Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Roberts v. Cuthper
In April 2019, Kevin Roberts applied to Judge Clarence Cuthpert, Jr., probate judge for Rockdale County, for a weapons carry license pursuant to OCGA § 16-11-129. Judge Cuthpert denied Roberts’s application, finding that Roberts’s criminal history revealed five arrests between 1992 and 2004 for aggravated assault, affray, obstruction of the judiciary, cruelty to children in the first degree, simple battery, battery, and family violence battery. Judge Cuthpert noted that Roberts’s criminal history did not list the dispositions of Roberts’s arrests for obstruction of the judiciary or simple battery, but the other arrests had dispositions of not prosecuted, dismissed, or nolle prossed. Judge Cuthpert concluded that Roberts “lack[ed] good moral character . . . [d]ue to his arrest[s] for several violent offenses” and that “the court need[ed] additional information[, including police reports,] to determine if this application should be approved.” After reconsideration, Judge Cuthpert again denied the petition, concluding that, “[b]ased upon [Roberts’s] history of violent offenses and failure to comply with the Court’s instructions to provide the incident reports and dispositions for [his previous five arrests],” Roberts was “not of good moral character.” Roberts thereafter filed a complaint seeking mandamus relief against Judge Cuthpert “in his official capacity,” declaratory judgment against Judge Cuthpert “in both his official and individual capacities,” and costs and attorney’s fees. The Georgia Supreme Court held that the General Assembly waived sovereign immunity for claims brought under OCGA § 16-11-129 (j) and that the Separation of Powers Provision of the Georgia Constitution was not implicated by the recovery of costs, including reasonable attorney’s fees, against a probate judge pursuant to OCGA § 16-11-129 (j) because processing a weapons carry license did not involve the exercise of judicial power. The Court also concluded the probate judge in this case waived the defense of judicial immunity on the costs-and-fees claim asserted against him in his official capacity. View "Roberts v. Cuthper" on Justia Law
Wise Business Forms, Inc. v. Forsyth County, et al.
Wise Business Forms, Inc. (“Wise”) was the nation’s fourth largest printer of business forms, and was headquartered in Forsyth County, Georgia. A 36-inch metal pipe (“Subject Pipe”) ran underneath Wise’s property and had been in place since 1985. Approximately twenty-five feet of the drainage pipe extended into a two-acre tract of land west of Wise’s property (“Corner Tract”). The Corner Tract was undeveloped and forms a natural detention basin into which a large vertical concrete drainage structure with a large stormwater outlet pipe (“Feeder Structure”) was constructed. Wise asserted in its complaint that water from the Feeder Structure on the Corner Tract was designed to flow through the Subject Pipe underneath Wise’s property. The McFarland Parkway Widening Project extended McFarland Road from two lanes to four lanes and was completed in 2000. Wise alleged in its complaint that this project resulted in a substantial increase of the surface and stormwater runoff flowing underneath its property. In 2020, Wise filed a complaint against Forsyth County and the Georgia Department of Transportation (the “DOT”) raising claims for per se taking of Wise’s property, inverse condemnation by permanent nuisance, attorney fees. Wise amended its complaint to add a claim for inverse condemnation by abatable nuisance. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to clarify the standards for determining when a claim for inverse condemnation by permanent nuisance accrues for purposes of applying the four-year statute of limitation set forth in OCGA § 9-3-30 (a). The Court concluded that, although the Court of Appeals articulated one of the correct standards to apply in determining when the applicable statute of limitation begins to run on a permanent nuisance claim, the Court of Appeals failed to construe the allegations of the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff as the non-moving party; erred in concluding there was only one harm in this case that was “immediately observable” to the plaintiff when the nuisance at issue was completed; and erred in concluding that the statute of limitation had run on the plaintiff’s claim as a matter of law. View "Wise Business Forms, Inc. v. Forsyth County, et al." on Justia Law
Knox v. Georgia
