Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Utilities Law
Milliken & Co. v. Georgia Power Co.
In 2013, a small business jet crashed into a Georgia Power Company transmission pole on Milliken & Company’s property near the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport in Thomson, Georgia. The two pilots were injured and the five passengers died. In the wake of the crash, the pilots and the families of the deceased passengers filed a total of seven lawsuits against multiple defendants, including Georgia Power and Milliken. The complaints in those seven suits alleged that a transmission pole located on Milliken’s property was negligently erected and maintained within the airport’s protected airspace. The record evidence showed Georgia Power constructed the transmission pole on Milliken’s property for the purpose of providing electricity to Milliken’s manufacturing-plant expansion, and that the pole was constructed pursuant to a 1989 Easement between Georgia Power and Milliken. In each of the seven suits, Milliken filed identical cross-claims against Georgia Power, alleging that Georgia Power was contractually obligated to indemnify Milliken “for all sums that Plaintiffs may recover from Milliken” under Paragraph 12 of the Easement. Georgia Power moved for summary judgment on the crossclaims, which were granted. The trial court reasoned Paragraph 12 of the Easement operated as a covenant not to sue, rather than as an indemnity agreement, because it “nowhere contains the word ‘indemnity’” and “it is not so comprehensive regarding protection from liability.” The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment to six cases. Rather than adopt the trial court’s reasoning, the appellate court held that the provision was an indemnity agreement and affirmed the trial court by applying Georgia’s anti-indemnity statute, OCGA 13-8-2 (b), to determine that Paragraph 12 of the Easement was “void as against public policy,” a theory argued before the trial court but argued or briefed before the Court of Appeals. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred in its construction and application of OCGA 13-8-2(b), vacated the judgment and remanded for the lower court to consider whether, in the first instance, the trial court’s rationale for granting Georgia Power’s motions for summary judgment and any other arguments properly before the Court of Appeals. View "Milliken & Co. v. Georgia Power Co." on Justia Law
BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC v. Cobb County et al.
Cobb and Gwinnett Counties, Georgia, sued telephone companies for their failure to collect and remit to the Counties a charge imposed on subscribers to offset the cost of 911 services. The telephone companies raised various defenses to the Counties’ suits, including that the 911 charge was a tax that the Counties were not allowed to collect by a lawsuit like this one. The trial court rejected that argument and allowed the cases to proceed, but the Court of Appeals vacated that aspect of the trial court’s ruling and remanded because further development of the record was needed to determine whether the charge was a tax. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the charge was indeed a tax regardless of more factual development, and the Counties lacked legal authority to collect that tax in this lawsuit. View "BellSouth Telecommunications, LLC v. Cobb County et al." on Justia Law
Georgia Power Company v. Cazier
Amy Cazier and four other consumers of retail electrical service brought this putative class action against Georgia Power Company, asserting that Georgia Power for several years has collected municipal franchise fees from customers in amounts exceeding those approved by the Public Service Commission, and sought to recover the excess fees for themselves and a class of Georgia Power customers. The Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs were not required to exhaust administrative remedies before bringing their putative class action. The Georgia Supreme Court found no reversible error in the appellate court's judgment and affirmed. View "Georgia Power Company v. Cazier" on Justia Law
Riley v. Southern LNG, Inc.
This was the third appeal of this case arising from the efforts of appellee Southern LNG, Inc. (“Southern”) to compel State Revenue Commissioner Lynnette Riley (“the Commissioner”) to recognize Southern as a “public utility” under OCGA 48-5-511 and to accept Southern’s ad valorem property tax returns. On remand, the trial court granted summary judgment to the Commissioner on a mandamus claim, holding that Southern had an adequate alternative remedy. In a prior appeal, the Supreme Court laid out for the parties in considerable detail the potential legal and procedural issues bearing on the question of whether the Commissioner could become a party or be bound by a judgment rendered in the tax appeals. On remand, Southern and the Commissioner filed renewed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Southern, holding that it had no “equally convenient, complete and beneficial” remedy other than mandamus, and denied the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment, and directed the Commissioner “to accept [Southern’s] ad valorem property tax returns pursuant to OCGA 48-5-511(a) instanter.” The Commissioner appealed, and the Supreme Court this time reversed, finding Southern did not show the Commissioner, in refusing to accept Southern’s ad valorem tax returns, violated a “clear legal duty,” that she failed to act, or that her actions were arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, amounting to a gross abuse of discretion, so as to entitle Southern to a writ of mandamus. View "Riley v. Southern LNG, Inc." on Justia Law
Souther LNG, Inc. v. MacGinnitie
Appellant contended that it was a "public utility" under OCGA 48-1-2 and, as such, was required under OCGA 48-5-511 to make an annual tax return of its Georgia property to the Georgia Revenue Commissioner rather than to the Chatham County tax authorities. Appellant filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment and for writ of mandamus in superior court, seeking to have the trial court recognize appellant as a "public utility" and to order appellee to accept appellant's annual ad valorem property tax return. The trial court granted appellee's motion to dismiss the complaint based on appellant's failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the doctrine of sovereign immunity was applicable to the claims. The court reversed and held that it need not address whether sovereign immunity would act as a bar to appellant's declaratory action, as it was clear that, if the declaratory action were barred by sovereign immunity, appellant's mandamus action would still remain viable.
Daniel, et al. v. Amicalola Elec. Membership Corp.
Plaintiffs filed suit against defendant seeking a declaratory injunction that defendant did not have an easement on their property, damages for trespass and conversion for a 2007 and 2008 incident, an injunction against further trespass, and attorney fees. Defendant asserted as a defense that the lawsuit was filed after the one-year statute of limitations under OCGA 46-3-204. At issue was whether summary judgment against plaintiffs was proper. The court affirmed the trial court's rejection of plaintiffs' constitutional challenges to the one-year statute of limitations. The court then affirmed in part and reversed in part the grant of summary judgment because issues of material fact remained regarding the existence of a valid prescriptive easement and plaintiffs' trespass and conversion claims based on defendant's 2008 actions were not barred by OCGA 46-3-204.
Oglethorpe Power Corp., et al. v. Forrister, et al.
Appellant owned and operated the Sewell Creek Energy Facility, a "peaking" power plant that began operating in 2000. Appellees, neighbors of the power plant, filed suit in 2007 alleging that the power plant constituted a nuisance. At issue was whether appellants were entitled to summary judgment where the power plant was either a permanent nuisance or continuing nuisance that could be abated. The court found that the power plant's exhaust silencing system, which was an integral part of the gas turbines that generated power, was an enduring feature of the power plant's plan of construction and the noise emanating from the exhaust stacks resulted from the essential method of the plant's operation. Consequently, the exhaust stacks were a permanent nuisance. Thus, the court held that the Court of Appeals erred when it omitted any consideration of whether the nuisance resulted from an enduring feature of the power plant's plan of construction or an essential method of its operation and grappled only with whether the nuisance could be abated at "slight expense." The court held that appellees' action was barred under the statute of limitation for permanent nuisances because they did not file their lawsuit until almost seven years after the plant became operational, unless some new harm that was not previously observable occurred within the four years preceding the filing of their cause of action. The court also held that, to the extent the trial court found that a factual issue remained concerning whether there was an "adverse change in the nature" of the noises and vibrations coming from the plant after the start of the 2004 operating season, the denial of summary judgment was appropriate. By contrast, to the extent that the trial court found that a factual issue remained concerning whether there was an "adverse change in the... extent and amount" of the noises and vibrations after the 2004 operating season, the denial of summary judgment was inappropriate. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part.