Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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This appeal stemmed from a trial court order quieting title in favor of TDGA, LLC. Appellant Peter Mancuso argued, inter alia, that he did not receive proper notice from TDGA regarding the foreclosure of his right of redemption. After review of the trial court record, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the evidence showed TDGA met its burden as required by OCGA 48-4-45(a)(2) by sending notices to Mancuso's known addresses via certified mail. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's order. View "Mancuso v. TDGA, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Roswell City Council enacted a new Unified Development Code to govern land use issues; the Code included a zoning map. Several Roswell property owners filed a lawsuit to challenge the process by which the City Council enacted the Code. When the superior court ruled against the property owners, they directly appealed. The Court of Appeals dismissed their direct appeal, concluding that their lawsuit was a “zoning case” under Georgia Supreme Court decisions in Trend Development Corp. v. Douglas County, (383 SE2d 123) (1989), and O S Advertising Co. v. Rubin, 482 SE2d 295 (1997) (“Rubin”), and thus required an application for discretionary appeal under OCGA 5-6-35(a)(1). But the Mississippi Supreme Court held that a stand-alone lawsuit challenging an ordinance as facially invalid, unconnected to any individualized determination about a particular property, was not a “zoning case” under Trend and Rubin and did not require an application under OCGA 5-6-35. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Schumacher v. City of Roswell" on Justia Law

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In a post-divorce contempt action, the Georgia Supreme Court granted Appellant’s application for discretionary appeal to review the trial court’s order finding Appellant in contempt of three separate provisions of the parties’ divorce decree. “To be sure, this Agreement could have been more clearly drafted [. . .] the complete text of the Agreement demonstrates that the parties intended for Husband to assume all tax liabilities of the businesses. We therefore conclude that the trial court’s construction of ‘corporate income tax liability’ constituted a reasonable clarification of that term rather than an improper modification of the Agreement.” The Court affirmed the trial court’s findings as to two of provisions and reverse as to the third. View "Sutherlin v. Sutherlin" on Justia Law

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Consolidated appeals arose out of a complaint filed by four Georgia taxpayers in which they challenged the constitutionality of Georgia’s Qualified Education Tax Credit, Ga. L. 2008, p. 1108, as amended (“HB 1133” or the “Bill”). HB 1133 set up a tax credit program that allows individuals and businesses to receive a Georgia income tax credit for donations made to approved not-for-profit student scholarship organizations (“SSOs”). The Bill created a new tax credit statute for that purpose. Generally speaking, the SSO is required to distribute the donated funds as scholarships or tuition grants for the benefit of students who meet certain eligibility requirements, and the parent or guardian of each recipient must endorse the award to the accredited private school of the parents’ choice for deposit into the school’s account. Plaintiffs alleged: (1) the Program was educational assistance program, and the scheme of the Program violated the Constitution; (2) the Program provided unconstitutional gratuities to students who receive scholarship funds under the Program by allowing tax revenue to be directed to private school students without recompense, and also that the tax credits authorized by HB 1133 resulted in unauthorized state expenditures for gratuities; (3) the Program took money from the state treasury in the form of dollar-for-dollar tax credits that would otherwise be paid to the State in taxes, and since a significant portion of the scholarships awarded by the SSOs goes to religious-based schools, the Program takes funds from the State treasury to aid religious schools in violation of the Establishment Clause; and (4) the Department of Revenue violated the statute that authorized tax credits for contributions to SSOs by granting tax credits to taxpayers who have designated that their contribution is to be awarded to the benefit of a particular individual, and by failing to revoke the status of SSOs that have represented to taxpayers that their contribution will fund a scholarship that may be directed to a particular individual. Plaintiffs sought mandamus relief to compel the Commissioner of Revenue to revoke the status of SSOs, and injunctive relief against the defendants to require them to comply with the constitutional provisions and statutory laws set forth in the complaint. In addition to mandamus relief and injunctive relief, plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the Program was unconstitutional. The Georgia Supreme Court found no error in the trial court’s finding plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue their constitutional claims, or their prayer for declaratory relief with respect to those claims, either by virtue of their status as taxpayers or by operation of OCGA 9-6-24. Consequently plaintiffs failed to allege any clear legal right to mandamus relief. View "Gaddy v. Georgia Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Lowell and Janice Register were shareholders of Register Communications, Inc. Green Bull Georgia Partners, LLC threatened to foreclose on property that had been pledged to secure the debts of Register Communications. The Registers sued Green Bull. In connection with their lawsuit, the Registers sought an interlocutory injunction to prohibit any foreclosure pending final judgment. At first, the trial court provisionally granted some injunctive relief, but after further consideration, it concluded that an injunction pending final judgment was not warranted, and it set aside the injunction that it previously had entered. The Registers appealed the order setting aside the interlocutory injunction, and they asked the trial court for an injunction at least to prohibit any foreclosure pending the resolution of their appeal. The trial court granted an injunction pending appeal, and in this case, Green Bull appealed the entry of that injunction. The Georgia Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion in the grant of the injunction, and affirmed the trial court. View "Green Bull Partners, LLC v. Register" on Justia Law

