Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
Rhoden, et al. v. Athens-Clarke County Bd. of Elections, et al.
Jerry NeSmith earned enough support to be placed on the ballot for the office of district commissioner for the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government. NeSmith died just three days before Election Day. In addition to the personal loss of his family and friends, NeSmith’s death before Election Day ultimately resulted in an electoral loss for his supporters, a number of whom joined to bring suit in superior court challenging the results of the election. The Georgia Supreme Court found that because the applicable Georgia statutes dictated that votes cast on paper ballots for a candidate who died before Election Day were void, none of the votes cast for NeSmith had legal effect. Therefore, the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections properly applied Georgia law by voiding votes cast for NeSmith and declaring Jesse Houle the commissioner-elect for Athens-Clarke County Commission. The superior court order dismissing appellants' election challenge was affirmed. View "Rhoden, et al. v. Athens-Clarke County Bd. of Elections, et al." on Justia Law
Kemp v. Gonzalez
The federal Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Georgia Supreme Court. In it, the federal appellate court asked whether OCGA section 45-5-3.2 conflicted with the Georgia Constitution, Article VI, Section VII, Paragraph I(a) or any other provision of the state constitution. The question arose over Deborah Gonzalez's attempt to qualify for the November 3, 2020 general election for the office of district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit after Ken Mauldin resigned from the office effective February 29. The Georgia Secretary of State determined that Gonzalez could not qualify for the November 2020 election for district attorney because, under OCGA 45-5-3.2 (a), there would not be an election for that position until November 2022 – the state-wide general election immediately prior to the expiration of the Governor’s future appointee’s term. Though the vacancy began more than six months before the scheduled November 2020 election, the Governor did not make an appointment in time to maintain that scheduled election pursuant to the provisions of the statute. In May 2020, Gonzalez and four other registered voters sued the Governor and the Secretary of State at the federal District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Gonzalez alleged that OCGA 45-5-3.2 (a) violated Paragraph I (a) and moved for a preliminary injunction to mandate the Governor move forward with the November 2020 election for district attorney. The district court granted the request, finding Gonzalez would likely succeed on her federal due process claim because OGCA 45-5-3.2(a) conflicted with Paragraph I(a) and was therefore unconstitutional. The Supreme Court responded to the federal appellate court in the affirmative: the answer to the question was “yes” to the extent that OCGA 45-5-3.2 authorized a district attorney appointed by the Governor to serve beyond the remainder of the unexpired four-year term of the prior district attorney without an election as required by Article VI, Section VIII, Paragraph I (a) of the Georgia Constitution of 1983. View "Kemp v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law
Premier Health Care Investments, LLC v. UHS of Anchor, LP
In 2005, the Georgia Department of Community Health (Department) promulgated a rule, commonly known as the “Psychiatric Rule” (“the Rule”), that required hospitals to obtain a Certificate of Need (“CON”) “prior to the establishment of a new or the expansion of an existing acute care adult psychiatric and/or substance abuse inpatient program,” and defined “expansion” as “the addition of beds to an existing CON-authorized or grandfathered psychiatric and/or substance abuse inpatient program.” The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Department could, through the Rule, require a licensed hospital with a psychiatric/substance-abuse program authorized by a CON, to obtain an additional CON to redistribute inpatient beds in excess of those identified in its CON to operate a psychiatric/substance-abuse program, but within its total licensed bed capacity. In UHS of Anchor, L.P. v. Department of Community Health, 830 SE2d 413 (2019), the Court of Appeals held that the Department could. The Supreme Court determined the appellate court erred in that conclusion, and reversed. "The General Assembly’s delegation of legislative authority to the Department to promulgate rules as part of its administration of the CON program does not include the authority to define additional new institutional health services requiring a CON, beyond those listed in OCGA 31-6-40 (a)." View "Premier Health Care Investments, LLC v. UHS of Anchor, LP" on Justia Law
Board of Commissioners of Lowndes County v. Mayor & Council of City of Valdosta et al.
