Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Appellant Maxim Cabaret, Inc. d/b/a Maxim Cabaret was a strip club in Sandy Springs, Georgia, and appellant Theo Lambros was the club’s operator, sole shareholder, and president (collectively “Maxim”). Maxim appealed the superior court's order granting summary judgment to the City of Sandy Springs on Maxim’s legal challenges to city ordinances. The Georgia Supreme Court held that Maxim’s challenges to prior versions of the City’s ordinances that have since been replaced or amended were moot; current adult business ordinances prohibiting the sale of alcohol at businesses that offer live nude entertainment constitutionally regulate negative secondary effects of strip clubs without unduly inhibiting free speech or expression; and because the City may constitutionally prohibit Maxim from obtaining a license to sell liquor on its premises under the City’s adult business licensing ordinances, Maxim lacked standing to challenge the City’s alcohol licensing regulations. View "Maxim Cabaret v. City of Sandy Springs" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme COurt's review centered on whether the contract involved in this case between the City of Atlanta and a private business for the lease of retail concession space at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport created a taxable interest subject to ad valorem taxation by Clayton County. The City of Atlanta owned the Airport, which was partially in Clayton County outside the City’s boundaries. Appellee Aldeasa Atlanta Joint Venture entered into the written agreement with the City to lease space on two different concourses at the Airport for the non-exclusive rights to operate two duty free retail stores. Appellant Clayton County Board of Tax Assessors (“County”) issued real property tax assessments to Aldeasa for the 2011 and 2012 tax years on Aldeasa’s purported leasehold improvements on the two parcels involved in the Concessions Agreement and also on Aldeasa’s purported possessory interest in the two parcels. Aldeasa appealed the assessments and paid the tax pending the outcome of the appeal. The trial court found the Concessions Agreement created a usufruct interest in the property, and not an estate in real property; it rejected the County’s assertion that it was legally authorized to impose a property tax on usufructs located at the Airport; and it also rejected the County’s assertion that the Concessions Agreement created a taxable franchise. Accordingly, the trial court granted Aldeasa’s motion for summary judgement and denied the motion filed by the County. The County appealed, asserting four different taxable interests were created by the Concessions Agreement. The Supreme Court disagreed with the State's assertions and affirmed the trial court. View "Clayton County Bd. of Assessors v. Aldeasa Atlanta Joint Venture" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Family and Children Services (“DFCS”) appealed a superior court decision that found Georgia’s central child abuse registry was unconstitutional, both on its face and as applied to appellee Christopher Steiner. The trial court also found that DFCS failed to prove that Steiner committed an act of child abuse by a preponderance of the evidence as required to maintain Steiner’s listing in the registry. The Georgia Supreme Court granted DFCS’s application for discretionary review, and held that Steiner failed to demonstrate a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest sufficient to trigger the due process protections that he claimed were violated by operation of the registry. And because the Act was constitutionally applied to Steiner, he lacked standing to bring his facial challenge on that ground. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held the child abuse registry was not criminal in nature, and that the superior court therefore erred in finding it to be so. And because an abuse investigator’s determination about whether a report of child abuse was supported by the evidence was not a judicial function, the superior court erred in finding that the statute requiring the investigator to report such cases to DFCS for inclusion in the child abuse registry violates the separation of powers provision of the Georgia Constitution. Finally, because at least “some evidence” supported the administrative hearing officer’s conclusion that DFCS had proved an act of child abuse as defined for purposes of the child abuse registry, the superior court erred in reversing the administrative law court. View "Georgia Dept. of Human Services v. Steiner" on Justia Law

