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Released Opinions

May 16, 2011
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The Supreme Court released opinions in 14 cases, five of which are civil. The Supreme Court overturned the state’s Charter School Commission law, which allowed the state to authorize charter schools without the consent of local school boards. Brief summaries of the opinions along with links are below.

S10A1773. Gwinnett County School District et al. v. Cox et al.

This high-profile case considers the constitutionality of the state’s Charter Schools Commission and its ability to withhold some state funds to local school districts after approving a charter school located within the district.  Public schools in Georgia receive funding from both the state government and the local school board for operation.  Under Georgia law, locally-approved charter schools are public schools that receive funding from local school districts after approval by local boards (the local share plus the state share).  The Charter Schools Commission was created in 2008 to approve charter schools on the state level and provide full funding even if a local board did not approve the charter school.  The Commission is empowered to withhold some state funding to the districts in which the Commission-approved charter was located to make up for the lack of local revenue and ensure that the per-pupil funding matched the local school district’s per pupil funding level.  Several school districts sued the state, claiming the Commission statute requires funding of schools with local tax money without any approval by local voters.

The Fulton County Superior Court granted summary judgment to the state and several charter schools, finding that the Commission was constitutional.

The Supreme Court is hearing the case because it is a constitutional challenge and granted anextension of time for argument so that each side will have 30 minutes to make their case.

One group of Appellants, consisting of Gwinnett, DeKalb, and Candler County schools argue in their principal brief that a proper interpretation of the state constitution prevents the charter schools from being designated as “special schools” and prohibits the funding of special schools without a local referendum.  Separate briefs by Appellants Atlanta Public SchoolsBulloch County Schools, and Griffin-Spalding and Henry County make many of the same points.  Supporting the Appellants as Amici are the Georgia School Boards Association, the Georgia School Superintendents Association, and several school districts.

In response, the lead brief by Appellees Ivy Preparatory Academy and Charter Conservancy for Liberal Arts and Technology responds that Commission-approved schools are “special schools” within the meaning of the constitutional provision and that no local taxes are used for the operation of the schools.  Other Appellees responded similarly, including Heron Bay Academyand the State of Georgia.  Amici supporting the Appellees are the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and Georgia Families for Public Virtual Education.

The school districts filed supplemental briefs arguing that charter schools cannot be “special schools.”

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on October 12, 2010.

On Monday, May 16, 2011, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision in a 4-3 decision (Melton, Nahmias, Carley dissenting). The majority found that the state constitution grants exclusive local control of primary and secondary schools and the charter commission could not create “special schools.”  Justice Nahmias authored a 75-page dissent, calling the majority’s reasoning “illogical” and saying the decision is “unfortunate” for the Court’s reputation as an institution that fairly and accurately interprets the law. We will post a further analysis of the opinions later today.

S07G1708. AMERICAN HOME PRODUCTS v. FERRARI et al.

This case was originally decided by the Supreme Court in 2008. The parties petitioned for review by the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted that petition on February 28, 2011. The U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case for further consideration by the Georgia Supreme Court in light of Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC, 562 U.S. ___ (2011).

On Monday, May 16, 2011, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed and remanded with direction (Nahmias concurring specially). In an opinion authored by Justice Carley, the Court explained that its previous decision had specifically noted that the US Supreme Court had not yet spoken. Now that the US Supreme Court has addressed the interpretations of the Vaccine Act, the Georgia Supreme Court vacated the previous judgments and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals.

S11A0496. Deloach v. Elliott et al.

DeLoach was injured in a wreck when she was struck by a Waynesboro police car. DeLoach did not provide the ante litem notice required by Georgia law to the city within six months of her injury. DeLoach later sued the city. The city moved for summary judgment on all claims due to the lack of the ante litem notice and due to the plaintiff’s inability to sue the police officer in his individual capacity. The trial court granted the motion and DeLoach appealed to the Court of Appeals, which transferred the case to the Supreme Court because it raised a constitutional question.

In her principal brief, DeLoach argues that the trial court’s ruling that she cannot she the officer in his individual capacity is unconstitutional because it deprives her of her right to trial by jury. The city responded, arguing that the law protects municipal employees from lawsuits if the legal conditions are met. DeLoach filed a reply brief, reinforcing her arguments about the unconstitutionality of the statute.

The Court heard oral argument on the case on March 14, 2011.

On Monday, May 16, 2011, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the trial court’s decision. In a decision authored by Justice Carley, the Court found the trial court had constitutionally applied the statute at issue and the plaintiff is foreclosed from recovery.

S11A0508 City of Atlanta v. Hotels.com, L.P., et al.S11X0509 Hotels.com, L.P., et al. v. City of AtlantaS11A0510 Hotels.com, L.P., et al. v. City of AtlantaS11X0512 City of Atlanta v. Hotels.com, L.P., et al.

These four appeals all arise from the same order from the Fulton County Superior Court finding that, consistent with prior decisions by the Georgia Supreme Court regarding Columbus, a variety of online hotel operators owe occupancy taxes to the City of Atlanta. The same order found, however, that Atlanta had no ability to recover those back taxes. All the parties appealed.

The City of Atlanta argued in its principal brief that it must have a remedy for recovering back taxes the trial court found it had not been paid. Remaining briefs by Hotels.com and Atlanta were filed under seal.

The Court heard oral argument in these cases on March 14, 2011.

On May 16, 2011, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the trial court’s decision. Writing for the Court, Justice Benham explained that the trial court correctly ruled that the taxes applied to the amount paid for occupancy, injunctive relief was appropriate, and the City did not have a remedy for back taxes.

S11A0956. HILLARD et al. v. BALDWIN, CHAIRMAN et al.

This case is an election contest over a county commission seat in Stewart County, Georgia. Hillard attempted to overturn the 2010 election based on alleged problems with absentee ballots in the primary. The trial court denied the election contest.

Hillard filed her appeal, and the county responded.

The Court is deciding this case without oral argument.

On May 16, 2011, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal. Writing for the Court, Justice Benham explained that an election contest to the results of a primary election become moot after the general election and when the plaintiff does not seek an expedited review, the appeal must be dismissed.

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