Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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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

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In February 2018, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit on behalf of himself and a putative class of similarly situated persons against Defendants RCC Wesley Chapel Crossing, LLC, Little Giant Farmers Market Corporation, Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., River City Capital, LLC, and River City Capital Property Management, LLC for negligence, premises liability, false imprisonment, conversion, and violation of the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). Plaintiff claimed that Defendants “hired, authorized, or otherwise provided material support to” third parties that immobilized vehicles located on Defendants’ property with boots or similar devices, and required the owners or operators of the vehicles to pay a fee in order to have the immobilizing devices removed. Plaintiff moved to certify the action on behalf of a proposed class of similarly situated persons, claiming that between February 2013 and 2018, at least 250 persons “have been booted and have paid a fine for removal of said device” at the Wesley Chapel Lot. Following briefing and oral argument, the trial court granted Plaintiff’s motion, certifying the class. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether there was a common-law right that permits private property owners to immobilize vehicles that were not authorized to be on their property. The Court concluded that the common-law rights the defendants alluded to in the courts below – namely, the right to remove trespassing vehicles and an alleged right to impound trespassing vehicles – did not apply to the defendants’ vehicle immobilization practice. However, because the Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that “the trial court did not err in finding no common law right to immobilize a vehicle absent an enabling statute or ordinance,” and any reliance on that conclusion in affirming the trial court’s order granting Plaintiff Forrest Allen’s motion for class certification, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case with direction to remand to the trial court for reconsideration of the proposed class. View "RCC Wesley Chapel Crossing, LLC et al. v. Allen, et al." on Justia Law

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Cathy Mixon sued the Georgia Department of Transportation (“GDOT,” or “the State”), claiming nuisance and inverse condemnation based on alleged flooding on her property following a road-widening project. Mixon claimed GDOT’s failure to maintain its storm water drainage systems resulted in regular flooding, drainage, and erosion problems “within and around” her property. Her complaint sought “just and adequate compensation” for the alleged taking, other money damages, attorney fees, and a permanent injunction “to prevent future nuisance and continual trespass[.]” GDOT moved to dismiss, which the trial court granted in part and denied in part. In particular, the trial court dismissed any claims arising from professional negligence (due to the lack of an expert affidavit, as required by OCGA 9-11-9.1) and any claims arising more than four years prior to the filing of the complaint (due to the applicable statute of limitations). The trial court otherwise denied GDOT’s motion. Among other things, the trial court rejected GDOT’s argument that sovereign immunity barred Mixon’s claims. The Court of Appeals granted GDOT’s application for interlocutory appeal and then affirmed, holding in relevant part that the trial court did not err in ruling that sovereign immunity is waived for Mixon’s claims for damages and injunctive relief. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed: because Mixon’s claim for injunctive relief ... fell into at least one of the two categories of situations in which the Just Compensation Provision acted as a waiver of sovereign immunity for injunctive relief. View "Dept. of Transportation v. Mixon" on Justia Law

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Manuel Hernandez was shot and seriously injured by unknown assailants as he approached the doorway to his apartment. Hernandez filed suit against the owner of the apartment complex, Terraces at Brookhaven, and the operator of the complex, Star Residential, LLC (collectively “Star Residential”), asserting, among other things, a nuisance claim under the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act (the “Gang Act”). Hernandez claimed that he was entitled to treble damages (i.e., three times the actual damages he sustained in the shooting) and punitive damages under OCGA 16-15-7(c) because his injuries occurred as a result of a criminal street gang creating a public nuisance on Star Residential’s property. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Star Residential's motion to dismiss, holding, in relevant part, that whether to hold a property owner liable under OCGA 16-15-7(c) of the Gang Act for maintaining a public nuisance was always a question for the factfinder to decide, and not for the court. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Star Residential’s petition for a writ of certiorari to determine whether the Court of Appeals properly construed the civil liability provision of OCGA 16-15-7(c). After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals’ interpretation of the statute was incorrect: "there is nothing in the language of subsection (c) to indicate that the General Assembly intended for a jury to usurp the judiciary’s role of determining the meaning of the statute at issue. ... This means only that, once a legally appropriate cause of action is submitted to the factfinder for decision, that factfinder must be instructed on the legislative intent codified in OCGA 16-15-2 in order to determine if the circumstances of the case warrant the imposition of liability under OCGA 16-15-7(c). The statute simply does not say that a factfinder must determine the meaning of subsection (c) in the first instance, which is a role reserved for the courts." View "Star Residential, LLC et al. v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, the surviving spouse of Franklin Callens and the administrator of his estate, sued defendants, the owner and manager of an apartment complex where Callens was killed during an armed robbery. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendants were negligent in failing adequately to secure their premises from criminal activity. Defendants prevailed at trial, and Plaintiffs appealed, contending, in relevant part, that the trial court erred in giving a jury instruction on the law applicable to “licensees” in premises liability cases. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment on that issue. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review on the issue of whether the trial court erred in charging the jury on what duty a landowner owed a licensee, when there was evidence showing that plaintiffs' decedent was a guest of a lawful tenant of the landowner. The Supreme Court found the trial court did not err in charging the jury, and therefore affirmed the appellate and trial courts. View "Cham et al. v. ECI Management Corp. et al." on Justia Law

