Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
Black Voters Matter Fund, Inc. v. Kemp
On March 25, 2021, Georgia Governor Kemp signed into law Senate Bill 9 (“SB 9”), which created from the former Augusta Judicial Circuit two new judicial circuits: the Columbia Judicial Circuit, and the Augusta Judicial Circuit. The judicial circuit split, which was slated to become effective on July 1, 2021, was briefly stayed by three lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of SB 9. The lawsuits were filed in the Superior Court of Richmond County, one by Columbia County citizen Willie Saunders and two by the nonprofit, voting advocacy organization, Black Voters Matter Fund, Inc. (“BVMF”). At the heart of each of these suits was a claim that Columbia County officials sought to form their own judicial circuit as a racially discriminatory reaction to the election of District Attorney Jared Williams in November 2020. These appeals and cross-appeals arose from the trial court’s July 13, 2021 final judgment addressing the merits of the appellants’ challenges to SB 9 in each of the three suits. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court rejected the appellants’ challenges to SB 9, declaring it “valid and enforceable” and allowing the circuit split to proceed. However, The Georgia Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s judgment as to BVMF and remanded those cases to the trial court with instruction that they be dismissed because BVMF lacked standing to pursue its actions. As to Saunders, the Supreme Court did not reach the merits of his appeal because Saunders failed to challenge the trial court’s dispositive ruling dismissing the defendants he sued. Thus, the Supreme Court also vacated the judgment as to Saunders’ complaint and directed the trial court to dismiss his action upon remand. View "Black Voters Matter Fund, Inc. v. Kemp" on Justia Law
Bell v. Hargrove
Georgia law generally required a person to apply for and receive a valid weapons carry license from a probate judge before carrying a handgun or other weapon in public. The General Assembly identified specific categories of people to whom “[n]o weapons carry license shall be issued,” including people with certain criminal convictions. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether a probate judge could deny an application for a weapons carry license under OCGA 16-11-129 based on a determination that the applicant’s criminal history records report failed to show the outcome of an arrest that could have resulted in a disqualifying conviction. Applying the plain language of the statute, the Court concluded that a probate judge had no such authority. It therefore reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision to the contrary. View "Bell v. Hargrove" on Justia Law
Bowen v. Savoy
In 2016, Priscilla Savoy, individually and as executor of her mother’s estate, filed suit against her sisters Eleanor Bowen and Margaret Innocenti (collectively “defendants”) contending that they colluded to appropriate funds from their mother’s estate for their own use. The defendants were served with the summons and complaint on June 20 and 22, 2016. On July 20, 2016, the defendants filed in the trial court a motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, which was supported by a sworn affidavit executed by Bowen denying the factual allegations raised in the complaint. When the defendants did not answer the complaint within 30 days of service, as required by OCGA § 9-11-12 (a), the case “automatically [became] in default,” OCGA 9-11-55 (a). The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address the following question: To show a proper case for opening default under OCGA 9-11-55 (b), must the defendant provide a reasonable explanation for the failure to file a timely answer? The Court answered that question in the negative and reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals which held to the contrary. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Bowen v. Savoy" on Justia Law
GeorgiaCarry.org, Inc. et al. v. Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Inc.
