Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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Michael and Katherine Gatto filed suit against the City of Statesboro and City Clerk Sue Starling, alleging negligence and maintenance of a nuisance, after their son, Michael, died following an altercation at a bar in the University Plaza area of the City. The trial court granted summary judgment to both defendants, based in part on sovereign immunity. The Court of Appeals affirmed as to the City, solely on the ground of sovereign immunity. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to address municipal immunity in the context of a nuisance claim. The Court held that the Citywasis immune from liability for the conduct alleged here, because municipalities never faced liability for a nuisance claim based on alleged conduct related to property they neither owned nor controlled, and "nothing in our Constitution alters that principle." Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Gatto et al. v. City of Statesboro et al." on Justia Law

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This case arose from a taxpayer grievance concerning whether the Fulton County Board of Tax Assessors (the “Board”) had been diligent in determining that the Atlanta Falcons Stadium Company LLC (“StadCo”) had a usufruct interest in the Mercedez-Benz Stadium that was not subject to ad valorem taxation. In 2017, Albert Love and other Fulton County taxpayers (collectively, Appellants) sued the Board, the individual members of the Board, and the Board’s Chief Appraiser, seeking mandamus and other relief. Since then, the suit was dismissed, appealed to the Court of Appeals, remanded, amended to add claims and intervenors, then dismissed again. At issue in this appeal was whether the trial court properly dismissed Appellants’ fourth amended petition, which asserted claims for mandamus, declaratory and injunctive relief, and a refund of taxes paid. Appellants contended the trial court erred in dismissing the petition, allegedly sua sponte, arguing primarily that the trial court had applied an incorrect standard of review. They also contended the trial court erred in declining to find OCGA 10-9-10 unconstitutional. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal. View "Love et al. v. Fulton Cty. Bd. of Tax Assessors et al." on Justia Law

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In 2017, a grand jury indicted Ryan Duke for malice murder and related offenses in connection with the October 2005 death of Tara Grinstead. For approximately 17 months, Duke was represented by a public defender from the Tifton Judicial Circuit’s Public Defender’s Office. Then, in August 2018, Duke’s public defender withdrew from representation and John Merchant and Ashleigh Merchant filed an entry of appearance, indicating that they were representing Duke pro bono. The Georgia Supreme Court granted interlocutory review in this case to determine whether the trial court erred in determining whether Duke had neither a statutory right under the Indigent Defense Act of 2003, nor a constitutional right to state-funded experts and investigators needed to prepare a defense, notwithstanding private counsel as his representation. Contrary to the trial court’s conclusion, the Supreme Court found the IDA allowed an indigent defendant to obtain such ancillary defense services through a contract between pro bono counsel and either the Georgia Public Defender Council (“GPDC”) or the appropriate circuit public defender. Consequently, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Duke v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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At the center of this appeal was a dispute between the Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners’ Association (the “HOA”) and Forsyth County over the validity of Section 4.2.2 of Forsyth County’s Addendum to the Georgia Stormwater Management Manual, an ordinance that made HOAs “responsible for maintenance of all drainage easements and all stormwater facilities within the entire development.” The HOA argued that Section 4.2.2 was unconstitutional and otherwise invalid, and that individual lot owners were responsible for maintaining stormwater infrastructure on their lots. Variants of this case were litigated and appealed multiple times before the Georgia Supreme Court and other Georgia courts, including a 2019 appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. On remand from the Supreme Court's "Polo Golf II" decision, the trial court evaluated and rejected the HOA’s remaining claims that Section 4.2.2 was invalid because it required the HOA to trespass on the private property of homeowners, constituted involuntary servitude under the United States and Georgia Constitutions, and exceeded the scope of the ordinance that authorized Forsyth County to promulgate the Addendum. The trial court thus denied the HOA’s motion for summary judgment and granted the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment. The HOA appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Polo Golf & County Club Homeowners Assn., Inc. v. Cunard et al." on Justia Law

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Ronald and Christy Cannon sued Oconee County, Georgia after a vehicle chase initiated by an Oconee County sheriff’s deputy ended in their daughter’s death. The trial court granted the County’s motion for summary judgment, holding that: (1) the Sheriff of Oconee County in his official capacity, not the County, was liable for the deputy’s actions; and (2) the Cannons could not substitute the Oconee County Sheriff in his official capacity as the defendant in place of Oconee County because the statute of limitations had expired and the relation-back doctrine embodied in OCGA 9-11-15 (c) did not apply. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s determination as to the proper defendant but reversed its ruling that relation-back did not apply. The Georgia Supreme Court held that the application of the relation-back doctrine depended on whether the proper defendant knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against him but for the plaintiff’s mistake, not on what the plaintiff knew or should have known and not on whether the plaintiff’s mistake was legal or factual. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded with direction for the trial court for application of the proper standard. View "Oconee County v. Cannon et al." on Justia Law

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At heart of this case was a dispute between the Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners’ Association (the “HOA”) and Forsyth County, Georgia over the validity of Section 4.2.2 of Forsyth County’s Addendum to the Georgia Stormwater Management Manual, an ordinance that made HOAs “responsible for maintenance of all drainage easements and all stormwater facilities within the entire development.” The HOA argued Section 4.2.2 was unconstitutional and otherwise invalid, and that individual lot owners were responsible for maintaining stormwater infrastructure on their lots. Variants of this case have been litigated and appealed multiple times before other Georgia courts, including a 2019 appeal the Georgia Supreme Court. On remand from the Supreme Court's "Polo Golf II" decision, the trial court evaluated and rejected the HOA’s remaining claims that Section 4.2.2 was invalid because it required the HOA to trespass on the private property of homeowners, constituted involuntary servitude under the United States and Georgia Constitutions, and exceeded the scope of the ordinance that authorized Forsyth County to promulgate the Addendum. The trial court thus denied the HOA’s motion for summary judgment and granted the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment. The HOA appealed, and finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Polo Golf & Country Club Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Cunard et al." on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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