Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

by
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

by
In October 1999, pursuant to the Service Delivery Strategy Act (SDS), Greene County, Georgia and five municipalities within the County, including the City of Union Point, entered into various intergovernmental agreements governing local services. In 2015, the City of Union Point filed a “Complaint for TRO, Interlocutory and Permanent Injunction,” alleging that Greene County had unilaterally discontinued police and fire dispatch and communications services to the City’s police and fire departments and had ignored attempts to resolve the issue. The trial court entered a temporary restraining order directing the County to resume dispatch and communications services. A month later, in response to a motion to dismiss, the City amended its complaint to seek a declaratory judgment and mediation under the SDS Act. After the County filed a second motion to dismiss on the grounds of sovereign immunity, standing, and untimely request for mediation, the City again amended its complaint to assert claims for breach of contract, mandamus, specific performance, injunction and attorney fees, and attached a certified copy of the service delivery agreements on file with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Before the Georgia Supreme Court, this case called into question the constitutionality of the evidentiary hearing process provided by OCGA 36-70-25.1 (d) (2). In its order entered at the end of the hearing process, the trial court found that portion of the statute unconstitutional, and further found that sovereign immunity barred all claims and remedies except those provided for in the SDS Act itself. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling on sovereign immunity, but reversed its finding on the constitutionality of OCGA 36-70-25.1 (d) (2). Furthermore, the Court found the trial court exceeded the bounds of the statutory process by going beyond the remedies provided to order particular actions by the parties and by considering matters not submitted to mediation. View "City of Union Point v. Greene County" on Justia Law

by
In October 1999, pursuant to the Service Delivery Strategy Act (SDS), Greene County, Georgia and five municipalities within the County, including the City of Union Point, entered into various intergovernmental agreements governing local services. In 2015, the City of Union Point filed a “Complaint for TRO, Interlocutory and Permanent Injunction,” alleging that Greene County had unilaterally discontinued police and fire dispatch and communications services to the City’s police and fire departments and had ignored attempts to resolve the issue. The trial court entered a temporary restraining order directing the County to resume dispatch and communications services. A month later, in response to a motion to dismiss, the City amended its complaint to seek a declaratory judgment and mediation under the SDS Act. After the County filed a second motion to dismiss on the grounds of sovereign immunity, standing, and untimely request for mediation, the City again amended its complaint to assert claims for breach of contract, mandamus, specific performance, injunction and attorney fees, and attached a certified copy of the service delivery agreements on file with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Before the Georgia Supreme Court, this case called into question the constitutionality of the evidentiary hearing process provided by OCGA 36-70-25.1 (d) (2). In its order entered at the end of the hearing process, the trial court found that portion of the statute unconstitutional, and further found that sovereign immunity barred all claims and remedies except those provided for in the SDS Act itself. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling on sovereign immunity, but reversed its finding on the constitutionality of OCGA 36-70-25.1 (d) (2). Furthermore, the Court found the trial court exceeded the bounds of the statutory process by going beyond the remedies provided to order particular actions by the parties and by considering matters not submitted to mediation. View "City of Union Point v. Greene County" on Justia Law

by
Appellee-taxpayers Westrec Properties, Inc. (Sunrise Cove & Snug Harbor Marinas), PS Recreational Properties, I. (Holiday Marina), Chattahoochee Parks, Inc. (Aqualand Marina), March First, Inc. (Gainesville Marina), and AMP III – Lazy Days, LLC (Lazy Days Marina) operated marinas on Lake Lanier in Hall County. The marinas were located on shoreline property leased from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. For the 2015 tax year, the Board revised its real property tax assessments to include the assessed value of docks and other improvements as part of the leasehold interest instead of personalty, as in previous years. This increased the assessed value substantially: according to the taxpayers, between 345 and 3200 percent. The taxpayers appealed to the Board of Equalization. After hearings to determine the fair market value of the taxpayers’ property, the Board of Equalization upheld the assessments. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellee taxpayers based upon the Board’s failure to schedule a timely settlement conference as required by the 2015 amendment to OCGA 48-5-311 (g) (2), 2015 Ga. Laws p. 1219 et seq. (“the Act”), and the Board appealed. Because the plain language of the statute, as amended by the Act, required the Board to schedule and notice a settlement conference with the taxpayer within 45 days of receipt of a taxpayer’s notice of appeal, and provided that the appeal would terminate in the event the Board elected not to do so, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hall County Board of Tax Assessors v. Westrec Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review centered on the proper statutory interpretation of the Recreational Property Act, OCGA 51-3-20 et seq. (RPA), which shields from potential liability landowners who “either directly or indirectly invite[] or permit[] without charge any person to use the[ir] property for recreational purposes.” Willie and Kristy Harris, along with their six-year-old daughter, Riley, attended a youth football game in 2012 at the Garden City Stadium, a facility owned and maintained by the City of Garden City. Willie and Kristy each paid the required $2 admission fee for spectators over the age of six. However, because Riley was only six years old, the Harrises were not required to pay an entrance fee for her, and Riley was admitted to the event free of charge. At one point during the game, while Riley was walking across the bleachers to return to her seat after visiting the concession stand, she slipped and fell between the bench seats and suffered serious injuries after falling to the ground nearly thirty feet below. The Harrises sued the City to recover for Riley’s injuries, and the City moved for summary judgment, relying on the immunity provided by the RPA. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that a landowner would not be shielded from potential liability by the RPA where that landowner charged a fee to some people who used the landowner’s property for recreational purposes, but did not charge any fee to the injured party who used the property for such purposes. The Court determined that because the plain language of the RPA shielded a landowner from potential liability under the circumstances presented here, the Court of Appeals erred in concluding otherwise. View "Mayor & Alderman of Garden City v. Harris" on Justia Law