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The Stuttering Foundation, Inc. (“Foundation”) leased office space in a commercial development in Glynn County owned by Lucas Properties Holdings III, LLC (“Lucas”). In 2015, Lucas filed an application for rezoning of the property to construct an addition to the rear of one of the existing buildings in the development, the building in which the Foundation leased its office. It also sought approval of a site plan for the proposed construction. Both were approved in March 2016. For various reasons, the Foundation opposed the new development and filed a petition for judicial review of the rezoning application and Site Plan, or in the alternative, for mandamus reversing the County’s approval. Both the County and Lucas filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on its merits. The trial court entered an order granting the County’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the Foundation lacked standing to raise its objections to the rezoning. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the Foundation demonstrated no right to contest the rezoning decision. Lucas’s motion to dismiss was a nullity and therefore vacated. View "The Stuttering Foundation of America, Inc. v. Glynn County" on Justia Law

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The constitutional doctrine of sovereign immunity forbids Georgia courts to entertain a lawsuit against the State without its consent. This case began in 2012, not long after the adoption of House Bill 954, which concerned medical procedures for the termination of pregnancies. Eva Lathrop, Carrie Cwiak, and Lisa Haddad are physicians licensed to practice in Georgia. In their petition, the plaintiff-physicians alleged that House Bill 954 violated the Georgia constitution in several respects. Based on their allegations, the plaintiff-physicians sought a declaratory judgment that certain provisions of House Bill 954 were unconstitutional, and they sought injunctive relief to restrain the defendant-state officers from enforcing House Bill 954. The trial court granted a motion to dismiss these claims, and the plaintiff-physicians appealed dismissal of their petition. The Georgia Supreme Court held that the doctrine of sovereign immunity extends generally to suits against the State, its departments and agencies, and its officers in their official capacities for injunctive and declaratory relief from official acts that are alleged to be unconstitutional. In so holding, however, the Court recognized the availability of other means by which aggrieved citizens may obtain relief from unconstitutional acts, including prospective relief from the threatened enforcement of unconstitutional laws. View "Lathrop v. Deal" on Justia Law

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This case concerned OCGA 36-11-1 and a split of opinions in two controlling case law precedents decided by the Georgia court of Appeals. In In re Estate of Leonard, 783 SEd2 470 (2016), Joe Leonard, Jr. allegedly sustained injuries while riding as a passenger aboard a Whitfield County Transit Services bus. Leonard hired a lawyer; his lawyer sent a letter to Robert Smalley, an attorney in Dalton, Georgia. Although Smalley was engaged in private practice, he also served as the County Attorney for Whitfield County, a position to which he was appointed prior to his receipt of Leonard’s letter. In that letter, Leonard’s lawyer referred to the injuries that Leonard allegedly sustained in January, and he asked that Smalley accept the letter as a presentment of Leonard’s claim against the County. The County ultimately moved for summary judgment under OCGA 36-11-1 claiming that Leonard never properly presented his claim, and as such, was barred. The County acknowledged the letter Leonard’s lawyer sent to Smalley, but argued that was not a proper presentment because Smalley was not an in-house county attorney. The Georgia Court of Appeals said in Coweta County v. Cooper, 733 SE2d 348) (2012), that presentment may properly be made to the county attorney, but only if the county attorney is employed by the county in house. In this case, the Court of Appeals distinguished between inside and outside county attorneys, holding that presentment to an outside county attorney was not a proper presentment. The Georgia Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari to review the decision in Leonard, and reversed, holding that presentment to the county attorney (inside or outside) was presentment for the purposes of OCGA 36-11-1. View "Croy v. Whitfield County" on Justia Law

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Joshua Martin sustained life-changing injuries in a brutal attack at a bus stop outside the Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park in 2007. A jury determined that Six Flags was liable for those injuries, along with the four named individual defendants who perpetrated the attack. The trial court apportioned the jury’s $35 million verdict between the parties, assigning 92% against Six Flags and 2% each against the four assailants. On cross-appeals by Six Flags and Martin, a majority of the twelve-member Court of Appeals found no error in the jury’s determination regarding Six Flags’ liability but concluded that the trial court had erred in its pretrial rulings regarding apportionment of fault, necessitating a full retrial. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine: (1) whether Six Flags could properly be held liable for the injuries inflicted in this attack; and (2) assuming liability was proper, whether the trial court’s apportionment error does indeed require a full retrial. After review, the Supreme Court concluded: (1) because the attack that caused Martin’s injuries began while both he and his assailants were on Six Flags property, Six Flags’ liability was not extinguished simply because Martin stepped outside the property’s boundaries while attempting to distance himself from his attackers; and (2) the trial court’s apportionment error did not require a full retrial, but rather required retrial only for the apportionment of damages. View "Martin v. Six Flags Over Georgia II, L.P." on Justia Law

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This case involved challenges to the City of Atlanta’s attempted annexation of five areas. Shortly after the Governor approved HB 514 on April 26, 2016, Atlanta received petitions for annexation from five unincorporated areas of Fulton County contiguous to Atlanta. Emelyn Mays and five other individuals (collectively, “Mays”), who represented each of the proposed annexation areas as residents or property owners, filed a petition for declaratory judgment challenging the annexations. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing, and shortly thereafter issued an order granting Mays’s request declaring the annexations null and void on the ground that they were untimely under the terms of HB 514 and thus the Communities were part of South Fulton. In reaching this conclusion, the court expressly rejected Atlanta’s contention that HB 514 unconstitutionally conflicted with the general laws governing annexation by municipalities by preventing Atlanta’s annexation of the Communities as of July 1, 2016. Atlanta appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found the trial court correctly held that the annexations were invalid because at the time they would have become effective, the areas in question were already part of the newly incorporated City of South Fulton and thus ineligible for annexation by Atlanta. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "City of Atlanta v. Mays" on Justia Law