Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Georgia Supreme Court
Owens v. Hill
Defendant Warren Hill was convicted of murdering a fellow inmate by beating him to death with a sink leg embedded with nails. The jury sentenced him to death, and the Supreme Court affirmed. The sentencing court issued the execution order on July 3, 2013, setting defendant's execution for the one-week period of July 13-20, 2013. That execution order was filed after the July 1, 2013 effective date of a new law designating "identifying information" concerning the persons and entities that participate in executions, including those who participate in the procurement of execution drugs, to be a "confidential state secret." Defendant filed suit naming the Commissioner of Corrections and others as defendants, seeking an interlocutory injunction, a permanent injunction, a declaratory judgment, a writ of mandamus, and "[s]ealed discovery of the identity of the compounding pharmacy and the supply chain and manufacturer(s) of any and all ingredients used to produce the lethal drug compound to be injected into [defendant]." Hill alleged that the execution-participant confidentiality statute was unconstitutional on various grounds in that it wrongly denied him information revealing the identities of all those involved in his execution. Defendant's complaint also stated that it was seeking "to enforce the prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment under Georgia and Federal Law." The Superior Court granted injunctive relief, and included a stay of execution. The Supreme Court thereafter granted the State's application for discretionary appeal of the Superior Court's order. The Supreme Court concluded that this case was not moot, that the Superior Court had limited but valid jurisdiction over this matter, that the possible availability of forms of discovery beyond what was forbidden by the execution-participant confidentiality statute did not affect this case, that the execution-participant confidentiality statute was not unconstitutional, and that the Superior Court erred by granting what amounted to an interlocutory injunction. View "Owens v. Hill" on Justia Law
Hertz v. Bennett
Probate Judge Andrew Bennett denied James Hertz’s application for a license to carry a weapon based on Hertz’s 1994 nolo contendere plea to five felony charges in Florida. Hertz applied for mandamus relief in superior court, alleging the denial violated the state statute and his constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The superior court affirmed. Because Hertz’s nolo contendere plea makes him ineligible for a weapons carry license under Georgia law, and the statute as applied to him does not violate the United States or Georgia Constitutions, the Supreme Court also affirmed. View "Hertz v. Bennett" on Justia Law
Pitts v. Georgia
Following the denial of her motion for new trial, Chanell Pitts appealed her convictions and misdemeanor sentences for 2011 violations of OCGA 20-2-690.1(the "mandatory education statute"). Her sole challenge was to the constitutionality of the statute. Finding no error in the trial court’s denial, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pitts v. Georgia" on Justia Law
Ferguson v. Perry
Judge of the Clayton County Probate Court Pam Ferguson appealed two orders of the Superior Court of Clayton County. Case No. S12A1643 was Ferguson's appeal of the trial court's ruling that Manuel Perry was entitled to a Georgia weapons carry license ("WCL") pursuant to OCGA 16-11-129, and Case No. S12A1645 was her appeal of the trial court's subsequent order issuing a writ of mandamus requiring Ferguson to issue a WCL to Perry. Because the trial court correctly ruled that Perry was entitled to a WCL, the Supreme Court affirmed both of these cases. In Case No. S12X1644, Perry cross-appealed the trial court's ruling that Perry's right to keep and bear arms under the Georgia and United States Constitutions was not violated by the denial of his WCL application. The Supreme Court vacated that ruling, because once the trial court determined that Perry was entitled to a WCL under 16-11-129, his claim that the denial of a weapons carry license violated his right to keep and bear arms lost its premise, and the trial court should not have opined on a moot issue. View "Ferguson v. Perry" on Justia Law
Hill v. Owens
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case concerned who was legally authorized to select the drug or drugs to be used in executions in Georgia and how that choice may be made-- an issue which the Court felt impacted the management of prisons and inmates in Georgia: "this case could also affect the remaining myriad of management decisions made throughout Georgia’s prison system, and . . . when those decisions must be made directly by the Board of Corrections in its policymaking role versus when they may by left to the statutorily-granted management prerogatives of the Commissioner of Corrections and the Department of Corrections that he manages." Warren Lee Hill was convicted of murdering a fellow inmate in the Lee County Correctional Institute by beating the victim with a board embedded with nails. Hill received the death sentence, and the Supreme Court affirmed. Hill was unsuccessful in his state and federal habeas proceedings. The execution was originally scheduled for July 18, 2012, but it was rescheduled for July 23, 2012. The change in the specific execution date was announced by the Department of Corrections at approximately the same time that the Department of Corrections announced that it was changing from a three-drug execution procedure to a one-drug procedure. In response to the announcement of the new execution procedure, Hill filed a complaint against the Board of Corrections, the Department of Corrections, and the Commissioner of Corrections, alleging that the defendants failed to comply with the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act in adopting Georgia’s new execution procedure, and he sought a declaratory judgment, an injunction, a stay of execution, and a writ of mandamus. The Superior Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss Hill’s complaint on the ground that the Administrative Procedure Act did not apply to the new execution procedure, and the Supreme Court granted Hill’s application for discretionary appeal and his motion for a stay of his scheduled execution. But upon review of the applicable statutory authority, the Supreme Court affirmed that dismissal. View "Hill v. Owens" on Justia Law
