Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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

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In 2006, Kenneth Berzett pled guilty to child molestation, and in 2009, the Sexual Offender Registration Review Board classified him as a sexually dangerous predator. Berzett petitioned the superior court for judicial review of his classification, and he simultaneously filed a petition for declaratory judgment, alleging that OCGA 42-1-14 was unconstitutional. Furthermore, he sought injunctive relief against enforcement or application of the electronic monitoring requirement required by the statute. As to the petition for judicial review, the superior court affirmed the Board’s classification of Berzett and denied his request for relief, and Berzett did not appeal the superior court’s decision. Meanwhile, the Board filed a motion to dismiss the declaratory judgment action. After the final decision on the petition for judicial review, the Board asserted in a supplement to its motion to dismiss that Berzett’s request for declaratory judgment had become moot because there was no longer an active controversy between Berzett and the Board, any ruling on the constitutionality of OCGA 42-1-14 would have no practical effect on Berzett, and he no longer faced uncertainty as to any future undirected action. Although the superior court dismissed one of Berzett’s constitutional claims, it denied the Board’s motion to dismiss as to all other claims, deciding that, inter alia, those claims were not moot and a petition for declaratory judgment was a proper vehicle for raising them. On subsequent cross-motions for summary judgment, the superior court granted summary judgment to the Board on one constitutional claim but granted summary judgment to Berzett on all of his other constitutional claims. The superior court held that Berzett was not subject to the electronic monitoring obligations imposed on sexually dangerous predators and issued a writ of prohibition against the Board and its officers and agents that prohibited them from requiring Berzett to wear or pay for GPS monitoring pursuant to the statute. The Board appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for dismissal, finding the trial court erred in deciding the constitutional arguments because there was no justiciable controversy, and the relief requested by Berzett would have no effect on the Board’s already-final and completed act of the risk of classification of Berzett or on any other right or responsibility of the Board towards him. View "Sexual Offender Registration Review Board v. Berzett" on Justia Law

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This case concerned OCGA 36-11-1 and a split of opinions in two controlling case law precedents decided by the Georgia court of Appeals. In In re Estate of Leonard, 783 SEd2 470 (2016), Joe Leonard, Jr. allegedly sustained injuries while riding as a passenger aboard a Whitfield County Transit Services bus. Leonard hired a lawyer; his lawyer sent a letter to Robert Smalley, an attorney in Dalton, Georgia. Although Smalley was engaged in private practice, he also served as the County Attorney for Whitfield County, a position to which he was appointed prior to his receipt of Leonard’s letter. In that letter, Leonard’s lawyer referred to the injuries that Leonard allegedly sustained in January, and he asked that Smalley accept the letter as a presentment of Leonard’s claim against the County. The County ultimately moved for summary judgment under OCGA 36-11-1 claiming that Leonard never properly presented his claim, and as such, was barred. The County acknowledged the letter Leonard’s lawyer sent to Smalley, but argued that was not a proper presentment because Smalley was not an in-house county attorney. The Georgia Court of Appeals said in Coweta County v. Cooper, 733 SE2d 348) (2012), that presentment may properly be made to the county attorney, but only if the county attorney is employed by the county in house. In this case, the Court of Appeals distinguished between inside and outside county attorneys, holding that presentment to an outside county attorney was not a proper presentment. The Georgia Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari to review the decision in Leonard, and reversed, holding that presentment to the county attorney (inside or outside) was presentment for the purposes of OCGA 36-11-1. View "Croy v. Whitfield County" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the meaning of the term “motor fuel taxes” as used in the Georgia Constitution, Article III, Sec. IX, Par. IV(b). A trucking industry association and three individual motor carriers challenged local sales and use taxes on motor fuels, the revenues of which were not used solely for public roads and bridges. They argued that these taxes fell within the meaning of “motor fuel taxes” under the Motor Fuel Provision and, therefore, the revenues from these taxes (or an amount equal to that revenue) had to be allocated to the maintenance and construction of public roads and bridges. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ complaint because the history and context of the Motor Fuel Provision revealed that “motor fuel taxes” were limited to per-gallon taxes on distributors of motor fuel, and did not include sales and use taxes imposed on retail sales of motor fuels. View "Georgia Motor Trucking Assn. v. Georgia Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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This case involved challenges to the City of Atlanta’s attempted annexation of five areas. Shortly after the Governor approved HB 514 on April 26, 2016, Atlanta received petitions for annexation from five unincorporated areas of Fulton County contiguous to Atlanta. Emelyn Mays and five other individuals (collectively, “Mays”), who represented each of the proposed annexation areas as residents or property owners, filed a petition for declaratory judgment challenging the annexations. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing, and shortly thereafter issued an order granting Mays’s request declaring the annexations null and void on the ground that they were untimely under the terms of HB 514 and thus the Communities were part of South Fulton. In reaching this conclusion, the court expressly rejected Atlanta’s contention that HB 514 unconstitutionally conflicted with the general laws governing annexation by municipalities by preventing Atlanta’s annexation of the Communities as of July 1, 2016. Atlanta appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found the trial court correctly held that the annexations were invalid because at the time they would have become effective, the areas in question were already part of the newly incorporated City of South Fulton and thus ineligible for annexation by Atlanta. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "City of Atlanta v. Mays" on Justia Law

