Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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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

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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

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This appeal arose from an order modifying an existing interlocutory injunction. In December 2016, appellee Peach Trader Inc., d/b/a A City Discount and A City Discount, Inc. (“Peach Trader”), filed a complaint against appellants Jeffery and Sharon Jones, a married couple, alleging that Mr. Jones used his position as an employee to embezzle or misappropriate over $1 million from Peach Trader and take advantage of business opportunities for personal gain to the detriment of his employer. Along with its complaint, Peach Trader sought a temporary restraining order against the Joneses, and the order was granted. The Joneses then filed a motion to dissolve the order. The trial court later entered an order granting an interlocutory injunction against the Joneses that prohibited them from selling, transferring, altering, encumbering, or otherwise disposing of any assets within their custody, control, or possession. The Joneses did not attempt to appeal the order. Six months later, in July, the Joneses filed a second motion to dissolve the interlocutory injunction. During a hearing on several outstanding issues, Peach Trader’s counsel consented to certain accounts being removed from the purview of the interlocutory injunction. In line with an agreement between the parties, the trial court entered an order denying the Joneses’ motion to dissolve the interlocutory injunction but granting the motion to modify the injunction by removing the restrictions on at least one of the Joneses’ accounts. The Joneses timely filed an application for discretionary appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court seeking review of the trial court’s orders dismissing their notices of appeal. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s order dismissing appellant’s initial notice of appeal because Georgia law vests appellate courts with the sole authority to determine if a decision or judgment is appealable. “But that is not the end of the matter. Because an order modifying an interlocutory injunction is not subject to direct appeal under OCGA 5-6-34 (a) (4), we dismiss the appeal.” View "Jones v. Peach Trader, Inc." on Justia Law

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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

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In 2011, Georgia Trust Bank secured a judgment against Virgil Lovell for $1.2 million. The next year, Georgia Trust failed, and its assets went into receivership with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which later sold the judgment to Community & Southern Bank. When CSB was unable to collect the full amount of the judgment, it discovered a number of recent transactions in which Lovell and his companies had conveyed their respective interests in properties that, CSB believed, otherwise would have been available to satisfy the judgment. In 2015, CSB filed a lawsuit against Lovell, his wife, and several of his companies, asserting claims under the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act (UFTA) to set aside those conveyances as fraudulent transfers. The trial court dismissed some of those claims on the ground that they did not state claims upon which relief might properly be granted. After reviewing the transfers, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part. The Court found that trial court erred when it dismissed a claim under the UFTA against Lovell, his wife, and Ankony Land, LLC, relating to property in Habersham County: the trial court rested its dismissal of the claim upon the time bar of former OCGA 18-2-79 (1), and did not consider the other grounds asserted by Lovell, his wife, and Ankony Land for dismissing the claim. The trial court reasoned that former Section 18-2-79 (1) was a statute of repose, not a statute of limitation, and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) did not, it concluded, preempt statutes of repose. CSB contended that this conclusion was in error, and with that contention, the Supreme Court agreed. The Court reversed the trial court on this point, affirmed in all other respects, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Community & Southern Bank v. Lovell" on Justia Law

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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

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Thomas McBee and his wife Mary (the “McBees”) and Aspire at West Midtown Apartments, L.P. (“Aspire”) were adjoining landowners. The McBees claimed title by prescription to a rectangular strip of land measuring about 24 feet by 58 feet located on a lot to which Aspire held record title. Aspire used this lot and several adjoining properties it owned to develop an apartment complex, thereby depriving the McBees of the use of it. The McBees sued Aspire, and the trial court granted Aspire’s motion for summary judgment on the McBees’ adverse possession claim. Two appeals followed. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court: (1) summarily affirmed the trial court’s order denying Aspire’s motion to dismiss the McBees’ appeal for delay in filing the record appendix; and (2) found that the trial court record did not reflect evidence conclusively rebutting the presumption that the McBee’s had a good faith claim of right to the disputed area. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the order granting summary judgment to Aspire on the McBees’ adverse possession claim, and remanded the case for the trial court to consider Aspire’s other arguments for summary judgment. View "McBee v. Aspire at West Midtown Apartments, L.P." on Justia Law

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Following the death of Ben Everson, his parents sued Brian Jordan, the emergency room physician who attended to Ben two days before his death. Jordan’s motion for summary judgment was denied by the trial court, and he appealed to the Court of Appeals. In Everson v. Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, 798 SE2d 667 (2017), the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of summary judgment. In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals held that an independent, intervening act breaks the chain of causation in a wrongful death case only to the extent that the independent, intervening act was “wrongful or negligent.” Because this holding was erroneous and was in conflict with longstanding precedent of the Georgia Supreme Court, the Supreme Court granted certiorari review and reversed that portion of “Everson.” View "Jordan v. Everson" on Justia Law

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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

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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