Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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In May 2007, the Medical Center Hospital Authority (“Hospital Authority”) filed an action against the Columbus Board of Tax Assessors and related parties (together, “the Tax Board”) in which it sought a declaration that its leasehold interest in a building located on real property owned by a private entity constituted public property exempt from ad valorem taxation under OCGA 48-5-41 (a) (1). The superior court granted summary judgment to the Hospital Authority, finding that the Hospital Authority’s leasehold interest qualified as “public property,” and was thus exempt from ad valorem property taxation. The Tax Board appealed this decision to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in determining that two prior bond validation orders conclusively determined, for purposes of OCGA 48-5-41 (a) (1) (A), that the property at issue was “public property” exempt from ad valorem taxation. The Court held that these orders did not conclusively establish that the Hospital Authority’s leasehold interest was “public property” exempt from ad valorem taxes and therefore reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Columbus Board of Tax Assessors v. Medical Center Hospital Authority" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Georgia Supreme Court in this case was whether an employer has to show the availability of suitable employment to justify suspension of workers’ compensation benefits after already establishing that an employee’s work-related aggravation to a preexisting condition has ceased to be the cause of the employee’s disability. The Court of Appeals held the answer was yes; the Supreme Court disagreed, finding the Court of Appeals erred in remanding this case for the ALJ court to determine if the employer demonstrated suitable employment for the injured employee. View "Ocmulgee EMC v. McDuffie" on Justia Law

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Women’s Surgical Center, LLC d/b/a Georgia Advanced Surgery Center for Women (the “Center”) planned to add a second operating room to its premises in order to create opportunities to form contracts with additional surgeons who could then use the Center in connection with their medical practices. However, any such change to the Center could only be legally accomplished if the Center sought and was granted a certificate of need (“CON”) by the Georgia Department of Community Health (the “Department”). Because the Center believed that it should not be subject to the CON requirements, it filed an action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Department in an effort to have Georgia’s applicable CON law and the regulations authorizing it declared unconstitutional. The Department moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing, among other things, that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the case because the Center failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before filing its lawsuit. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, then both the Center and the Department filed motions for summary judgment with regard to the Center’s constitutional claims. The trial court rejected all of the Center’s constitutional challenges and granted summary judgment to the Department. In Case No. S17A1317, the Center appealed that ruling, and in Case No. S17X1318, the Department appealed the denial of its motion to dismiss. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed in both cases. View "Womens Surgical Center, LLC v. Berry" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Association of Professional Process Servers and several of its members, private process servers, (collectively, “the Association”) filed this action seeking mandamus, declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief against the sheriffs of Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett, DeKalb, Clayton, Forsyth, and Paulding Counties (collectively, “the Sheriffs”). In its petition, the Association alleged that the Sheriffs conspired to thwart the use of certified process servers statewide, and have wrongfully failed to consider members’ individual petitions to become certified process servers under OCGA 9-11-4.1, thus rendering the Code section null and of no effect. The Sheriffs responded that the Code section explicitly gave them the power to make a threshold decision whether to permit certified process servers to serve process in their counties. After discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Sheriffs and denied the Association’s motion, finding that under a plain reading of the Code section, the Association was not entitled to any of the relief sought. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court found the trial court should not have ruled on the merits of the Association’s claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Sheriffs in their official capacities, because those claims are barred by sovereign immunity. Accordingly, the Court vacated that portion of the trial court’s order and remanded for dismissal. Because the trial court correctly granted summary judgment as to the Association’s other claims, the Supreme Court affirmed the remainder of the trial court’s order. View "Georgia Ass'n of Professional Servers v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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This case arose from “a long-running battle” that appellant Richard Shelley waged against the Town of Tyrone’s zoning ordinances. Because Shelley failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before seeking relief in the trial court, his as-applied challenges to the zoning ordinances were not ripe for judicial review. The Georgia Supreme Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s order granting Tyrone partial summary judgment on those claims. And because the town enacted a new zoning ordinance, Shelley’s facial challenges to the previous ordinances were moot. The Supreme Court therefore vacated the superior court’s order addressing the merits of those claims and remanded the case with direction to dismiss those claims unless Shelley properly amended his complaint to challenge the ordinance now in effect. View "Shelly v. Town of Tyrone" on Justia Law

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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

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Clayton County appealed the trial court’s order denying its motion for judgment on the pleadings and granting the motion for partial summary judgment filed by the City ofCollege Park. This dispute arose over the taxation of alcoholic beverages at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Of the many businesses located within the Airport, some are located in the unincorporated sections of the County while other businesses are located in the County within the incorporated limits of the City of College Park (the “City”). In its complaint, the City contended that since the 1983 enactment of OCGA section 3-8-1 (regulation and taxation of alcoholic beverages at public airports), it has not been receiving the proper amount of alcoholic beverage taxes to which it was entitled, and that the County improperly infringed on its authority to tax by instructing vendors to remit to the County 50% of the taxes due from the sale of alcohol in those portions of the Airport located within the City limits. The City and County disagree on the interpretation of OCGA 3-8-1(e). In seeking a judgment on the pleadings, Clayton County asserted, among other things, that the City of College Park’s claims were barred by sovereign immunity. The matter of sovereign immunity was not briefed by the parties, and the trial court did not consider it. To permit a more thorough consideration of this question, the Mississippi Supreme Court remanded for the trial court to address it, with the benefit of full briefing. View "Clayton County v. City of College Park" on Justia Law

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The Roswell City Council enacted a new Unified Development Code to govern land use issues; the Code included a zoning map. Several Roswell property owners filed a lawsuit to challenge the process by which the City Council enacted the Code. When the superior court ruled against the property owners, they directly appealed. The Court of Appeals dismissed their direct appeal, concluding that their lawsuit was a “zoning case” under Georgia Supreme Court decisions in Trend Development Corp. v. Douglas County, (383 SE2d 123) (1989), and O S Advertising Co. v. Rubin, 482 SE2d 295 (1997) (“Rubin”), and thus required an application for discretionary appeal under OCGA 5-6-35(a)(1). But the Mississippi Supreme Court held that a stand-alone lawsuit challenging an ordinance as facially invalid, unconnected to any individualized determination about a particular property, was not a “zoning case” under Trend and Rubin and did not require an application under OCGA 5-6-35. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Schumacher v. City of Roswell" on Justia Law

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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

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The Stuttering Foundation, Inc. (“Foundation”) leased office space in a commercial development in Glynn County owned by Lucas Properties Holdings III, LLC (“Lucas”). In 2015, Lucas filed an application for rezoning of the property to construct an addition to the rear of one of the existing buildings in the development, the building in which the Foundation leased its office. It also sought approval of a site plan for the proposed construction. Both were approved in March 2016. For various reasons, the Foundation opposed the new development and filed a petition for judicial review of the rezoning application and Site Plan, or in the alternative, for mandamus reversing the County’s approval. Both the County and Lucas filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on its merits. The trial court entered an order granting the County’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the Foundation lacked standing to raise its objections to the rezoning. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the Foundation demonstrated no right to contest the rezoning decision. Lucas’s motion to dismiss was a nullity and therefore vacated. View "The Stuttering Foundation of America, Inc. v. Glynn County" on Justia Law