Five University System of Georgia (“USG”) professors filed suit to block a 2017 statutory amendment that removed public colleges and other public postsecondary educational institutions from the statutory definition of “school safety zone.” Before the 2017 amendment, carrying or possessing a weapon on any real property or in any building owned by or leased to any postsecondary educational institution was a misdemeanor, and the 2017 amendment decriminalized that conduct. The professors alleged that, as a result of the 2017 amendment, the Code required the Board of Regents, the USG, and USG institutions to permit persons to carry or possess weapons on the campuses of public postsecondary educational institutions, contrary to longstanding USG policies. The professors sought a declaration that the statutory amendment was unconstitutional as applied because it usurped the Board’s constitutional authority to govern, control, and manage the USG and its member institutions. The trial court granted the State's motion to dismiss the complaint and denied the professors’ request for declaratory relief, ruling that the trial court lacked jurisdiction on three alternative grounds, including mootness. The Georgia Supreme Court found that because the complaint showed that the Board adopted gun-carrying policies consistent with the 2017 statutory amendment, the question of whether the amendment usurped the constitutional authority of the Board to govern, control, and manage the USG and its member institutions became moot. Consequently, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the professors’ as-applied challenge, and the judgment dismissing the professors’ complaint on that basis was affirmed. View "Knox v. Georgia" on Justia Law
Raffensperger v. Jackson, et al.
In 2018, Mary Jackson and a nonprofit organization, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, Inc. (“ROSE”), filed a complaint against the Georgia Secretary of State challenging the constitutionality of the Georgia Lactation Consultant Practice Act (“the Act”), OCGA §§ 43-22A-1 to 43-22A-13. Under the Act, the Secretary issues licenses authorizing lactation care providers to provide lactation care and services for compensation. Only lactation care providers who obtain a privately issued certification as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (“IBCLC”) were eligible to obtain a license. Jackson and ROSE (collectively “Plaintiffs”) alleged their work included the provision of lactation care and services and that the Act was irrational and lacked any real and substantial connection to the public health, safety, or welfare because there was no evidence that non-IBCLC providers of lactation care and services ever harmed the public. They also contended the Act would require them to cease practicing their chosen profession, thus violating their rights to due process and equal protection under the Georgia Constitution. In the first round of this litigation, the trial court granted the Secretary’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, but the Georgia Supreme Court reversed and remanded with direction. Following remand, the Secretary withdrew his motion to dismiss, and the parties engaged in discovery and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. On the due process claim, the trial court granted the Secretary’s motion for summary judgment, and on the equal protection claim, the trial court granted Plaintiffs’ motion. The Secretary appealed, and Plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal. The Supreme Court concluded in the cross-appeal that the Act was unconstitutional on due process grounds and that the trial court therefore erred in granting summary judgment to the Secretary and denying it to Plaintiffs. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court on the due process claim and did not reach the equal protection claim raised in the main appeal. View "Raffensperger v. Jackson, et al." on Justia Law
Georgia, et al. v. Sass Group, LLC et al.
In November of 2020, the people of Georgia, through the results of a ballot question posed in the general election, amended the State Constitution to allow for a specific waiver of sovereign immunity. This new waiver allowed citizens to sue the State for declaratory relief ("Paragraph V"). To the extent that citizens obtain a favorable ruling on their claim for declaratory relief, they could then also seek injunctive relief to “enforce [the court’s] judgment.” To take advantage of this new waiver of the doctrine of sovereign immunity, however, the Constitution provided that such actions had to be brought “exclusively” against the State. When a plaintiff’s suit violated this exclusivity provision, the Constitution required the suit be dismissed. In the underlying appeal, the plaintiffs’ suit named a defendant for whom a waiver was not provided by Paragraph V. Accordingly, the Constitution required the suit to be dismissed. The Georgia Supreme Court therefore vacated the trial court’s grant of an interlocutory injunction, reversed the denial of the State’s motion to dismiss, and remanded this case with direction that it be dismissed. View "Georgia, et al. v. Sass Group, LLC et al." on Justia Law
Camden County v. Sweatt, et al.