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Following the suicide death of her 14-year-old daughter, Appellee Laura Lane Maia sued the mayor and city council of the City of Richmond Hill (collectively, “the City”) and Douglas Sahlberg, individually and in his capacity as an officer with the Richmond Hill Police Department (collectively “Appellants”), alleging wrongful death and associated claims. Appellee’s daughter, Sydney Sanders, attempted suicide by cutting herself in the neck, chest, and abdomen, and she was subsequently taken to the hospital for medical treatment. Officers with the Richmond Hill Police Department (“RHPD”), including Officer Sahlberg, responded to the hospital to investigate, and Sanders’s injuries were photographed by the officers. Sahlberg accessed those photographs on his work computer and showed them to his daughter, K.S., who was a classmate of Sanders; shortly thereafter, K.S. was seen using her cell phone to show the images to other classmates. Sanders was distraught and mortified to discover that the photographs had been shared. In her complaint, Appellee averred (inter alia): that Salhberg had a duty to keep the injury photographs confidential; that he had breached that duty; that Sahlberg should have known that the publication of the photographs created a reasonable apprehension that Sanders would further harm herself; and that Sanders’s death was caused by Sahlberg’s negligent conduct. Appellants moved for summary judgment, asserting that Appellee could not demonstrate causation because, under Georgia law, suicide was generally an independent act which breaks the chain of causation from the events preceding the death. The trial court denied the motion with a one-page order and granted a certificate of immediate review. A divided Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that, because “Sanders’s suicide was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of Sahlberg’s negligent conduct, [Sanders’s] act of suicide was not an intervening act that would preclude Sahlberg’s breach of duty from constituting the proximate cause of that injury.” The Supreme Court concluded Appellee could not demonstrate proximate cause and therefore reversed the Court of Appeals. View "City of Richmond Hill v. Maia" on Justia Law

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During the 2015 General Session, the legislature amended certain statutes governing Certificates of Public Necessity and Convenience (“CPNCs,” also known as taxi medallions) and created new provisions authorizing (and regulating) ride-sharing programs throughout the state. Appellants, taxicab drivers who operated in the City of Atlanta and owned CPNCs, filed suit claiming that the Act resulted in an unconstitutional taking and inverse condemnation of their CPNCs. The State moved to dismiss, arguing, among other things, that Appellants failed to state legally cognizable claims. The trial court agreed and granted the motion. Finding no reversible error, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Abramyan v. Georgia" on Justia Law