Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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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

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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

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The Development Authority of Cobb County passed a resolution in May 2018 to issue $35 million in revenue bonds under OCGA 36-62-2 (6)(N) to finance a retail development in east Cobb County, namely, a grocery store. The Development Authority planned to lease the facility to the Kroger Company, which would relocate a nearby grocery store to the newly constructed facility. Cobb County resident Larry Savage objected to the bonds, and the Superior Court of Cobb County denied validation of the bonds, concluding that OCGA 36-62-2 (6)(N) does not authorize the bonds and that paragraph (6)(N) was unconstitutional in any event. The Development Authority and Kroger appealed. The Georgia Supreme Court found the superior court reasoned that additional employment opportunities were not enough to show that the new grocery store was “essential” to “the development of trade, commerce, industry, and employment opportunities.” Further, the superior court said that the additional employment opportunities at the new grocery store in any event were not the sort of “employment opportunities” with which paragraph (6) (N) was concerned. The Supreme Court determined the superior court misunderstood the statute and the controlling caselaw. Furthermore, the Supreme Court determined the trial court was mistaken in thinking paragraph (6)(N) was unconstitutional. The supreme Court, therefore, reversed the superior court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Development Authority of Cobb County v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case is whether the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (“EPD”) properly issued a permit to the City of Guyton to build and operate a land application system (“LAS”) that would apply treated wastewater to a tract of land through spray irrigation. Craig Barrow III challenged the issuance of that permit, arguing that, among other things, EPD issued the permit in violation of a water quality standard, Ga. Comp. R. & Regs., r. 391-3-6-.03 (2) (b) (ii) (the “antidegradation rule”), because it failed to determine whether any resulting degradation of water quality in the State waters surrounding the proposed LAS was necessary to accommodate important economic or social development in the area. An administrative law judge rejected Barrow’s argument, finding that the rule required an antidegradation analysis only for point source discharges of pollutants and the LAS at issue was a nonpoint source discharge. The superior court affirmed the administrative ruling. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the plain language of the antidegradation rule required EPD to perform the antidegradation analysis for nonpoint source discharges, and that EPD’s internal guidelines to the contrary did not warrant deference. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this matter to consider what level of deference courts should afford EPD's interpretation of the antidegradation rule, and whether that regulation required an antidegradation analysis for nonpint source discharges. The Court concluded the Court of Appeals was correct that the antidegradation rule was unambiguous: the text and legal context of the regulation showed that an antidegradation analysis was required only for point sources, not nonpoint sources. Therefore, the Court reversed. View "City of Guyton v. Barrow" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the State has waived sovereign immunity under the Georgia Torts Claims Act (“GTCA”), for Thomas McConnell’s tort action; and, (2) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that McConnell’s complaint failed to state a claim. In September 2012, the Georgia Department of Labor created a spreadsheet containing the name, social security number, home telephone number, email address, and age of 4,757 individuals over the age of 55 in Cherokee, Cobb, and Fulton counties who had applied for unemployment benefits or other services administered by the Department, including McConnell. Almost a year later, a Department employee inadvertently sent an email with the spreadsheet attached to approximately 1,000 recipients without the permission of the individuals whose information was included in the spreadsheet. 2014, McConnell filed a complaint against the Department on behalf of himself and a proposed class of all individuals whose information was contained in the spreadsheet, alleging negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts. The complaint alleged that, as a result of the Department’s negligent disclosure of McConnell’s and the other proposed class members’ personal information, they were required to place freezes and alerts with credit reporting agencies, close or modify financial accounts, and closely review and monitor their credit reports and accounts for unauthorized activity. The complaint further alleged that McConnell and others whose information had been disclosed incurred out-of-pocket costs related to credit monitoring and identity protection services and suffered adverse impacts to their credit scores related to the closure of credit accounts. The Department moved to dismiss, ruling that sovereign immunity barred the lawsuit because the GTCA did not waive the State’s immunity for the type of “loss” that McConnell alleged. McConnell appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, pretermitting a decision on sovereign immunity and addressing only the trial court’s ruling that each count of the complaint failed to state a claim. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals and affirmed. View "Georgia Department of Labor v. McConnell" on Justia Law

