Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
Inquiry concerning Judge Eric Norris
A majority of the Hearing Panel (“Panel”) of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission (“JQC”) recommended that Judge Eric Norris issue a public apology for violating Rules 1.2 (A) and 2.8 (B) of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct, with the dissent recommending censure from the Court along with a public apology. The charges stemmed from an Athens Banner-Herald article published on a criminal defendant who had a bench warrant issued for failing to appear in court. Judge Norris presided over the defendant’s first trial, which ended in a mistrial; defendant was released on his own recognizance. A bail bondsman posted his disagreement with the judge’s handling of the case on social media. The judge arranged for a meeting with the bail bondsman wherein he had a deputy confiscate the bondsman’s cell phone, and scolded the bondsman in the judge’s chambers. The bondsman did not feel he was free to leave, and requested to have his lawyer present. The bondsman filed a complaint against Judge Norris with the JQC. The Director excepted to the recommended sanction, asserting that a public reprimand was appropriate. For the reasons stated below, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed that a public apology or a censure was an appropriate sanction and order that Judge Norris be publicly reprimanded. View "Inquiry concerning Judge Eric Norris" on Justia Law
Mimbs v. Henry County Schools
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment against public school teacher Sheri Mimbs, on the basis that Mimbs failed to institute her whistleblower action within one year after discovering the alleged acts of retaliation. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded Mimbs’s complaint was timely with respect to one of the acts giving rise to her retaliation claim. Therefore, the Court reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the school district. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Mimbs v. Henry County Schools" on Justia Law
Brown, et al. v. Carson, et al.
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether E. Howard Carson acquired a vested right to develop property in a particular manner based upon alleged assurances made to him by Tom Brown, the Forsyth County Planning Director. Carson was the principal for Red Bull Holdings II, LLC, the property owner in this case. In 2016, Carson met with Brown and discussed Carson’s plans to purchase approximately 17 acres of land and develop that property into 42 separate 9,000- square-foot residential lots. In his role as Planning Director, Brown was allowed to interpret the zoning code; however, he could not unilaterally promise or authorize the issuance of a building permit. The record further showed that Carson knew prior to that meeting that the zoning code allowed for 9,000-square-foot lots. During the meeting, Carson showed Brown a hand-drawn document depicting Carson’s proposed subdivision layout, and asked Brown to confirm whether the current zoning code allowed for his proposed development. Brown made no representations as to future zoning code changes that might impact the property, nor did he guarantee that Carson would be able to build as he proposed. Carson purchased the property and spent money obtaining the various plans and appraisals necessary to begin development. Then, in August 2016, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners “imposed a moratorium on the acceptance of applications for land disturbance permits” for 9,000 -square-foot residential lots. Based on the record before the Supreme Court, it concluded Carson did not acquire a vested right; therefore, the decision of the Court of Appeals holding to the contrary was reversed. The case was remanded with direction. View "Brown, et al. v. Carson, et al." on Justia Law
Black Voters Matter Fund, Inc. v. Kemp
On March 25, 2021, Georgia Governor Kemp signed into law Senate Bill 9 (“SB 9”), which created from the former Augusta Judicial Circuit two new judicial circuits: the Columbia Judicial Circuit, and the Augusta Judicial Circuit. The judicial circuit split, which was slated to become effective on July 1, 2021, was briefly stayed by three lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of SB 9. The lawsuits were filed in the Superior Court of Richmond County, one by Columbia County citizen Willie Saunders and two by the nonprofit, voting advocacy organization, Black Voters Matter Fund, Inc. (“BVMF”). At the heart of each of these suits was a claim that Columbia County officials sought to form their own judicial circuit as a racially discriminatory reaction to the election of District Attorney Jared Williams in November 2020. These appeals and cross-appeals arose from the trial court’s July 13, 2021 final judgment addressing the merits of the appellants’ challenges to SB 9 in each of the three suits. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court rejected the appellants’ challenges to SB 9, declaring it “valid and enforceable” and allowing the circuit split to proceed. However, The Georgia Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s judgment as to BVMF and remanded those cases to the trial court with instruction that they be dismissed because BVMF lacked standing to pursue its actions. As to Saunders, the Supreme Court did not reach the merits of his appeal because Saunders failed to challenge the trial court’s dispositive ruling dismissing the defendants he sued. Thus, the Supreme Court also vacated the judgment as to Saunders’ complaint and directed the trial court to dismiss his action upon remand. View "Black Voters Matter Fund, Inc. v. Kemp" on Justia Law
Riley v. Georgia Assn. of Club Executives., Inc.