Barham v. City of Atlanta
A group of firefighters brought a class action lawsuit against the City of Atlanta alleging that the city breached its employment contracts with the firefighters as well as its statutory obligation to provide a fair and impartial promotional process by failing to prevent cheating on a fire lieutenant promotional exam. The trial court issued an interlocutory injunction prohibiting the city from making any permanent promotions based on the results of the challenged exam and providing that all appointments would be temporary pending a final decision on the merits of the case. After the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the trial court crafted a permanent injunction that contained mandatory instructions regarding how the city must re-test. Appellants, all of whom are firefighters who scored 90 or higher on the first exam, appealed the permanent injunction to challenge provisions of the injunction that treated them as "probable cheaters." Appellees (named plaintiffs in the class action), moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that appellants lacked standing to challenge the trial court’s judgment because they were not parties to the original action and because the judgment was not entered against them. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court found appellants had standing to appeal the judgment in this case. Further, the Court held that the trial court abused its discretion in fashioning injunctive relief specific to appellants and erred in entering judgment against them. Accordingly, the Court vacated those portions of the permanent injunction that required the city to treat appellants differently from class members. View "Barham v. City of Atlanta" on Justia Law
A Fast Sign Company, Inc. v. American Home Services, Inc.
In 2002 and 2003, appellee American Home Services, Inc. (AHS), a siding, window, and gutter installation company, contracted with Sunbelt Communications, Inc. (Sunbelt), for Sunbelt to send a total of 318,000 unsolicited advertisements to various facsimile machines operating in metropolitan Atlanta. In October 2003, appellant A Fast Sign Company, Inc. d/b/a Fastsigns (Fastsigns), one of the recipients of these unsolicited advertisements, brought a class-action lawsuit against AHS, asserting violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) (47 U.S.C. sec. 227). At the conclusion of a bench trial, the trial court found that AHS violated the TCPA because it admitted in judicio that it had sent 306,000 unsolicited facsimile advertisements. Finding that violation of the TCPA was wilful and knowing, the trial court awarded the class $459 million in damages, or the amount of $1,500 for each fax sent. The trial court declined to award punitive damages and attorney's fees. AHS appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals vacated the trial court's judgment and remanded the case, finding that the trial court erroneously applied the TCPA by basing liability and damages on the number of unsolicited advertisements sent rather than the number of unsolicited advertisements received by class members. The issue before the Supreme court was whether the Court of Appeals erred when it determined that only the receipt of an unsolicited fax created an actionable violation of the TCPA. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "A Fast Sign Company, Inc. v. American Home Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Great American Dream, Inc., d/b/a Pin Ups Nightclub v. DeKalb County, et al.
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.
Final Exit Network, Inc. et al. v. State
Appellants were indicted by a grand jury on charges of, inter alia, offering to assist and assisting in the commission of suicide in violation of OCGA 16-5-5(b). At issue was whether OCGA 16-5-5(b) was constitutional under the free speech clauses of the federal and state constitutions. OCGA 16-5-5(b) provided that any person "who publicly advertises, offers, or holds himself or herself out as offering that he or she will intentionally and actively assist another person in the commission of suicide and commits an overt act to further that purpose is guilty of a felony." The court held that the State has failed to provide any explanation or evidence as to why a public advertisement or offer to assist in an otherwise legal activity was sufficiently problematic to justify an intrusion on protected speech rights. Absent a more particularized State interest and more narrowly tailored statute, the court held that the State could not, consistent with the United States and Georgia Constitutions, make the public advertisement or offer to assist in a suicide a criminal offense. The court also concluded that OCGA 16-5-5(b) restricted speech in violation of the free speech clauses of both the United States and Georgia Constitutions. Accordingly, the order of the trial court holding otherwise was reversed.
Grady v. Unified Gov’t of Athens-Clarke County
Appellant challenged his conviction for violating a county ordinance regulating the volume of noise from "mechanical sound-making devices." Appellant contended that the provision was facially invalid under the free speech clause of the Georgia Constitution. Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. I, Sec. I, Par. V. The court held that the county drew the challenged provision of its ordinance deliberately and in response to specific concerns, and the county had offered good reasons for rejecting appellant's proposed alternatives. The court also held that the provision advanced a substantial government interest in the least restrictive way. Furthermore, the provision was content neutral and left open ample alternatives for communication. Therefore, the ordinance was a reasonable, content-neutral time, place, and manner speech regulation and appellant's facial challenge to it was without merit.