Lowndes County, Georgia sued the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (“DCA”) and members of the DCA board over DCA’s application of the Service Delivery Strategy Act (“SDS Act”). The SDS Act authorized and promoted coordination and comprehensive planning among municipal and county governments to “minimize inefficiencies resulting from duplication of services and competition between local governments and to provide a mechanism to resolve disputes over local government service delivery, funding equity, and land use.” Lowndes County and the cities within the County (“the Cities”) operated under a service delivery strategy agreement implemented in 2008. In November 2016, when DCA had not received communication from the County and Cities that they had agreed either to revise their Strategy Agreement or to extend the existing one, DCA notified the County and Cities that they would be ineligible for state-administered financial assistance, grants, loans, or permits until DCA could verify that Lowndes County and the Cities had done so. The County sued the mayors and councils of the Cities, DCA, and DCA commissioner Camila Knowles, seeking declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief, as well as specific performance, arguing the 2008 Strategy Agreement remained in effect, and that the County and Cities remained eligible for state-administered financial assistance. Knowles and the DCA board members moved to dismiss on the basis that sovereign immunity barred the claims for injunctive and declaratory relief. They argued that those claims actually sought to order Knowles and the DCA board members to take action in their official capacities. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court found the Georgia Constitution allowed only the General Assembly to waive the State’s sovereign immunity. "But that rule requires waiver only for claims that sovereign immunity actually bars." The Court found that one narrow limitation on such claims was that the State could not be the “real party in interest.” The Court of Appeals held that the relief sought here by a Lowndes County would actually control the actions of the State and potentially affect state expenditures; the Court of Appeals thus concluded that the State was the real party in interest and that sovereign immunity barred the county’s claims for injunctive and declaratory relief against the state officials in their individual capacities. "But the real-party-in-interest limitation is not so broad; our case law has applied it primarily when the claimed relief would control or take the State’s real property or interfere with contracts to which the State is a party. No such relief is sought here, and applying the limitation as broadly as the State seeks would eviscerate Georgians’ well- established rights to seek redress against their government." The Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals and held that sovereign immunity did not bar the claims at issue in this case. View "Board of Commissioners of Lowndes County v. Mayor & Council of City of Valdosta et al." on Justia Law
Frazen et al. v. Downtown Development Auth. of Atlanta et al.
This case involved one of three related bond validation proceedings, all of which concerned the redevelopment of an area of downtown Atlanta referred to as “The Gulch.” After several days of hearings, the trial court concluded that issuance of the bonds in this case would be sound, feasible, and reasonable. Appellants-intervenors, four citizens of the City, raised nine objections to validation of the bonds. In addition to the objections, appellees argued the trial court erred by failing to hold a wholly separate hearing for the purpose of considering their objections. The Georgia Supreme Court found that because of "extensive hearings held by the trial court," appellee's contention that the trial court's consideration of their arguments was inadequate was belied by he record. Appellees also argued there were insufficient findings of fact and law to support the trial court's conclusions. Finding the trial court record sufficient, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment with respect to the bond validations. View "Frazen et al. v. Downtown Development Auth. of Atlanta et al." on Justia Law
San Miguel Produce, Inc. v. L.G. Herndon, Jr. Farms, Inc.
The United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia certified three questions to the Georgia Supreme Court regarding the scope of the Georgia Dealers in Agricultural Products Act, Ga. L. 1956, p. 617 (codified as amended at OCGA sections 2-9-1 to 2-9-16) (“the Act”). At issue was the effect of the Act’s provisions upon contracts entered into by an agricultural products dealer that failed to obtain a license from the Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture: in this case, a contract entered into between San Miguel Produce, Inc. (“San Miguel”), a California corporation, and L. G. Herndon Jr. Farms, Inc. (“Herndon Farms”), a Georgia corporation. The Supreme Court concluded: (1) an entity as described by the district court did qualify as a dealer in agricultural products under the Act and was not exempt under OCGA 2-9-15 (a) (1), with the limited exception of specific transactions “in the sale of agricultural products grown by [itself];” (2) the Act’s licensing requirements were part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme in the public interest and not merely a revenue measure; and (3) if a dealer has failed to obtain a license as required by OCGA 2-9-2, it may not recover under a contract to the extent that the contract relates to business coming within the terms of the Act. View "San Miguel Produce, Inc. v. L.G. Herndon, Jr. Farms, Inc." on Justia Law
Georgia v. Rowe
Donnie Rowe, Jr. was accused of double murder during a prison escape. In the pending death penalty prosecution of Rowe, the trial court directed that all records of visits from Rowe’s defense team to various prisoners be placed under seal in the legal department of the Department of Corrections, rather than being maintained in the individual inmates’ files. The DOC argued that order was void because the trial court lacked the inherent authority or personal or subject matter jurisdiction to issue it and because, even if the trial court had the authority to do so, issuing it constituted an abuse of discretion. Additionally, the Georgia Supreme Court directed the parties to evaluate whether the Supreme Court had jurisdiction in light of OCGA 5-7-1 limiting appeals by "the State of Georgia" in "criminal cases." The Court ultimately concluded it had jurisdiction over this appeal, and affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court's order at issue. "While we conclude that the trial court had the authority to address the matter at issue here, we also conclude that the scope of the trial court’s order is nonetheless subject to review for an abuse of discretion. ... ordering the removal of the records from their usual place to the legal office was unnecessary, when the key issue was controlling the persons who were entitled to examine them. Instead, the trial court should have ... ordered the prison officials not to disclose any of the relevant visitation records to the prosecuting attorney or the prosecution team or to any person whose access to the records is not reasonably justified." View "Georgia v. Rowe" on Justia Law