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In November 2013, the Consumer Credit Research Foundation (CCRF) entered a consulting agreement with the Kennesaw State University Research and Service Foundation under which Dr. Jennifer Lewis Priestley, a professor at Kennesaw State University (KSU), would research the effects of payday loans on the financial health of their consumers. As part of this project, Dr. Priestley – but not KSU or the KSU foundation – signed a confidentiality agreement with CCRF agreeing not to disclose any information “relating in any manner to CCRF or CCRF’s contributing sponsors.” Dr. Priestley published an article about her findings in December 2014. In June 2015, the Campaign for Accountability (CFA) sent a request to KSU under Georgia’s Open Records Act, asking for copies of all correspondence, electronic or otherwise, between Dr. Priestley and a number of organizations and individuals, including CCRF and its chairman and CEO. After KSU notified CFA and CCRF that it intended to disclose the requested records subject to possible redactions, CCRF filed a complaint against the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (the Board). CCRF sought a declaratory judgment that the records requested by CFA were exempt from disclosure under OCGA 50-18-72(a)(35) and (36) and a permanent injunction prohibiting the Board from disclosing the records. The trial court granted CFA’s motion to intervene in the case as a party defendant. The Court of Appeals held, based on its reading of the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision in Bowers v. Shelton, 453 SE2d 741 (1995), Georgia’s Open Records Act prohibited the disclosure of all information that was not required to be disclosed based on the ORA exemptions listed the statute. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to address that issue, disapproved of the Court of Appeals’ broad reading of Bowers and reversed the court’s judgment. View "Campaign for Accountability v. Consumer Credit Research Foundation" on Justia Law

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Amy Cazier and four other consumers of retail electrical service brought this putative class action against Georgia Power Company, asserting that Georgia Power for several years has collected municipal franchise fees from customers in amounts exceeding those approved by the Public Service Commission, and sought to recover the excess fees for themselves and a class of Georgia Power customers. The Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs were not required to exhaust administrative remedies before bringing their putative class action. The Georgia Supreme Court found no reversible error in the appellate court's judgment and affirmed. View "Georgia Power Company v. Cazier" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Department of Revenue denied New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC; Chattanooga MSA LP; Georgia RSA No. 3, LP; and Northeastern Georgia RSA Limited Partnership (collectively “AT&T”) a tax refund. The appellants alleged that from November 1, 2005 until September 7, 2010, they sold wireless Internet access services to Georgia customers, which were exempt from state sales tax under OCGA 48-8-2. In November 2010, the appellants filed refund claims with the Department for sales tax that they claimed was, until September 2010, erroneously charged to Georgia customers on the purchase of wireless Internet access service. The Department officially refused to pay the requested refund claims. On April 17, 2015, the appellants filed their complaint to challenge this denial. The Department answered and moved to dismiss for a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and the failure to state a claim, because: (1) appellants did not reimburse the alleged illegally collected sales tax to customers before seeking a refund from the Department, in violation of Department Regulation 560-12-1-.25; (2) the appellants lacked standing to file sales-tax-refund claims on behalf of customers for periods prior to May 5, 2009; and (3) the action was barred by Georgia class-action law. Following a hearing on the motion to dismiss, the trial court granted it on all three grounds. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review to determine whether Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. R. 560-12-1-.25 (2) properly required a dealer seeking a sales tax refund reimburse its customer before applying for a refund from the Department of Revenue. The Supreme Court determined this was not a requirement, and that the Court of Appeals’ opinion had to be vacated in part and reversed in part, and that the case remanded with direction. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC v. Georgia Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In October 1999, pursuant to the Service Delivery Strategy Act (SDS), Greene County, Georgia and five municipalities within the County, including the City of Union Point, entered into various intergovernmental agreements governing local services. In 2015, the City of Union Point filed a “Complaint for TRO, Interlocutory and Permanent Injunction,” alleging that Greene County had unilaterally discontinued police and fire dispatch and communications services to the City’s police and fire departments and had ignored attempts to resolve the issue. The trial court entered a temporary restraining order directing the County to resume dispatch and communications services. A month later, in response to a motion to dismiss, the City amended its complaint to seek a declaratory judgment and mediation under the SDS Act. After the County filed a second motion to dismiss on the grounds of sovereign immunity, standing, and untimely request for mediation, the City again amended its complaint to assert claims for breach of contract, mandamus, specific performance, injunction and attorney fees, and attached a certified copy of the service delivery agreements on file with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Before the Georgia Supreme Court, this case called into question the constitutionality of the evidentiary hearing process provided by OCGA 36-70-25.1 (d) (2). In its order entered at the end of the hearing process, the trial court found that portion of the statute unconstitutional, and further found that sovereign immunity barred all claims and remedies except those provided for in the SDS Act itself. