Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

by
Appellant Diversified Holdings, LLP (“Diversified”) and the City of Suwanee (“the City”) were involved in a zoning dispute regarding the status of 30 acres of undeveloped land located in the City (“Property”). On the merits of the issues presented, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision that there was no error in denying Diversified’s application to rezone the Property. But the Court clarified that the “substantially advances” standard that derives from constitutional due process guarantees had no place in an eminent domain or inverse condemnation proceeding. “Consequently, where a landowner claims harm from a particular zoning classification, inverse condemnation is not an available remedy unless the landowner can meet the separate and distinct requirements for such a claim.” The Court did not reach the City’s contention on cross appeal that the trial court erred in concluding that Diversified showed a substantial detriment based on the value of the Property as currently zoned versus its value if rezoned. View "Diversified Holdings, LLP v. City of Suwanee" on Justia Law

by
E. Kendrick Smith, an Atlanta lawyer, brought this action to compel a corporation, Northside Hospital, Inc. and its parent company, Northside Health Services, Inc., (collectively, “Northside”), to provide him with access to certain documents in response to his request under the Georgia Open Records Act (“the Act”). A government agency owns and operates a large and complex hospital as part of its mission to provide healthcare throughout Fulton County. The agency leased its assets (including the hospital) to the Northside for a 40-year term at a relatively minimal rent. All governmental powers were delegated to Northside with respect to running the hospital and other assets. Northside’s organizing documents reflected that its purpose aligned with the agency’s: to provide healthcare for the benefit of the public. Thirty years into the arrangement, the corporation became “massive,” and owned other assets in surrounding counties. In resisting Smith’s request for records, Northside argued it no didn’t really do anything on behalf of the agency (in part because the now nearly-nonexistent agency has no idea what the corporation is doing), and thus the corporation’s records of a series of healthcare-related acquisitions weren’t subject to public inspection. The Georgia Supreme Court surmised that if the corporation’s aggressive position were wholly correct, it would cast serious doubt on the legality of the whole arrangement between Northside and the agency. Smith argued everything Northside did was for the agency’s benefit and thus all of its records were public. The Supreme Court concluded both were wrong: Northside’s operation of the hospital and other leased facilities was a service it performed on behalf of the agency, so records related to that operation were public records. But whether the acquisition-related records sought here were also public records depended on how closely related the acquisition was to the operation of the leased facilities, a factual question for the trial court to determine on remand. View "Smith v. Northside Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

by
This case concerns a small grocery store on Allgood Road in Marietta and, specifically the parcel of land on which that store sat. Ray Summerour owned the land for nearly three decades; the City of Marietta wanted to acquire the land to build a public park. When the City was unable to negotiate a voluntary sale of the parcel, it resolved to take the land by eminent domain, and it filed a petition to condemn the property. Following an evidentiary hearing before a special master, the superior court adopted the return and entered an order of condemnation. Summerour appealed, and the Court of Appeals set aside the condemnation order, reasoning that when the City attempted to negotiate a voluntary sale of the land, it failed to fulfill its obligations under OCGA 22-1-9. The Court of Appeals directed that the case be remanded for the superior court to consider whether the failure to comply with Section 22-1-9 amounted to bad faith. The Georgia Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals, and held that compliance with Section 22-1-9 was an essential prerequisite to the filing of a petition to condemn, that the City failed in this case to fulfill that prerequisite, and that its petition to condemn, therefore, must be dismissed, irrespective of bad faith. View "City of Marietta v. Summerour" on Justia Law

by
This case presented challenges to a municipal zoning ordinance. Because the property owners abandoned their claim that the ordinance was unconstitutionally enacted and did not show that it was unconstitutionally vague as applied to them or that it unconstitutionally interfered with their property rights, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s grant of summary judgment to the city. View "Edwards v. City of Warner Robins" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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