Articles Posted in Georgia Supreme Court

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This case stemmed from an effort by Mortgage Alliance Corporation (“MAC”) a residential subdivision called "Silverstone." In August 2008, MAC sued the county and various county officials alleging, among other things, that an August 2006 letter to MAC from the county's sole commissioner, which said that the county's position was that any proposal to develop MAC's property as a subdivision would need to comply with a recent amendment to the county's land use ordinances, resulted in a taking of MAC's property without just compensation. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants on the ground that MAC's complaint was untimely. The Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Supreme Court granted MAC's petition for certiorari. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that this case was resolved on the ground that the August 2006 Letter was not a “decision” within the meaning of the applicable statute, and the county never made a final decision on MAC's Silverstone proposal. Consequently, MAC's inverse condemnation claim never ripened for judicial review, and the trial court should have granted summary judgment to the defendants on this ground. Although the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred in concluding there was an appealable decision, they reached the right result, and therefore the Court affirmed the appellate court's judgment. View "Mortgage Alliance Corp. v. Pickens County" on Justia Law

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George and Catherine Dickens appealed the City of Statesboro's Zoning Board of Appeals denial of their application to construct a 2,160-square-foot detached garage on their property. The Dickenses then filed a petition for mandamus and damages at superior court to compel the City to issue their building permit. The City moved for summary judgment, which the superior court summarily denied. The trial court issued a certificate of immediate review, and the City applied for interlocutory appeal. Because the Dickenses were required to seek judicial review at superior court by way of a petition for a writ of certiorari rather than a petition for mandamus, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case back to the trial court for dismissal. View "City of Statesboro v. Dickens" on Justia Law

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The Stephens County Board of Commissioners decided to abandon a 3,000-foot-long, dead-end county road that ran along the side of a mountain and served no existing homes or businesses. Owners of some undeveloped lots on the Road and others sued the Board, and the trial court set aside the decision. Based on that ruling, the court issued a writ of mandamus requiring the Board to repair and maintain the Road. The court also ordered the Board to pay attorney fees and later granted summary judgment against the Board on its counterclaims. The Board appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court failed to give proper deference to the Board's decision to abandon the Road and reversed the trial court's decisions. View "Scarborough v. Hunter" on Justia Law

