Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Education Law
Henry Cty. Bd. of Education v. S.G.
This case involved the expulsion of then-high school student S.G. by the Henry County Board of Education (“Local Board”) as discipline for fighting on school grounds in violation of the student handbook. Specifically, she was charged with physically abusing others, and with a violation that constituted a misdemeanor under Georgia law. Following an evidentiary hearing before a disciplinary hearing officer, S.G. was expelled from Locust Grove High School, and that decision was affirmed by the Local Board. S.G. then filed an appeal to the Superior Court. After considering the evidentiary record, briefs submitted by the parties, and oral argument, the superior court reversed the State Board’s decision and ordered the Local Board to remove the disciplinary findings from the student’s record and to amend the record to reflect the student’s innocence of the disciplinary charges brought against her. That prompted the Local Board’s appeal to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the superior court’s reversal of the Local Board’s ruling. The Georgia Supreme Court granted the Local Board’s petition for writ of certiorari to examine two issues: whether the Court of Appeals opinion imposed an improper burden of proof upon local school boards with respect to a student’s self-defense claim to disciplinary charges for engaging in a fight; and whether, regardless of its burden of proof analysis, the Court of Appeals correctly determined that the Local Board improperly rejected S.G.’s self-defense claim. After its review, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals for “veering off courts in substituting its own findings of fact instead of remanding the case to the Local Board to apply the proper law to the record evidence and reach its own findings.” View "Henry Cty. Bd. of Education v. S.G." on Justia Law
Gaddy v. Georgia Dept. of Revenue
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
City of Atlanta v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys.
The issue on appeal in this case centered on the potential effects on the territory of school systems and the ownership of school property stemming from the annexation of parts of Fulton County by the City of Atlanta. In 1950, the Georgia General Assembly passed a local constitutional amendment addressing these issues (1950 LCA). In 1950, the independent school system of Atlanta (APS) was part of the City’s municipal government, not a separate political entity. In 1973, however, the General Assembly separated APS from the City’s municipal government by enacting separate charters for the two entities and removing most educational powers and responsibilities from the City government. In 2015, the City initiated this case by filing a declaratory judgment action in which it sought guidance on whether: (1) the City could annex Fulton County property without also expanding the boundaries of APS to cover the newly annexed area; and (2) the City could exercise its own delegated authority to determine if it wanted to expand the boundaries of APS after the City annexed new property. The City argued that HB 1620 (the pertinent legislation) did not properly continue the 1950 LCA, and, as a result, it stood repealed. The Fulton County School District (“FCS”) intervened, then the City moved for summary judgment, APS moved for judgment in its favor on the pleadings, and FCS moved to dismiss the City’s action. The trial court entered a final order denying the City’s motion, granting APS’s motion, and granting FCS’s motion, treating all of them as summary judgment motions. Ultimately, the trial court determined that: (1) the City’s declaratory action, in part, was not barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity; and (2) the 1950 LCA was properly continued by HB 1620. The City appealed the trial court’s ruling that the 1950 LCA was properly continued, and APS has cross-appealed to contend that the trial court erred by not finding that the City’s declaratory judgment action was barred in its entirety by sovereign immunity. Because this matter was not ripe for consideration at the time that the trial court considered the City’s action, the Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s opinion. View "City of Atlanta v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys." on Justia Law
McKinney v. Fuciarelli
Plaintiff Alfred Fuciarelli was a tenured faculty member at Valdosta State University (“VSU”). Fuciarelli was at one time also assistant vice president for research and a dean of the graduate school. After he complained about VSU’s “noncompliance with laws, rules and regulations,” VSU terminated Fuciarelli’s contract to serve as an assistant vice president and dean. Although Fuciarelli remained as a member of the faculty, his salary and benefits were reduced. Fuciarelli appealed his termination to the Board of Regents which affirmed VSU’s decision. Thereafter, Fuciarelli filed suit against the Board of Regents, William McKinney, individually and in his official capacity as president of VSU, and Karla Hull, individually and in her official capacity as a former acting vice president of VSU, seeking damages under both the Public Employee Whistleblower Retaliation Act, and the Taxpayer Protection Against False Claims Act (“TPAFCA”). The trial court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss the public employee whistleblower retaliation claim, but granted defendants’ motion to dismiss the taxpayer retaliation claim on the ground that Fuciarelli failed to obtain the approval of the Attorney General before filing suit. The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals to determine whether it correctly held that the TPAFCA did not require the Attorney General to approve taxpayer retaliation claims brought under subsection (l) of the Act. Because the plain language of the statute required the Attorney General to approve a taxpayer retaliation claim prior to filing suit, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals' holding to the contrary. View "McKinney v. Fuciarelli" on Justia Law
Olvera v. University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents
In this case, a group of college students, including Miguel Olvera, who were not United States citizens and who were grant beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) filed a declaratory judgment action against the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents and its members in their official capacities seeking a declaration that they were entitled to in-state tuition at schools in the University System of Georgia. The trial court granted the Board’s motion to dismiss on the ground that sovereign immunity barred the action, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Olvera v. University System of Georgia's Board of Regents" on Justia Law
May v. Georgia