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling on sovereign immunity, but reversed its finding on the constitutionality of OCGA 36-70-25.1 (d) (2). Furthermore, the Court found the trial court exceeded the bounds of the statutory process by going beyond the remedies provided to order particular actions by the parties and by considering matters not submitted to mediation. View "City of Union Point v. Greene County" on Justia Law

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Appellee-taxpayers Westrec Properties, Inc. (Sunrise Cove & Snug Harbor Marinas), PS Recreational Properties, I. (Holiday Marina), Chattahoochee Parks, Inc. (Aqualand Marina), March First, Inc. (Gainesville Marina), and AMP III – Lazy Days, LLC (Lazy Days Marina) operated marinas on Lake Lanier in Hall County. The marinas were located on shoreline property leased from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. For the 2015 tax year, the Board revised its real property tax assessments to include the assessed value of docks and other improvements as part of the leasehold interest instead of personalty, as in previous years. This increased the assessed value substantially: according to the taxpayers, between 345 and 3200 percent. The taxpayers appealed to the Board of Equalization. After hearings to determine the fair market value of the taxpayers’ property, the Board of Equalization upheld the assessments. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellee taxpayers based upon the Board’s failure to schedule a timely settlement conference as required by the 2015 amendment to OCGA 48-5-311 (g) (2), 2015 Ga. Laws p. 1219 et seq. (“the Act”), and the Board appealed. Because the plain language of the statute, as amended by the Act, required the Board to schedule and notice a settlement conference with the taxpayer within 45 days of receipt of a taxpayer’s notice of appeal, and provided that the appeal would terminate in the event the Board elected not to do so, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. View "Hall County Board of Tax Assessors v. Westrec Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review centered on the proper statutory interpretation of the Recreational Property Act, OCGA 51-3-20 et seq. (RPA), which shields from potential liability landowners who “either directly or indirectly invite[] or permit[] without charge any person to use the[ir] property for recreational purposes.” Willie and Kristy Harris, along with their six-year-old daughter, Riley, attended a youth football game in 2012 at the Garden City Stadium, a facility owned and maintained by the City of Garden City. Willie and Kristy each paid the required $2 admission fee for spectators over the age of six. However, because Riley was only six years old, the Harrises were not required to pay an entrance fee for her, and Riley was admitted to the event free of charge. At one point during the game, while Riley was walking across the bleachers to return to her seat after visiting the concession stand, she slipped and fell between the bench seats and suffered serious injuries after falling to the ground nearly thirty feet below. The Harrises sued the City to recover for Riley’s injuries, and the City moved for summary judgment, relying on the immunity provided by the RPA. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that a landowner would not be shielded from potential liability by the RPA where that landowner charged a fee to some people who used the landowner’s property for recreational purposes, but did not charge any fee to the injured party who used the property for such purposes. The Court determined that because the plain language of the RPA shielded a landowner from potential liability under the circumstances presented here, the Court of Appeals erred in concluding otherwise. View "Mayor & Alderman of Garden City v. Harris" on Justia Law

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High school student Antoine Williams tragically died after engaging in horseplay with another student while his teacher was out of their classroom. Antoine’s parents, appellants Jena Barnett and Marc Williams filed a complaint against Appellee Phyllis Caldwell, the teacher. They alleged that Caldwell was liable in her individual capacity for Antoine’s wrongful death because she had been negligent in supervising his classroom. The trial court granted Caldwell’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that she was entitled to official immunity because her acts were the product of discretionary decisions concerning the supervision of students. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that student supervision was not unalterably discretionary in all respects, but here, because the school’s policy was not so definite as to render Caldwell’s actions ministerial, therefore, she was entitled to official immunity. View "Barnett v. Caldwell" on Justia Law