Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative 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on whether resolutions authorizing the County’s purchase of land for a rocket launch facility should have been repealed (the “Referendum”).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
Posted in: Government & Administrative Law, Legal Ethics
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
Posted in: Government & Administrative Law, Legal Ethics
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
Brown, et al. v. Carson, et al.
The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether E. Howard Carson acquired a vested right to develop property in a particular manner based upon alleged assurances made to him by Tom Brown, the Forsyth County Planning Director. Carson was the principal for Red Bull Holdings II, LLC, the property owner in this case. In 2016, Carson met with Brown and discussed Carson’s plans to purchase approximately 17 acres of land and develop that property into 42 separate 9,000- square-foot residential lots. In his role as Planning Director, Brown was allowed to interpret the zoning code; however, he could not unilaterally promise or authorize the issuance of a building permit. The record further showed that Carson knew prior to that meeting that the zoning code allowed for 9,000-square-foot lots. During the meeting, Carson showed Brown a hand-drawn document depicting Carson’s proposed subdivision layout, and asked Brown to confirm whether the current zoning code allowed for his proposed development. Brown made no representations as to future zoning code changes that might impact the property, nor did he guarantee that Carson would be able to build as he proposed. Carson purchased the property and spent money obtaining the various plans and appraisals necessary to begin development. Then, in August 2016, the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners “imposed a moratorium on the acceptance of applications for land disturbance permits” for 9,000 -square-foot residential lots. Based on the record before the Supreme Court, it concluded Carson did not acquire a vested right; therefore, the decision of the Court of Appeals holding to the contrary was reversed. The case was remanded with direction. View "Brown, et al. v. Carson, et al." on Justia Law
Black Voters Matter Fund, Inc. v. Kemp
On March 25, 2021, Georgia Governor Kemp signed into law Senate Bill 9 (“SB 9”), which created from the former Augusta Judicial Circuit two new judicial circuits: the Columbia Judicial Circuit, and the Augusta Judicial Circuit. The judicial circuit split, which was slated to become effective on July 1, 2021, was briefly stayed by three lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of SB 9. The lawsuits were filed in the Superior Court of Richmond County, one by Columbia County citizen Willie Saunders and two by the nonprofit, voting advocacy organization, Black Voters Matter Fund, Inc. (“BVMF”). At the heart of each of these suits was a claim that Columbia County officials sought to form their own judicial circuit as a racially discriminatory reaction to the election of District Attorney Jared Williams in November 2020. These appeals and cross-appeals arose from the trial court’s July 13, 2021 final judgment addressing the merits of the appellants’ challenges to SB 9 in each of the three suits. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court rejected the appellants’ challenges to SB 9, declaring it “valid and enforceable” and allowing the circuit split to proceed. However, The Georgia Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s judgment as to BVMF and remanded those cases to the trial court with instruction that they be dismissed because BVMF lacked standing to pursue its actions. As to Saunders, the Supreme Court did not reach the merits of his appeal because Saunders failed to challenge the trial court’s dispositive ruling dismissing the defendants he sued. Thus, the Supreme Court also vacated the judgment as to Saunders’ complaint and directed the trial court to dismiss his action upon remand. View "Black Voters Matter Fund, Inc. v. Kemp" on Justia Law
Riley v. Georgia Assn. of Club Executives., Inc.
In Case No. S21A0899, Lynnette Riley, the former State Revenue Commissioner, appealed the partial grant of summary judgment in favor of petitioner Georgia Association of Club Executives (“GACE”), contending that the trial court erred by permanently enjoining the enforcement of OCGA 15-21-201(1)(B) – one of the definitions of “adult entertainment establishment” – based on the court’s ruling that the provision was unconstitutionally vague. In Case No. S21X0900, GACE cross-appealed, contending the trial court erred in granting partial summary judgment in Riley’s favor on the remaining claims of GACE’s petition, arguing that OCGA 15-21-209, by imposing an annual assessment on adult entertainment establishments, violated constitutional due process and free speech protections. Although these appeals presented challenges to the constitutionality of state statutes, the Georgia Supreme Court did not address the merits of the appellant’s or the cross-appellant’s claims of error. Instead, the Court vacated the trial court’s summary judgment order and subsequent final judgment because the Court determined GACE’s action against Riley was moot when the trial court ruled. "Because Riley was no longer Revenue Commissioner at the time the trial court entered its summary judgment order and subsequent final judgment, an injunction against her in her individual capacity could not give GACE the relief it seeks. ... A court may not address the constitutionality of the tax at issue absent the presence of a proper defendant in the action." View "Riley v. Georgia Assn. of Club Executives., Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Tax Law
Atlantic Specialty Insurance Co. v. City of College Park, et al.
Dorothy Wright and her grandchildren (collectively, the “Decedents”) were killed when their vehicle was struck by a stolen vehicle that was being chased by College Park Police Department officers. At the time of the accident, the City of College Park had an insurance policy provided by Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company (“Atlantic”), which provided coverage for negligent acts involving the City’s motor vehicles up to $5,000,000 but also included immunity endorsements which said that Atlantic had no duty to pay damages “unless the defenses of sovereign and governmental immunity are inapplicable.” Plaintiffs filed suit against the City, raising claims of negligence and recklessness resulting in the wrongful deaths of the three Decedents, to which the City raised sovereign immunity as a defense. Plaintiffs claimed the insurance policy limit was $5,000,000 for the three deaths, while Atlantic contended the policy limit was capped at $700,000 under the relevant statutory scheme and the terms of the City’s policy. As the parties agreed, pursuant to OCGA 36-92-2 (a)(3), the sovereign immunity of local government entities was automatically waived up to $700,000 in this instance, regardless of whether the City had a liability insurance policy. Atlantic intervened in the case to litigate the limit of the insurance policy. The trial court ruled that the policy limit is $5,000,000, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court then granted Atlantic’s petition for certiorari to decide whether the City’s insurance policy waived the City’s sovereign immunity under OCGA 36-92-2 (d)(3). The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals incorrectly ruled that the City’s insurance policy increased the sovereign immunity waiver notwithstanding the immunity endorsements, which expressly precluded coverage when a sovereign immunity defense applies. Judgment was therefore reversed. View "Atlantic Specialty Insurance Co. v. City of College Park, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Government & Administrative Law, Insurance Law, Personal Injury