Kristin May was employed as a teacher at River Ridge High School, a public secondary school. In January 2011, May spoke with a former student, sixteen-year-old P. M., who no longer was enrolled as a student at River Ridge, and who recently had transferred to a school in the Fulton County School District. As they spoke, P. M. disclosed that she previously had a sexual relationship with Robert Morrow, a paraprofessional at River Ridge. May, however, did not make any report of the sexual abuse. When these circumstances later came to the attention of law enforcement, May was charged by accusation with a criminal violation of OCGA 19-7-5. May filed a demurrer and plea in bar, contending that the accusation charged no crime as a matter of law. When the trial court heard argument, the State and May stipulated to certain facts, namely that P. M. was no longer was a student at River Ridge when she spoke with May in 2011. Because P. M. was not then enrolled at River Ridge, May argued she had no duty under OCGA 19-7-5 (c) (1) to make a report. The trial court denied the demurrer and plea in bar, reasoning that a school teacher is required to report the abuse of any child, even one with whom the teacher has no relationship at all. After review, the Supreme Court concluded May had no legal obligation to report the sexual abuse, and the trial court erred when it sustained the accusation. View "May v. Georgia" on Justia Law
Dekalb Cty. Sch. Dist. v. Georgia State Bd. of Education
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified questions to the Georgia Supreme Court about the constitutionality of OCGA 20-2-73, which enumerates the circumstances for the suspension and removal of members of local boards of education. Georgia law does not require that local school systems be accredited, but it permits school systems to seek accreditation from certain private accrediting agencies. The DeKalb County School District was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools ("SACS"), a private accrediting agency. In December 2012, SACS placed the DeKalb School District on "accredited probation" for reasons related to the governance of the DeKalb County Board of Education, which endangered the DeKalb School District's accreditation. After hearings, members of the DeKalb Board who were serving at the time SACS put the DeKalb School District on probation were suspended, and six replacements were appointed. In the meantime, Dr. Eugene Walker, the chair of the DeKalb Board and one of the suspended members, filed suit in the federal district court, alleging OCGA 20-2-73 violated both the United States and Georgia Constitutions, and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The District Court denied preliminary injunctive relief to Walker, finding that Walker had failed to show a substantial likelihood that he would prevail on his claim that the statute violated the United States Constitution. As to the Georgia Constitution, the District Court certified the question to the Georgia Supreme Court. The Georgia Court concluded that OCGA 20-2-73 did not violate the Georgia Constitution. Accordingly, the Court answered the District Court's questions in the negative. View "Dekalb Cty. Sch. Dist. v. Georgia State Bd. of Education" on Justia Law
Atlanta Independent School System v. Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, Inc.
The Atlanta Independent School System (APS) and the Atlanta Board of Education deducted a $38.6 million unfunded pension liability expense before calculating the amount of local revenue funds to be distributed to start-up charter schools within APS. The stated purpose for the change in funding was APSÕs need to pay down a large, unfunded pension liability for current and former APS employees that has been accruing since the 1980s. In response, start-up charter schools filed a petition for writ of mandamus seeking to compel appellants4 to distribute local revenue to the start-up charter schools without any deduction for APSÕs unfunded pension liability. The trial court granted the requested mandamus relief, finding the statutory funding formula set out by statute did not authorize appellants to subtract the $38.6 million from its calculation of local revenue. Finding no error in the trial court's grant of mandamus relief, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Atlanta Independent School System v. Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School, Inc." on Justia Law
Sherman v. Atlanta Independent School System
The issue on appeal in this case involved the use of local school taxes for general redevelopment purposes following the Supreme Court's February 2008 decision interpreting the Georgia Constitution's Educational Purpose Clause in "Woodham v. City of Atlanta," (657 SE2d 528 (2008)); the subsequent amendment to the Constitution's Redevelopment Powers Clause in November 2008; and the repeal and reenactment of the statutory Redevelopment Powers Law in April 2009. Appellant John S. Sherman argued that the Court's holding in "Woodham" violated the Educational Purpose clause, rendered the resolutions, redevelopment plans, and intergovernmental agreements approving the City's Perry-Bolton and BeltLine tax allocation districts ("TADs") unconstitutional in their entirety, void ab initio, and unamendable. Appellees the Atlanta Independent School System, City of Atlanta, and Atlanta Development Authority, argued that Woodham invalidated only a particular bond issuance for the BeltLine project and had no effect at all on the constitutional validity of the local government approvals for the BeltLine TAD, much less the Perry-Bolton TAD. Upon review of the arguments, the Supreme Court concluded Appellees were wrong. "It is clear that, under the law when we decided Woodham in February 2008, the local government approvals for the Perry-Bolton and BeltLine TADs would have been ruled unconstitutional to the same extent that this Court held that the proposed funding for the BeltLine bonds was unconstitutional; at that time, local school taxes could not be used for general redevelopment purposes. But Sherman is also wrong . . . because the subsequent constitutional amendment and revision of the statute governing TADs changed the applicable law, and those changes were expressly made retroactive with respect to the county, city, and local board of education approvals needed to use school taxes for redevelopment purposes. Thus, Sherman's constitutional challenges to the Perry-Bolton and BeltLine TADs lack merit." Sherman's other arguments, were also found meritless. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Appellees and its denial of partial summary judgment to Sherman. View "Sherman v. Atlanta Independent School System" on Justia Law
Greene Cty. Sch. Dist. v. Circle Y Construction, Inc.
Circle Y filed a complaint alleging, among other things, breach of contract when the school district terminated a construction management services contract with Circle Y. The trial court denied the school district's motion to dismiss and the court of appeals affirmed. The court held that, in light of the determination by the court of appeals that the trial court correctly denied the motion to dismiss because Circle Y's complaint alleged facts that, when taken as true, established that the contract was not void as a matter of law due to voter approval of the educational local option sales tax, it was not necessary for the court of appeals to construe OCGA 20-2-506(h) in order to resolve the appeal. Accordingly, the court remanded to the court of appeals with direction that it vacate that portion of the Division order that addressed OCGA 20-2-506. View "Greene Cty. Sch. Dist. v. Circle Y Construction, Inc." on Justia Law