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This appeal ultimately concerned the constitutionality of OCGA 32-6-75.3. Although the Supreme Court originally found that a prior version of the statute violated the gratuities clause of the state constitution, the Court later found the statute to be constitutional after it was amended by the Legislature to indicate that "outdoor advertising provides a substantial service and benefit to Georgia and Georgia's citizens as well as the traveling public." In 2007, the City of Columbus, Gateways Foundation, Inc., and Trees Columbus, Inc. challenged applications for vegetation maintenance permits submitted by CBS Outdoor, Inc., to the Georgia Department of Transportation ("GDOT"). In 2011, the Legislature passed HB 179, which amended 32-6-75.3 by enlarging the "viewing zone" that an advertiser may clear around a billboard and altered the number and type of trees which may be removed. After the passage of HB 179, Columbus filed an amended petition, challenging the constitutionality of the revised statute and GDOT's Manual of Guidance ("MOG") which established the tree-valuation procedure to determine amounts to be paid to the State to allow removal of trees blocking the visibility of existing billboards. In January 2012, the Superior Court entered an interlocutory injunction enjoining GDOT from issuing any vegetation management permits throughout the State until a final adjudication of the pertinent issues. The parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment. The Superior Court rulings generated three appeals. In Case No. S13A0079, Columbus argued that the trial court erred by determining that OCGA 32-6-75.3 and the valuation methods employed in the MOG were constitutional. In Case No. S13A0080, CBS Outdoor and Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia, Inc. ("OAAG"), an intervenor in these cases, challenged the trial court's decisions to continue a statewide injunction against the issuance of vegetation permits and to defer a ruling on Columbus's equal protection claim. In Case No. S13X0081, GDOT contended, among other things, that the trial court erred by determining that take-down credits extended under the statute violate the gratuities clause. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's rulings in Case No. S13A0079 and Case No. S13A0080, but, in Case No. S13X0081, the Court reversed the trial court's determination that the take-down credits violated the gratuities clause. View "City of Columbus v. Georgia Dept. of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Appellant City of Suwanee appealed a judgment in favor of Appellee Settles Bridge Farm, LLC in an inverse condemnation action. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that the City of Suwanee's enactment of an amendment to its zoning ordinance was an unconstitutional regulatory taking of a large parcel of land owned by Settles Bridge and awarded Settles Bridge more than $1.8 million in damages. The City appealed, contending, inter alia, that the case was unripe for judicial review due to Settles Bridge’s failure to exhaust its administrative remedies. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the City that Settles Bridge should have exhausted its administrative remedies prior to initiating litigation in this matter, and therefore reversed the judgment entered against the City. View "City of Suwanee v. Settles Bridge Farm, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellant Association of Guineans in Atlanta, Inc. applied to the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners (BOC) for a special land use permit (SLUP) for a single-family house located in a residential area of DeKalb County and zoned as a single-family residence. In its permit application, appellant stated an intent to use the property as a "place of worship and family life center." The BOC denied appellant's application and appellant appealed to the superior court seeking a declaratory judgment, an injunction, and a writ of mandamus. After several hearings, the trial court granted the BOC's motions to dismiss and denied appellant's petition for a writ of mandamus on the merits. Appellant argued to the Supreme Court that the trial court erred when it dismissed its constitutional challenges to the zoning statute. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part and remanded with direction. The Court concluded that the trial court's ruling that appellant failed to make a prima facie case showing a violation of "RLUIPA" was in error. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ass'n of Guineans in Atlanta, Inc. v. Dekalb County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted discretionary appeal to Haralson County to review a superior court's grant of the writ of mandamus. In 2008, Taylor Junkyard of Bremen, Inc. sought to purchase a piece of property in a residential area. Before doing so, it wanted confirmation that the property had a permitted nonconforming use, so Taylor Junkyard asked for, and was issued, a letter written by the County Zoning Administrator, which stated that the business operated by Trawick "falls under the grandfather clause." When Taylor Junkyard applied for a business license for the year 2009, Haralson County administratively rejected the application, with the stated reason that the business engaged in on the property had changed from the original nonconforming business of "used automobiles and parts" to "metal recycling and metal fabrication," and thus violated the County's zoning ordinance. Taylor Junkyard appealed to the County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which, after a hearing, rejected the application for a business license, based upon found zoning violations. Taylor Junkyard then filed its petition for a writ of mandamus in superior court, which the court granted, finding that there was no evidence to support the ZBA's decision. The County contended on appeal to the Supreme Court that the superior court erred in addressing the petition for writ of mandamus, arguing that the County Zoning Ordinance provided a means for Taylor Junkyard to file an appeal from the adverse decision of the ZBA, and thus, mandamus was not an available remedy. "When local zoning ordinances do not establish a means by which an aggrieved party may gain judicial review of an adverse decision by a zoning appeal board, a petition to the appropriate superior court for a writ of mandamus is the proper remedy." Accordingly, as no provision of the Haralson County ordinances set forth an available means of judicial review, the superior court did not err in concluding that a petition for a writ of mandamus was the proper avenue for Taylor Junkyard to seek review of the ZBA's decision. View "Haralson County v. Taylor Junkyard of Bremen, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellants, owners of a tract of real property in Dawson County, filed a nine-count complaint against appellees challenging a rezoning decision in superior court. The superior court granted summary judgment to appellees on three of the nine counts and appellants subsequently filed three direct appeals to the court. The court initially dismissed the appeals by order for failure to comply with the discretionary appeal procedures of OCGA 5-6-35. On appellants' motion for reconsideration, however, the court reinstated the appeals and directed the parties to brief whether OCGA 5-6-35(a)(1) applied. Having had the benefit of full briefing and oral argument on the issue, the court concluded that these appeals came under OCGA 5-6-35(a)(1) and so the court dismissed them again. View "West Hamryka, et al. v. City of Dawsonville, et al." on Justia Law

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Pin Ups, an adult entertainment business, brought this appeal from an order of the trial court denying its petition for an interlocutory injunction against the Board's "Hours of sale and operation" ordinances. As Pin Ups alleged a violation of free speech rights under the Georgia Constitution, the trial court erred in applying the rational basis test. Such laws could be upheld only "if it furthers an important government interest; if the government interest is unrelated to the suppression of speech; and if the incidental restriction of speech is no greater than is essential to the furtherance of that interest." Therefore, the court held that, inasmuch as the trial court made its ruling based upon an incorrect legal standard, the court must reserve its decision and the court remanded the case to that court for it to evaluate Pin Ups's request for injunctive relief using the correct legal standard. View "Great American Dream, Inc., d/b/a Pin Ups Nightclub v. DeKalb County, et al." on Justia Law

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EGL purchased 427 acres of land in Newton County, Georgia, for the purpose of constructing a landfill and the Board declined to issue a letter of zoning compliance based on its interpretation that a landfill was not a permitted use under the Newton County zoning ordinance. The court held that the trial court erred in holding that East Ga. Land and Development Co. v. Baker mooted any issue regarding the validity of the process used by the county to enact the original zoning ordinance. The court also held that the trial court erred by relying on parol evidence to provide a link between the original set of maps incorporated onto the 1985 zoning ordinance and the set that was currently located in the zoning office. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "East Georgia Land and Development Co., LLC v. Newton County, et al." on Justia Law