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At the center of this appeal was a dispute between the Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners’ Association (the “HOA”) and Forsyth County over the validity of Section 4.2.2 of Forsyth County’s Addendum to the Georgia Stormwater Management Manual, an ordinance that made HOAs “responsible for maintenance of all drainage easements and all stormwater facilities within the entire development.” The HOA argued that Section 4.2.2 was unconstitutional and otherwise invalid, and that individual lot owners were responsible for maintaining stormwater infrastructure on their lots. Variants of this case were litigated and appealed multiple times before the Georgia Supreme Court and other Georgia courts, including a 2019 appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. On remand from the Supreme Court's "Polo Golf II" decision, the trial court evaluated and rejected the HOA’s remaining claims that Section 4.2.2 was invalid because it required the HOA to trespass on the private property of homeowners, constituted involuntary servitude under the United States and Georgia Constitutions, and exceeded the scope of the ordinance that authorized Forsyth County to promulgate the Addendum. The trial court thus denied the HOA’s motion for summary judgment and granted the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment. The HOA appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Polo Golf & County Club Homeowners Assn., Inc. v. Cunard et al." on Justia Law

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At heart of this case was a dispute between the Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners’ Association (the “HOA”) and Forsyth County, Georgia over the validity of Section 4.2.2 of Forsyth County’s Addendum to the Georgia Stormwater Management Manual, an ordinance that made HOAs “responsible for maintenance of all drainage easements and all stormwater facilities within the entire development.” The HOA argued Section 4.2.2 was unconstitutional and otherwise invalid, and that individual lot owners were responsible for maintaining stormwater infrastructure on their lots. Variants of this case have been litigated and appealed multiple times before other Georgia courts, including a 2019 appeal the Georgia Supreme Court. On remand from the Supreme Court's "Polo Golf II" decision, the trial court evaluated and rejected the HOA’s remaining claims that Section 4.2.2 was invalid because it required the HOA to trespass on the private property of homeowners, constituted involuntary servitude under the United States and Georgia Constitutions, and exceeded the scope of the ordinance that authorized Forsyth County to promulgate the Addendum. The trial court thus denied the HOA’s motion for summary judgment and granted the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment. The HOA appealed, and finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Polo Golf & Country Club Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Cunard et al." on Justia Law

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When Lillie Mae Bedford died in 1997, she left a residential property in Marietta, Georgia by testamentary devise to her daughter, Jennifer Hood. Although the Bedford estate never made and delivered a deed to Hood to perfect a conveyance of legal title, Hood lived on the property for some time after the death of her mother, and she paid the taxes associated with it. But beginning in 2009, the taxes on the property were unpaid, and in 2013, the property was sold to Crippen & Lawrence Investment Co., Inc. at a tax sale. More than 12 months later, Crippen took steps to foreclose the statutory right of redemption, and Crippen gave Hood notice of foreclosure. Once the redemption period expired, Crippen petitioned for quiet title. Hood did not respond to the petition, but the Bedford estate appeared and moved to dismiss, asserting the estate was entitled to notice of the foreclosure, and had not been served with such notice. Crippen responded that the estate was not entitled to notice because the executor by his conduct had assented to the devise of the property, which by operation of law passed title to Hood notwithstanding that the estate had made and delivered no deed, and that the estate, therefore, no longer had any interest in the property. A special master of the trial court determined the estate was entitled to notice and dismissed the quiet title petition. Crippen appealed, but the Court of Appeals affirmed. Upon further appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: "assent may be presumed from legatee’s possession of the property. ... Although Crippen would not have standing to move a probate court to prospectively compel the executor of the Bedford estate to give assent that has been so far withheld, Crippen has standing in this quiet title proceeding to establish that the executor previously assented to the devise to Hood under the old Probate Code." View "Crippen & Lawrence Investment Co., Inc. v. A Tract of Land Being Known as 444 Lemon Street, et. al." on Justia Law

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Property owners and the contractors they hired to build a house had a dispute. The Georgia Supreme Court granted the owners' request for review to consider: (1) whether anticipated profits could be included in a materialmen’s lien; and (2) if so, whether the improper inclusion of such profits rendered the entire lien void. Because the Court of Appeals correctly held that anticipated profits could not be included in a lien and that their inclusion does not invalidate the entire lien, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Massey et al. v. Duke Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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In Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC, 813 SE2d 441 (2018), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of MP Spring Lake (“Spring Lake”) on two premises-liability tort claims brought by Pamela Langley. While a lawful tenant of Spring Lake Apartments in Morrow, Georgia, Langley fell in a common area of the complex when her foot got caught and slid on a crumbling portion of curb. She later made claims of negligence and negligence per se due to Spring Lake’s alleged failure to repair the curb despite being aware of its disrepair. Spring Lake asserted, as one of its defenses, that Langley’s claims were barred by a contractual limitation period contained within her lease. Spring Lake then moved for summary judgment on this basis, arguing that, because Langley’s lease contained a one-year limitation period for legal actions and she filed her complaint two years after the injury occurred, her claim was time-barred. Langley petitioned for certiorari, raising: (1) Does the “Limitations on Actions” provision of Langley’s lease contract apply to her premises-liability tort action against MP Spring Lake, LLC?; and (2) If so, is that provision enforceable? The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the provision was not applicable to Langley’s premises-liability tort action against Spring Lake. It therefore reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal s and remanded for further proceedings. View "Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC" on Justia Law