Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Communications 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
BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC v. Cobb County et al.
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
WXIA-TV v. Georgia
Soon after Tara Grinstead went missing from Irwin County in October 2005, her disappearance attracted significant media attention. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies investigated her disappearance for more than eleven years, and throughout the course of that investigation, news organizations continued to show an interest, reporting from time to time on her disappearance and developments in the investigation. When Ryan Duke was arrested in 2017 and charged with Grinstead’s murder, his arrest was the subject of extensive media coverage. Media coverage was most intense in Irwin County and surrounding areas of central and south Georgia. To a lesser extent, the record showed that Duke’s arrest also was covered by television stations and newspapers in Atlanta, as well as some national news organizations. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a gag order instituted in this case, which restrained the lawyers, the defendant and the lawyers in a related case, court personnel, and current and retired law enforcement personnel from making extrajudicial, public statements on certain subjects related to the murder case for so long as it remained pending. The Supreme Court held gag orders like this one may be constitutionally permissible in exceptional circumstances, but the record here did not reveal circumstances sufficiently exceptional to warrant such a restraint. For that reason, the Supreme Court vacated the gag order. View "WXIA-TV v. Georgia" on Justia Law
Posted in: Communications Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law
Cottrell v. Smith
Plaintiff Stanley Cottrell, Jr. appealed the grant of judgment notwithstanding the verdict (“JNOV”) and earlier grants of directed verdicts in this action alleging defamation and related torts, and potentially implicating the constitutionality of portions of the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act (“GCSPA”) in favor of five defendants: Glenn and Marian Crocker (“Crockers”), Hugh Johnson (“Johnson”), Peggy Smith (“Peggy”), and Karen Smith (“Karen”). This matter arose out of some online postings and other communications by Defendants about Cottrell. For a number of years, Cottrell participated in a number of solo running exhibitions with a Christian evangelical emphasis, some of which have been portrayed in the media, and was subsequently involved in various multi-level marketing endeavors, executive leadership positions, and motivational speaking. Cottrell’s notoriety grew along with media controversy relating to his character, which questioned the authenticity and integrity of his claims and achievements. The Crockers worked for Cottrell planning two running exhibitions; Johnson was a long-time friend of Cottrell’s who came to know some women with whom Cottrell was involved outside of his marriage; Peggy is one of the women with whom Cottrell had an extra-marital affair; and Karen is Peggy’s daughter-in-law. Karen located and contacted several people she believed had information about Cottrell, including the Crockers and Johnson. Karen and her husband created a “WordPress” blog and posted stories based on this information, which portrayed Cottrell as having a long history of misrepresentation and deception for personal gain. Karen sent emails to a “list serve” group criticizing Cottrell and sharing links to the Blog posts, and Peggy sent messages to multiple Cottrell Facebook “friends” along the same lines. Cottrell sued, primarily alleging defamation and several associated claims (invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of the GCSPA). After review of Cottrell's arguments on appeal of the JNOV, the Supreme Court concluded JNOV was indeed warranted in this case, and affirmed the trial court's judgments. View "Cottrell v. Smith" on Justia Law
Posted in: Communications Law, Injury Law
MCI Communications Services v. CMES, Inc.
MCI sued CMES on theories of negligence and trespass, and sought damages consisting of the costs to repair a severed cable, compensation for the loss of use of the cable during the time it took to repair it, and punitive damages. The district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of CMES, holding that MCI could not recover loss of use damages. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit certified the following question: "Under Georgia law, may a telecommunications service provider whose cable is severed recover loss-of-use damages measured by the rental value of substitute cable when it has not rented such cable or otherwise incurred any monetary loss apart from the cost of repair?" The court concluded that a telecommunications carrier was not entitled to loss of use damages measured by the hypothetical cost to rent a replacement system where it suffered no actual loss of use damages and did not need to rent a replacement system because it was able to reroute calls within the existing redundant cable system the carrier necessarily installed in order to operate its business. View "MCI Communications Services v. CMES, Inc." on Justia Law