by
High school student Antoine Williams tragically died after engaging in horseplay with another student while his teacher was out of their classroom. Antoine’s parents, appellants Jena Barnett and Marc Williams filed a complaint against Appellee Phyllis Caldwell, the teacher. They alleged that Caldwell was liable in her individual capacity for Antoine’s wrongful death because she had been negligent in supervising his classroom. The trial court granted Caldwell’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that she was entitled to official immunity because her acts were the product of discretionary decisions concerning the supervision of students. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that student supervision was not unalterably discretionary in all respects, but here, because the school’s policy was not so definite as to render Caldwell’s actions ministerial, therefore, she was entitled to official immunity. View "Barnett v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Diversified Holdings, LLP (“Diversified”) and the City of Suwanee (“the City”) were involved in a zoning dispute regarding the status of 30 acres of undeveloped land located in the City (“Property”). On the merits of the issues presented, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision that there was no error in denying Diversified’s application to rezone the Property. But the Court clarified that the “substantially advances” standard that derives from constitutional due process guarantees had no place in an eminent domain or inverse condemnation proceeding. “Consequently, where a landowner claims harm from a particular zoning classification, inverse condemnation is not an available remedy unless the landowner can meet the separate and distinct requirements for such a claim.” The Court did not reach the City’s contention on cross appeal that the trial court erred in concluding that Diversified showed a substantial detriment based on the value of the Property as currently zoned versus its value if rezoned. View "Diversified Holdings, LLP v. City of Suwanee" on Justia Law

by
E. Kendrick Smith, an Atlanta lawyer, brought this action to compel a corporation, Northside Hospital, Inc. and its parent company, Northside Health Services, Inc., (collectively, “Northside”), to provide him with access to certain documents in response to his request under the Georgia Open Records Act (“the Act”). A government agency owns and operates a large and complex hospital as part of its mission to provide healthcare throughout Fulton County. The agency leased its assets (including the hospital) to the Northside for a 40-year term at a relatively minimal rent. All governmental powers were delegated to Northside with respect to running the hospital and other assets. Northside’s organizing documents reflected that its purpose aligned with the agency’s: to provide healthcare for the benefit of the public. Thirty years into the arrangement, the corporation became “massive,” and owned other assets in surrounding counties. In resisting Smith’s request for records, Northside argued it no didn’t really do anything on behalf of the agency (in part because the now nearly-nonexistent agency has no idea what the corporation is doing), and thus the corporation’s records of a series of healthcare-related acquisitions weren’t subject to public inspection. The Georgia Supreme Court surmised that if the corporation’s aggressive position were wholly correct, it would cast serious doubt on the legality of the whole arrangement between Northside and the agency. Smith argued everything Northside did was for the agency’s benefit and thus all of its records were public. The Supreme Court concluded both were wrong: Northside’s operation of the hospital and other leased facilities was a service it performed on behalf of the agency, so records related to that operation were public records. But whether the acquisition-related records sought here were also public records depended on how closely related the acquisition was to the operation of the leased facilities, a factual question for the trial court to determine on remand. View "Smith v. Northside Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

by
This case concerns a small grocery store on Allgood Road in Marietta and, specifically the parcel of land on which that store sat. Ray Summerour owned the land for nearly three decades; the City of Marietta wanted to acquire the land to build a public park. When the City was unable to negotiate a voluntary sale of the parcel, it resolved to take the land by eminent domain, and it filed a petition to condemn the property. Following an evidentiary hearing before a special master, the superior court adopted the return and entered an order of condemnation. Summerour appealed, and the Court of Appeals set aside the condemnation order, reasoning that when the City attempted to negotiate a voluntary sale of the land, it failed to fulfill its obligations under OCGA 22-1-9. The Court of Appeals directed that the case be remanded for the superior court to consider whether the failure to comply with Section 22-1-9 amounted to bad faith. The Georgia Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals, and held that compliance with Section 22-1-9 was an essential prerequisite to the filing of a petition to condemn, that the City failed in this case to fulfill that prerequisite, and that its petition to condemn, therefore, must be dismissed, irrespective of bad faith. View "City of Marietta v. Summerour" on Justia Law

by
This case presented challenges to a municipal zoning ordinance. Because the property owners abandoned their claim that the ordinance was unconstitutionally enacted and did not show that it was unconstitutionally vague as applied to them or that it unconstitutionally interfered with their property rights, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment to the city. View "Edwards v. City of Warner Robins" on Justia Law