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According to precedent, Georgia superior courts had jurisdiction to review by writ of certiorari under OCGA 5-4-1 not only the judicial decisions of inferior courts, but also the quasi-judicial decisions of other instrumentalities and officers of state and local government. In Gould v. Housing Authority of the City of Augusta, 808 SE2d 109 (2017), a divided panel of the Court of Appeals held that the certiorari jurisdiction of the superior courts extended to decisions of municipal housing authorities discontinuing the provision of housing assistance under Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937. The Georgia Supreme Court brought the case up to consider whether the writ of certiorari reached so far, and concluded that it did not. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "Housing Authority of the City of Augusta v. Gould" on Justia Law

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In December 2017, the City of Atlanta enacted an ordinance to annex certain property that lies within the Fulton County Industrial District. Fulton County filed a lawsuit for declaratory and injunctive relief against the City and several of its officers, asserting that the annexation of property within the District was prohibited by a local constitutional amendment ratified in 1979. In response, the City argued that the 1979 amendment was never constitutionally adopted, that it was repealed in any event by the adoption of the Constitution of 1983, and that local laws purporting to continue the amendment are themselves unconstitutional. The trial court agreed, and it held, among other things, that the 1979 amendment was enacted in violation of the constitutional “single subject” rule. See Ga. Const. of 1976, Art. XII, Sec. I, Par. I. The County appealed, but finding no error in the trial court's judgment, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Fulton County v. City of Atlanta" on Justia Law

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Morgan County, Georgia appealed a trial court’s order dismissing Christine May’s criminal citation for violating the County’s amended zoning ordinance by renting out her house near Lake Oconee for a week. The court concluded that the zoning ordinance in effect at the time May began renting her house for short periods was unconstitutionally vague as applied, meaning that her use of the house for such rentals was “grandfathered” and not subject to the amended ordinance’s explicit prohibition of short-term rentals for fewer than 30 days. May cross-appealed, but the Georgia Supreme Court did not address her claimed errors, because it affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of her citation. View "Morgan County v. May" on Justia Law

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Jason Wyno challenged the constitutionality of former OCGA 4-8-30, a portion of the Responsible Dog Ownership Law which purported to exempt local governments and their employees from liability arising from their enforcement of, or failure to enforce, that law and local dog-control ordinances. In 2011, Misty Wyno was attacked and killed by a dog owned by one of her neighbors. In the years leading up to the attack, numerous complaints about dogs at the neighbor’s address had been filed with the Lowndes County Animal Control office. Following Misty Wyno’s death, Jason Wyno brought a wrongful death action against the dog’s owners, Lowndes County, and four individual Lowndes County Animal Control employees, alleging the County and its employees negligently failed to perform ministerial duties negligently failed to provide police protection, negligently created and failed to abate a nuisance, were negligent in their control of allegedly dangerous dogs, and were negligent per se by violating several provisions of the Lowndes County Animal Control Ordinance. The complaint also made a demand for punitive damages and alleged that Lowndes County and the County Employees “acted with actual malice and/or an intent to injure in repeatedly refusing to investigate or take any action with regards to the dangerous dogs[.]” The case was dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds. Wyno argued the statute impermissibly extended the official immunity of local government employees provided in Article I, Section II, Paragraph IX (d) of the Georgia Constitution of 1983 because former OCGA 4-8-30 was not “a State Tort Claims Act.” The Georgia Supreme Court did not reach the constitutional question in this case because the Court found the trial court erred in its preliminary determination that the relevant duties imposed by the Responsible Dog Ownership Law and the Lowndes County Animal Control Ordinance in effect at the time of the incident giving rise to this suit were ministerial in nature. Instead, the Court found the relevant acts of the County Employees were discretionary. Moreover, because the record did not contain evidence the individual defendants acted with malice or intent to injure, they were protected from Wyno’s lawsuit by the official immunity provided by Paragraph IX (d). The Court therefore affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, although for reasons different than relied upon by the trial court. View "Wyno v. Lowndes County" on Justia Law

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Cobb and Gwinnett Counties, Georgia, sued telephone companies for their failure to collect and remit to the Counties a charge imposed on subscribers to offset the cost of 911 services. The telephone companies raised various defenses to the Counties’ suits, including that the 911 charge was a tax that the Counties were not allowed to collect by a lawsuit like this one. The trial court rejected that argument and allowed the cases to proceed, but the Court of Appeals vacated that aspect of the trial court’s ruling and remanded because further development of the record was needed to determine whether the charge was a tax. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the charge was indeed a tax regardless of more factual development, and the Counties lacked legal authority to collect that tax in this lawsuit. View "BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC v. Cobb County et al." on Justia Law