The Atlanta Botanical Garden, Inc. (the “Garden”) leased land from the City of Atlanta. The Garden wished to enforce a policy precluding the possession of firearms by visitors to, and guests of, the Garden, like Phillip Evans. Evans held a valid weapons carry license under Georgia law and asserted that he was authorized to carry a firearm at the garden under the authority of OCGA 16-11-127 (c). The Garden contended it could enforce its policy based on an exception to the general rule found in the same statutory paragraph. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether OCGA 16-11-127 (c) permitted a private organization that leased property owned by a municipality to prohibit the carrying of firearms on the leased premises. The Court of Appeals determined that it did and affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Garden on the petition for declaratory and injunctive relief filed by GeorgiaCarry.Org, Inc. The Georgia Supreme Court determined this case turned on whether the Garden was indeed private property. Because no lease was entered into the trial court record, judgment was reversed for further proceedings at the trial court. View "GeorgiaCarry.org, Inc. et al. v. Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Inc." on Justia Law
Withers v. Schroeder
Appellee Bobby Schroeder received a traffic ticket in DeKalb County in 2013. He alleged he appeared in recorder’s court and was ordered to pay a fine and that he timely paid the fine, but the staff of the recorder’s court failed to close his case. He asserted the court staff falsely informed the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) that he failed to appear for his hearing or pay his fine, leading to the suspension of his driving privilege. In August, an officer with the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office arrested appellee for driving on a suspended license and took him into custody. Appellee claimed he spent significant time in custody before bonding out. Approximately one month later, an officer with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office arrested appellee for driving on a suspended license and took him into custody. According to appellee, at the time of his Rockdale and Newton County arrests, he was on first offender probation; the arrests led to the revocation of his probation, for which appellee was ultimately arrested and spent one month in jail. According to appellee, at some point, the recorder’s court realized that it had provided DDS with incorrect information, and sent a notice of suspension withdrawal to the department. This led to the dismissal of the Rockdale and Newton charges and the withdrawal of the probation revocation petition. Appellee claimed he lost his job because of these events. Appellee alleged DeKalb County Recorder's Court Chief Judge Nelly Withers and court administrator Troy Thompson were aware that the recorder’s court was "understaffed, dysfunctional, and unable to process its cases," and knew the court’s computer systems produced unreliable data because the systems were flawed or "because employees routinely entered data incorrectly, and that employees routinely failed to communicate correct information to DDS." Appellee filed this action for damages alleging that defendants failed to perform their ministerial duties with due care and that their actions led to appellee’s unlawful arrests. In addition to state law claims, appellee asserted claims under 42 USC 1983. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded appellants were protected from suit by the doctrine of judicial immunity and its derivative quasi-judicial immunity, and reversed the Court of Appeals’ opinion to the extent it allowed appellee’s suit to move forward against these two appellants. View "Withers v. Schroeder" on Justia Law
West v. City of Albany
Searless West was a former employee of the City of Albany who filed a complaint in federal court against the City and two individuals setting forth, among other things, a claim under the Georgia Whistleblower Act (“GWA”). With respect to West’s claims under the GWA, she sought economic and non-economic damages resulting from alleged retaliation for disclosing what she deemed to be certain financial irregularities in the City’s utility department. The City filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings with regard to the whistleblower claim, asserting it failed as a matter of law because West did not provide ante litem notice prior to filing the complaint. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, in an order finding no controlling precedent from the Georgia Supreme Court that addressed the legal issue raised by the City, certified a question of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court: "is a plaintiff required to provide a municipal corporation with ante litem notice pursuant to OCGA 36-33-5 in order to pursue a claim against it for money damages under the [GWA]?" The Supreme Court answered this question in the negative. View "West v. City of Albany" on Justia Law
GeorgiaCarry.org v. Atlanta Botanical Garden, Inc.
Appellants GeorgiaCarry.org and Phillip Evans appeal the dismissal of their petition for declaratory and injunctive relief as to the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s prohibition of weapons on the Garden’s premises. Evans, who holds a Georgia weapons carry license, visited the Garden twice in October 2014 and wore a handgun in a waistband holster each time. After gaining admission to the Garden on his second visit, Evans was stopped by an employee of the Garden and advised that he could not carry the weapon at the Garden; a security officer detained Evans, and Evans was eventually escorted from the Garden by an officer with the Atlanta Police Department. The Supreme Court agreed with appellants that the trial court erred in dismissing their case. "Appellants request for declaratory relief was not impermissible, and it was error to dismiss Appellants’ declaratory judgment action on the basis that it improperly called for the interpretation and application of a criminal statute." Accordingly, the trial court’s order was reversed in this respect. The trial court also dismissed Appellants’ request for injunctive relief; the Supreme Court concluded this was proper in part. The portion of Appellants’ requested injunctive relief (enjoining the arrest or prosecution of Appellants) squarely implicated the administration of criminal law and, thus, was improper. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "GeorgiaCarry.org v. Atlanta Botanical Garden, Inc." on Justia Law
Anderson v. Southern Care Home Services, Inc.
In 2013, former employees of two in-home personal care companies sued their former employers, asserting that they had not been paid the minimum wage to which they were entitled under the Georgia Minimum Wage Law (GMWL). The employers removed the case to a federal district court, which certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court: (1) whether, under Georgia law, an employee that falls under an FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] exemption is effectively “covered” by the FLSA for purposes of OCGA 34-4-3 (c) analysis, thereby prohibiting said employee from receiving minimum wage compensation under the GMWL; and (2) whether an individual whose employment consisted of providing in-home personal support services was prohibited from receiving minimum wage compensation under the GMWL pursuant to the “domestic employees” exception in OCGA 34-4-3 (b)(3). After review, the Georgia Supreme Court answered both questions "no." View "Anderson v. Southern Care Home Services, Inc." on Justia Law