apply to the City’s claims or the taxpayer defendants’ cross-claims for indemnity and contribution. The court granted the City’s motion for partial summary judgment on the declaratory judgment counts, finding that the Alcoholic Beverage Code, OCGA 3-3-1 et seq., permitted the City to impose alcoholic beverage tax only within its municipal limits and the County to impose such a tax only in the unincorporated areas of the County, that neither could impose and collect alcoholic beverage taxes within the other’s taxing jurisdiction, and that the taxpayer defendants had to submit tax monies only to the entity authorized to collect the funds. Ultimately, the Supreme Court vacated this judgment and remanded the case for consideration of the “threshold question of whether sovereign immunity applies at all in suits between political subdivisions of the same sovereign (like the City and the County).” The Supreme Court disagreed sovereign immunity did not apply to multiple issues raised by this case. The case was remanded for reconsideration. View "City of College Park v. Clayton County et al." on Justia Law
Mercer University v. Stofer
Mercer University sought immunity from liability for claims by the estate and family of Sally Stofer, who was fatally injured when she fell at a free concert hosted by the university at Washington Park in Macon, Georgia in July 2014. The park was owned by Macon-Bibb County, but Mercer had a permit to use the park for its concert series. The concert series was planned, promoted, and hosted by Mercer’s College Hill Alliance, a division of Mercer whose stated mission is to foster neighborhood revitalization for Macon’s College Hill Corridor. The trial court concluded, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on its claim of immunity under Georgia’s Recreational Property Act, given evidence that Mercer hosted the concert and it might (at least indirectly) benefit financially from the event. In arriving at this conclusion, the Georgia Supreme Court surmised the Court of Appeals was led astray by language in the Supreme Court’s most recent relevant decision that was inconsistent with previous case law. After careful consideration of the statutory text and a thorough review of the case law, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that whether immunity was available under this provision requires a determination of the true scope and nature of the landowner’s invitation to use its property, and this determination properly is informed by two related considerations: (1) the nature of the activity that constitutes the use of the property in which people have been invited to engage, and (2) the nature of the property that people have been invited to use. Clarifying that considerations of evidence of Mercer’s subjective motivations in hosting the concert and some speculation of the indirect benefits Mercer might have received as a result of the concert were generally improper, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded the case with direction that the court revisit its analysis consistent with the standard that was clarified here. View "Mercer University v. Stofer" on Justia Law