Camden County, Georgia appealed a superior court's denial of its “Petition for Writ of Prohibition and Other Relief” concerning an order entered by Camden County Probate Judge Robert Sweatt, Jr., setting a special election for a referendum on whether resolutions authorizing the County’s purchase of land for a rocket launch facility should have been repealed (the “Referendum”). The County claimed the Referendum was not authorized under Subsection (b) (2) of Article IX, Section II, Paragraph I of the Georgia Constitution, which established home rule for counties (the “Home Rule Paragraph”) and that the results of the Referendum are a nullity. As a result, the County argued that the superior court erred in denying its petition for writs of prohibition and mandamus against Judge Sweatt and its petition for a judgment declaring that the Referendum was not authorized under the Constitution. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the superior court. View "Camden County v. Sweatt, et al." on Justia Law
Georgia, et al. v. Federal Defender Program, Inc., et al.
After an order was issued setting the execution of Virgil Delano Presnell, Jr., the Federal Defender Program, Inc. filed a breach of contract action against the State of Georgia and Christopher Carr in his official capacity as Attorney General (collectively, the “State”) alleging that the State breached a contract governing the resumption of the execution of death sentences in Georgia after the COVID-19 pandemic. The State contended the trial court erred in denying its motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity and in granting the Appellees’ emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and an interlocutory injunction. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded that an e-mail exchange between a deputy attorney general and certain capital defense attorneys, including an attorney employed by the Federal Defender, constituted a written contract sufficient to waive sovereign immunity in this matter, and the Supreme Court in turn conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in weighing the equities in granting the Appellees’ motion for injunctive relief. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Georgia, et al. v. Federal Defender Program, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Stanley v. Patterson et al.
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s grant of a directed verdict in favor of Appellees, a court administrator and two municipal court case managers, based on quasi-judicial immunity. Appellees failed to remove a bind-over order from a stack of case files bound for the state court solicitor’s office, catalyzing a chain reaction that eventually led to the improper arrest and jailing of Appellant. The Supreme Court held that Appellees were not protected by quasi-judicial immunity because their alleged negligence was not committed during the performance of a “function normally performed by a judge.” The Court therefore reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "Stanley v. Patterson et al." on Justia Law
Inquiry concerning Judge Eric Norris
A majority of the Hearing Panel (“Panel”) of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission (“JQC”) recommended that Judge Eric Norris issue a public apology for violating Rules 1.2 (A) and 2.8 (B) of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct, with the dissent recommending censure from the Court along with a public apology. The charges stemmed from an Athens Banner-Herald article published on a criminal defendant who had a bench warrant issued for failing to appear in court. Judge Norris presided over the defendant’s first trial, which ended in a mistrial; defendant was released on his own recognizance. A bail bondsman posted his disagreement with the judge’s handling of the case on social media. The judge arranged for a meeting with the bail bondsman wherein he had a deputy confiscate the bondsman’s cell phone, and scolded the bondsman in the judge’s chambers. The bondsman did not feel he was free to leave, and requested to have his lawyer present. The bondsman filed a complaint against Judge Norris with the JQC. The Director excepted to the recommended sanction, asserting that a public reprimand was appropriate. For the reasons stated below, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed that a public apology or a censure was an appropriate sanction and order that Judge Norris be publicly reprimanded. View "Inquiry concerning Judge Eric Norris" on Justia Law
Mimbs v. Henry County Schools
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment against public school teacher Sheri Mimbs, on the basis that Mimbs failed to institute her whistleblower action within one year after discovering the alleged acts of retaliation. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded Mimbs’s complaint was timely with respect to one of the acts giving rise to her retaliation claim. Therefore, the Court reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the school district. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Mimbs v. Henry County Schools" on Justia Law