In Case No. S21A0899, Lynnette Riley, the former State Revenue Commissioner, appealed the partial grant of summary judgment in favor of petitioner Georgia Association of Club Executives (“GACE”), contending that the trial court erred by permanently enjoining the enforcement of OCGA 15-21-201(1)(B) – one of the definitions of “adult entertainment establishment” – based on the court’s ruling that the provision was unconstitutionally vague. In Case No. S21X0900, GACE cross-appealed, contending the trial court erred in granting partial summary judgment in Riley’s favor on the remaining claims of GACE’s petition, arguing that OCGA 15-21-209, by imposing an annual assessment on adult entertainment establishments, violated constitutional due process and free speech protections. Although these appeals presented challenges to the constitutionality of state statutes, the Georgia Supreme Court did not address the merits of the appellant’s or the cross-appellant’s claims of error. Instead, the Court vacated the trial court’s summary judgment order and subsequent final judgment because the Court determined GACE’s action against Riley was moot when the trial court ruled. "Because Riley was no longer Revenue Commissioner at the time the trial court entered its summary judgment order and subsequent final judgment, an injunction against her in her individual capacity could not give GACE the relief it seeks. ... A court may not address the constitutionality of the tax at issue absent the presence of a proper defendant in the action." View "Riley v. Georgia Assn. of Club Executives., Inc." on Justia Law
Atlantic Specialty Insurance Co. v. City of College Park, et al.
Dorothy Wright and her grandchildren (collectively, the “Decedents”) were killed when their vehicle was struck by a stolen vehicle that was being chased by College Park Police Department officers. At the time of the accident, the City of College Park had an insurance policy provided by Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company (“Atlantic”), which provided coverage for negligent acts involving the City’s motor vehicles up to $5,000,000 but also included immunity endorsements which said that Atlantic had no duty to pay damages “unless the defenses of sovereign and governmental immunity are inapplicable.” Plaintiffs filed suit against the City, raising claims of negligence and recklessness resulting in the wrongful deaths of the three Decedents, to which the City raised sovereign immunity as a defense. Plaintiffs claimed the insurance policy limit was $5,000,000 for the three deaths, while Atlantic contended the policy limit was capped at $700,000 under the relevant statutory scheme and the terms of the City’s policy. As the parties agreed, pursuant to OCGA 36-92-2 (a)(3), the sovereign immunity of local government entities was automatically waived up to $700,000 in this instance, regardless of whether the City had a liability insurance policy. Atlantic intervened in the case to litigate the limit of the insurance policy. The trial court ruled that the policy limit is $5,000,000, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court then granted Atlantic’s petition for certiorari to decide whether the City’s insurance policy waived the City’s sovereign immunity under OCGA 36-92-2 (d)(3). The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals incorrectly ruled that the City’s insurance policy increased the sovereign immunity waiver notwithstanding the immunity endorsements, which expressly precluded coverage when a sovereign immunity defense applies. Judgment was therefore reversed. View "Atlantic Specialty Insurance Co. v. City of College Park, et al." on Justia Law
Floyd v. Stone
Appellant Maureen Floyd sought permission to file an information in the nature of quo warranto against appellee Superior Court Judge Jesse Stone of the Augusta Judicial Circuit, with the goal of having him removed from office. Relying on Paragraph VIII (a) of Article V, Section II of the Georgia Constitution, Floyd contended Judge Stone’s appointment was illegal, because the Governor did not “promptly” appoint him to fill the vacancy on the superior court created by the accepted resignation of his predecessor, Judge Michael Annis. The trial court granted Judge Stone’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in quo warranto and denied Floyd leave to file an information against Judge Stone, in part because Floyd failed to show that removal from office through a proceeding in quo warranto was the proper remedy for an appointment that was not made promptly. Finding no error in that judgment, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment on that basis. View "Floyd v. Stone" on Justia Law
Spann v. Davis, et al.
