Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
Camden County v. Sweatt, et al.
Camden County, Georgia appealed a superior court's denial of its “Petition for Writ of Prohibition and Other Relief” concerning an order entered by Camden County Probate Judge Robert Sweatt, Jr., setting a special election for a referendum on whether resolutions authorizing the County’s purchase of land for a rocket launch facility should have been repealed (the “Referendum”). The County claimed the Referendum was not authorized under Subsection (b) (2) of Article IX, Section II, Paragraph I of the Georgia Constitution, which established home rule for counties (the “Home Rule Paragraph”) and that the results of the Referendum are a nullity. As a result, the County argued that the superior court erred in denying its petition for writs of prohibition and mandamus against Judge Sweatt and its petition for a judgment declaring that the Referendum was not authorized under the Constitution. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the superior court. View "Camden County v. Sweatt, et al." on Justia Law
Brown, et al. v. Carson, et al.
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
Rockdale County et al.. v. U. S. Enterprises, Inc.
This case arose from Rockdale County, Georgia's denial of an application for a permit to build a QuikTrip on property owned by William Corey and U.S. Enterprises, Inc. (the “Owners”), on the ground that the proposed facility was a “truck stop,” which was a prohibited use under the County’s Unified Development Ordinance (“UDO”). After the County’s Board of Adjustment affirmed the denial of the permit, the Owners filed a petition to the Rockdale County Superior Court seeking, among other things, certiorari under OCGA 5-4-1 et seq. The superior court sustained the petition for certiorari, rejecting the County’s argument that the Owners’ lawsuit was barred by res judicata and reversing the Board’s decision on the ground that the UDO’s applicable definition of a “truck stop” was unconstitutionally vague and therefore violated due process under the Georgia Constitution. The Georgia Supreme Court granted County’s application for a discretionary appeal, and the Owners then cross-appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s rejection of the County’s res judicata argument, reversed the part of the superior court’s judgment ruling that the “truck stop” definition was unconstitutionally vague, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court's holding made it unnecessary to address the Owners’ cross-appeal, which was accordingly dismissed as moot. View "Rockdale County et al.. v. U. S. Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law
Polo Golf & County Club Homeowners Assn., Inc. v. Cunard et al.
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
Premier Health Care Investments, LLC v. UHS of Anchor, LP
In 2005, the Georgia Department of Community Health (Department) promulgated a rule, commonly known as the “Psychiatric Rule” (“the Rule”), that required hospitals to obtain a Certificate of Need (“CON”) “prior to the establishment of a new or the expansion of an existing acute care adult psychiatric and/or substance abuse inpatient program,” and defined “expansion” as “the addition of beds to an existing CON-authorized or grandfathered psychiatric and/or substance abuse inpatient program.” The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Department could, through the Rule, require a licensed hospital with a psychiatric/substance-abuse program authorized by a CON, to obtain an additional CON to redistribute inpatient beds in excess of those identified in its CON to operate a psychiatric/substance-abuse program, but within its total licensed bed capacity. In UHS of Anchor, L.P. v. Department of Community Health, 830 SE2d 413 (2019), the Court of Appeals held that the Department could. The Supreme Court determined the appellate court erred in that conclusion, and reversed. "The General Assembly’s delegation of legislative authority to the Department to promulgate rules as part of its administration of the CON program does not include the authority to define additional new institutional health services requiring a CON, beyond those listed in OCGA 31-6-40 (a)." View "Premier Health Care Investments, LLC v. UHS of Anchor, LP" on Justia Law
City of Atlanta v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys.