Jackson v. Raffensperger
In June 2018, Appellants Mary Jackson and her non-profit organization, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, Inc. (“ROSE”), filed a complaint against the Secretary of State challenging the constitutionality of the Georgia Lactation Consultant Practice Act (the “Act”), which prohibited the practice of “lactation care and services” for compensation without a license from the Secretary of State. Specifically, Appellants alleged that, under the Act, they were ineligible for a license because they lacked a privately issued credential that the Act required for licensure, even though they had other private credentials that made them equally competent to provide lactation care and services and pose no risk of harm to the public. Accordingly, they argue that the Act violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the Georgia Constitution. The trial court granted the Secretary’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Specifically, the trial court ruled that Appellants failed to state a claim that the Act violated due process, because the Georgia Constitution did not recognize a right to work in one’s chosen profession, and that Appellants failed to state a claim that the Act violated equal protection, because the complaint did not sufficiently allege that Appellants were similarly situated to those who are able to obtain a license. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with Appellants that the trial court erred in both rulings. "We have long interpreted the Georgia Constitution as protecting a right to work in one’s chosen profession free from unreasonable government interference. And the trial court erred in concluding that the Appellants are not similarly situated to lactation consultants who can be licensed because, according to the allegations in the complaint, they do the same work." Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded with direction to the trial court to reconsider the motion to dismiss. View "Jackson v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law
New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC v. Dept. of Revenue
After approximately ten years of litigation, the Georgia Supreme Court granted a second petition for certiorari in a dispute over the refund of millions of dollars in Georgia sales and use taxes that allegedly violated a federal statute. In 2010, New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC and three other AT&T Mobility subsidiaries (collectively, “AT&T”) filed refund claims with the Georgia Department of Revenue seeking the return of the sales and use taxes that AT&T had collected from its customers and turned over to the Department. In 2015, the Department denied the claims, and AT&T filed a complaint in DeKalb County Superior Court to compel the refunds. In 2016, the trial court dismissed the complaint on grounds: (1) a Georgia regulation required “dealers” like AT&T to return the sums collected from their customers before applying to the Department for a refund of the illegal taxes; (2) AT&T lacked standing to seek refunds of taxes for periods prior to May 5, 2009, the effective date of the General Assembly’s amendment to the refund statutes to allow dealers to seek refunds on behalf of their customers; and (3) AT&T’s claims amounted to a class action barred by the refund statutes. In its first certiorari review, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed that ruling, holding that the regulation, as properly construed, did not require dealers to return the sums collected before applying for a refund. On remand, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling that AT&T lacked standing to seek refunds for periods prior to the effective date of the 2009 amendments to the refund statutes allowing dealers to seek refunds on behalf of their customers. The issue presented in the second petition for certiorari review was whether plaintiffs lacked standing to file the refund claims. The Supreme Court determined AT&T was statutorily granted representational standing to recover wrongfully paid sums on behalf of and for the benefit of its customers. To the extent, therefore, that the Court of Appeals held that AT&T lacked standing to file a claim on behalf of its customers for any taxes for periods before May 5, 2009, the Court of Appeals’ judgment was erroneous and had to be reversed. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC v. Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law
Barrow v. Raffensperger
These cases involved challenges to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s decision to cancel the election originally scheduled for May 19, 2020, for the office of Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia held by Justice Keith Blackwell. Justice Blackwell’s current term was set to end on December 31, 2020, and the next standard six-year term for his office would begin on January 1, 2021. However, on February 26, Justice Blackwell submitted a letter to Governor Brian P. Kemp resigning from his office effective November 18, 2020. The Governor accepted Justice Blackwell’s resignation and announced that he would appoint a successor to the office. The Secretary canceled the May 19 election for the next term of Justice Blackwell’s office on the ground that his resignation, once it was accepted, created a vacancy that the Governor could fill by appointment, and thus no election was legally required. The appellants in these cases, John Barrow and Elizabeth Beskin, each then tried to qualify for that election but were turned away by the Secretary’s office. They each then filed a petition for mandamus seeking to compel the Secretary to allow qualifying for, and ultimately to hold, the May 19 election for the next term of Justice Blackwell’s office. Beskin also asserted that the Secretary’s decision violated her federal constitutional rights. The trial court denied the mandamus petitions and rejected Beskin’s federal claims, agreeing with the Secretary that a current vacancy was created in Justice Blackwell’s office when his resignation was accepted by the Governor, which gave rise to the Governor's power to appoint a successor. Barrow and Beskin appealed the trial court's orders, both arguing the trial court should have granted their petitions because there was no current vacancy in Justice Blackwell’s office that the Governor could fill by appointment before the May 19 election and because the Secretary had no discretion to cancel a statutorily required election. Beskin also argued she was entitled to relief based on her federal claims. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court held that while the trial court’s reasoning was mistaken, its conclusion that the Secretary of State could not be compelled by mandamus to hold the May 19 election for Justice Blackwell’s office was correct. "Under the Georgia Constitution and this Court’s precedent, a vacancy in a public office must exist before the Governor can fill that office by appointment, and a vacancy exists only when the office is unoccupied by an incumbent. Because Justice Blackwell continues to occupy his office, the trial court erred in concluding that his office is presently vacant; accordingly, the Governor’s appointment power has not yet arisen." View "Barrow v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law