Gai Spann filed suit against Rashida Davis and Kyra Dixon, administrators of the City of Atlanta Municipal Court (“the Clerks”), alleging that she was wrongfully arrested and detained as a result of the Clerks’ failure to withdraw a failure-to-appear warrant after it had been cancelled by a municipal court. The Clerks raised sovereign immunity and official immunity as defenses in a motion to dismiss, but the trial court instead sua sponte raised and granted the motion based on quasi-judicial immunity, with no prior notice to the parties. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to review this case, and held the Court of Appeals erred in concluding the trial court was correct to rule sua sponte on the issue of quasi- judicial immunity, even though the defendants did not raise quasi-judicial immunity in the motion to dismiss or the answer. The appellate court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Spann v. Davis, et al." on Justia Law
Rockdale County et al.. v. U. S. Enterprises, Inc.
This case arose from Rockdale County, Georgia's denial of an application for a permit to build a QuikTrip on property owned by William Corey and U.S. Enterprises, Inc. (the “Owners”), on the ground that the proposed facility was a “truck stop,” which was a prohibited use under the County’s Unified Development Ordinance (“UDO”). After the County’s Board of Adjustment affirmed the denial of the permit, the Owners filed a petition to the Rockdale County Superior Court seeking, among other things, certiorari under OCGA 5-4-1 et seq. The superior court sustained the petition for certiorari, rejecting the County’s argument that the Owners’ lawsuit was barred by res judicata and reversing the Board’s decision on the ground that the UDO’s applicable definition of a “truck stop” was unconstitutionally vague and therefore violated due process under the Georgia Constitution. The Georgia Supreme Court granted County’s application for a discretionary appeal, and the Owners then cross-appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s rejection of the County’s res judicata argument, reversed the part of the superior court’s judgment ruling that the “truck stop” definition was unconstitutionally vague, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court's holding made it unnecessary to address the Owners’ cross-appeal, which was accordingly dismissed as moot. View "Rockdale County et al.. v. U. S. Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law
Dept. of Transportation v. Mixon
Cathy Mixon sued the Georgia Department of Transportation (“GDOT,” or “the State”), claiming nuisance and inverse condemnation based on alleged flooding on her property following a road-widening project. Mixon claimed GDOT’s failure to maintain its storm water drainage systems resulted in regular flooding, drainage, and erosion problems “within and around” her property. Her complaint sought “just and adequate compensation” for the alleged taking, other money damages, attorney fees, and a permanent injunction “to prevent future nuisance and continual trespass[.]” GDOT moved to dismiss, which the trial court granted in part and denied in part. In particular, the trial court dismissed any claims arising from professional negligence (due to the lack of an expert affidavit, as required by OCGA 9-11-9.1) and any claims arising more than four years prior to the filing of the complaint (due to the applicable statute of limitations). The trial court otherwise denied GDOT’s motion. Among other things, the trial court rejected GDOT’s argument that sovereign immunity barred Mixon’s claims. The Court of Appeals granted GDOT’s application for interlocutory appeal and then affirmed, holding in relevant part that the trial court did not err in ruling that sovereign immunity is waived for Mixon’s claims for damages and injunctive relief. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed: because Mixon’s claim for injunctive relief ... fell into at least one of the two categories of situations in which the Just Compensation Provision acted as a waiver of sovereign immunity for injunctive relief. View "Dept. of Transportation v. Mixon" on Justia Law