City of Atlanta (“the City”) and the Atlanta Independent School System (“APS”) were involved in a dispute over the City’s annexing property in Fulton County, while it expressly prohibiting the co-expansion of APS’s territory. The Georgia Supreme Court granted the City’s application for interlocutory appeal challenging the trial court’s denial of its motion to dismiss. The Court concluded this matter did not amount to an actual, justiciable controversy; consequently, it vacated the trial court’s order and remanded for this case to be dismissed by the trial court. “These parties have appeared before this Court numerous times, and the instant dispute is part of a larger, ongoing disagreement between the City and APS. … Mere disagreement about the ‘abstract meaning or validity of a statute [or ordinance]’ does not constitute an actual controversy within the meaning of the Declaratory Judgment Act. … APS has failed to establish the existence of an actual controversy, for purposes of declaratory relief, because it has failed to demonstrate that a ruling in its favor would have any immediate legal consequence.” View "City of Atlanta v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys." on Justia Law
Heron Lake II Apartments, LP v. Lowndes County Board of Tax
In its second appearance before the Georgia Supreme Court, the dispute between appellee Lowndes County Board of Tax Assessors (“the Board”) and eight partnerships which built and operated affordable housing apartment complexes (“Section 42 properties”) in Lowndes County (collectively, “Appellants”), with the help of federal and state Low Income Housing Tax Credits (“LIHTCs” or “Section 42 Tax Credits”), in connection with which they executed Land Use Restrictive Covenants. The dispute this time turned on the valuation of those tax credits when calculating ad valorem real property taxes. The Supreme Court determined the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction to decide this case, and that LIHTCs did not constitute “actual income” for purposes of OCGA 48-5-2 (3) (B) (vii) (II). Moreover, OCGA 48-5-2 (3) (B) (vii) (I) and (II) did not run afoul of the Georgia Constitution’s taxation uniformity provision. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the trial court. View "Heron Lake II Apartments, LP v. Lowndes County Board of Tax" on Justia Law
Posted in: Real Estate & Property Law, Tax Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
Polo Golf & Country Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Cunard
Appellant Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners Association, Inc. (“PGHOA”) filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against appellees John Cunard, Director of Forsyth County, Georgia's Department of Engineering, and Benny Dempsey, Stormwater Division Manager of Forsyth County’s Department of Engineering (the “stormwater executives”), in their individual capacities to determine their constitutional authority to prospectively enforce an addendum to Forsyth County’s stormwater ordinance. In January 2014, Forsyth County enacted a new version of Section 4.2.2 of the Georgia Stormwater Management Design Manual. PGHOA argued the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2 was unconstitutional because: (1) it impaired PGHOA’s contractual obligations with homeowners inasmuch as the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2 made PGHOA responsible for the maintenance of all stormwater mechanisms within the subdivision; and (2) it was retrospective in nature. According to PGHOA’s complaint, the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2 precluded it from enforcing the Declaration of Covenants, Restrictions and Easements (the “Declaration”), which required individual homeowners of the Polo Fields to maintain such drainage and stormwater mechanisms. The trial court rejected these constitutional challenges to the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2. Because it determined that the 2014 version of 4.2.2 was constitutional, the trial court concluded the stormwater executives were immune from suit based on the doctrine of sovereign immunity and granted the stormwater executives’ motion for judgment on the pleadings. The trial court granted the executives' motion, denying the motions for summary judgment as moot. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it did not make a ruling on whether sovereign immunity applied before it considered more substantive matters. Likewise, the trial court erred in its finding that sovereign immunity barred PGHOA's suit. Therefore, that portion of the trial court's judgment dismissing the case on sovereign immunity grounds was reversed. The Court affirmed the trial court's grant of the motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the constitutional issues concerning PGHOA's contract rights. The trial court did not address PGHOA's various other claims, including trespass and involuntary servitude. The case was remanded for the trial court to address those claims in order to fully resolve the stormwater executives' motion for judgment on the pleadings. View "Polo Golf & Country Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Cunard" on Justia Law
Mercer University v. Stofer
Mercer University sought immunity from liability for claims by the estate and family of Sally Stofer, who was fatally injured when she fell at a free concert hosted by the university at Washington Park in Macon, Georgia in July 2014. The park was owned by Macon-Bibb County, but Mercer had a permit to use the park for its concert series. The concert series was planned, promoted, and hosted by Mercer’s College Hill Alliance, a division of Mercer whose stated mission is to foster neighborhood revitalization for Macon’s College Hill Corridor. The trial court concluded, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on its claim of immunity under Georgia’s Recreational Property Act, given evidence that Mercer hosted the concert and it might (at least indirectly) benefit financially from the event. In arriving at this conclusion, the Georgia Supreme Court surmised the Court of Appeals was led astray by language in the Supreme Court’s most recent relevant decision that was inconsistent with previous case law. After careful consideration of the statutory text and a thorough review of the case law, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that whether immunity was available under this provision requires a determination of the true scope and nature of the landowner’s invitation to use its property, and this determination properly is informed by two related considerations: (1) the nature of the activity that constitutes the use of the property in which people have been invited to engage, and (2) the nature of the property that people have been invited to use. Clarifying that considerations of evidence of Mercer’s subjective motivations in hosting the concert and some speculation of the indirect benefits Mercer might have received as a result of the concert were generally improper, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded the case with direction that the court revisit its analysis consistent with the standard that was clarified here. View "Mercer University v. Stofer" on Justia 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