Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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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 In response, the City argued that the 1979 amendment was never constitutionally adopted, that it was repealed in any event by the adoption of the Constitution of 1983, and that local laws purporting to continue the amendment are themselves unconstitutional.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

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The Dawsonville City Council voted to remove W. James Grogan as mayor in May 2017. Grogan sought review of the removal by filing a direct appeal and a petition for certiorari with the superior court. Grogan continued to serve as mayor pending the appeal, and the City then filed counterclaims against Grogan for attorneys’ fees and for money had and received to recoup salary paid and other benefits provided to Grogan if the City prevailed before the superior court. Grogan moved to dismiss the City’s counterclaims under Georgia's Anti-SLAPP statute. The superior court dismissed Grogan’s appeal of the removal decision, found his certiorari petition was “procedurally defective,” denied his motion to dismiss the City’s counterclaims, and granted partial summary judgment on the City’s money-had-and-received counterclaim. Grogan argued to the Georgia Supreme Court he had the right to a direct appeal to the superior court and that his certiorari petition was not procedurally defective. Grogan also argued the superior court erred in denying his motion to dismiss under the Anti-SLAPP statute because the City’s counterclaims were filed to punish Grogan for exercising his constitutional rights to petition and free speech and the City did not establish a reasonable probability of success on the merits of those counterclaims. Furthermore, Grogan argued the court erred in granting relief to the City on its money-had-and-received counterclaim because it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over that claim and failed to apply the voluntary payment doctrine. The Supreme Court concluded it had jurisdiction over this appeal, but did not consider Grogan’s challenges concerning the superior court’s dismissal of his appeal and certiorari petition from the removal decision because those claims were now moot. The Court determined the trial court erred in granting relief to the City on its money-had-and-received counterclaim. View "Grogan v. City of Dawsonville" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari in this case to reconsider Hines v. Georgia Ports Authority, 604 SE2d 189 (2004), and more specifically, its holding that the Georgia Ports Authority was not an “arm of the state” and therefore, had no sovereign immunity from a lawsuit in a state court to recover damages under federal maritime law for the tort of a Ports Authority employee. The Court overruled Hines and concluded the Ports Authority was indeed an “arm of the state” and had sovereign immunity from lawsuits to recover damages under federal maritime law for the torts of its employees. View "Georgia Ports Authority v. Lawyer" on Justia Law

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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