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This Week at the Court

June 8, 2010

Apologies for the late posting of oral arguments for this week.  The Supreme Court heard argument in six civil cases over yesterday and today, and brief summaries of the issues in each case are below.

Monday, June 7 at 10:00 am Sitting

S09G1946 Telecom, Inc., et al. v. State of GeorgiaS09G1948 Allstar, Inc., et al. v. State of Georgia

These cases stem from the attempted condemnation of a number of different gaming machines by the State, after allegations that the gaming machines that used money as payouts.  After a trial, the trial court issued a 76-page order, finding that four of the eleven categories of machines were gambling devices, but that seven of the eleven categories of machines were not.

The Court of Appeals (Ellington, Andrews, and Adams), in a unanimous decision, partially affirmed and partially reversed the trial court, finding that all of the machines were gambling devices.  The opinion explains how Georgia law prohibits gambling machines, but not those which are for bona fide amusement purposes only.  Part of the determination of whether a machine is for gambling or amusement has to do with the payouts dispensed by the machine, including a five-dollar maximum.  After a detailed discussion of the statutes, the Court of Appeals found that the seven types of machines the trial court found were not gambling devices were just that, and upheld the trial court’s determination that the four categories were gambling devices as well.

The Supreme Court unanimously granted certiorari to review the following issue:

  1. Whether the machines at issue meet the definition in OCGA § 16-12-35 for machines designed for bona fide amusement purposes.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on the cases on June 7, 2010.

S10G0459 Covington Square Associates, LLC. v. Ingles Markets, Inc.

This case stems from a check sent accidentally from one company to another.  Ingles leased space from Covington Square for a number of years, and Ingles paid the property taxes during that term.  When Covington Square sold the property, it sued Ingles, trying to collect portions of security guard costs it billed to Ingles.  While that litigation was pending, Ingles received a bill from its new landlord for the 2005 property taxes.  Ingles mistakenly paid Covington Square for the 2005 property taxes, then discovered its error and demanded repayment.  Covington Square refused to return the check, saying it would keep the funds as partial payment of the security guard costs.  Ingles filed this litigation to recover the funds, and the trial court granted summary judgment to Ingles on its claims for conversion, attorney fees, and punitive damages.  Covington Square appealed.

The Court of Appeals (Mikell, Johnson, and Ellington) unanimously affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that Covington Square converted the check and that Ingles was entitled to attorneys fees even on summary judgment because of Covington Square’s behavior (with the amount to be determined by a jury), but that the trial court erred by granting punitive damages because those damages can only be resolved by a jury.

The Supreme Court unanimously granted certiorari on March 29, 2010 to review the second division of the Court of Appeals’ decision, specifically the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in affirming the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Ingles on the issue of liability for attorney fees under OCGA § 3-6-11? See Tyler v. Lincoln, 272 Ga. 118, 121-122 (2) (527 SE2d 180)(2000); D&H. Constr. Co. v. City of Woodstock, 284 Ga. App. 314, 318-319 (2) (643 SE2d 826) (2007); Stargate Software Intl. v. Rumph, 224 Ga.App. 873, 878 (4)(482SE2d498)(1997).

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on the case on June 7, 2010.  The Daily Report has video of the arguments for the appellant and the arguments for the appellee.

Monday, June 7 at 2:00 pm Sitting

S10A1113 Gasses v. City of Riverdale et al.

This is an appeal of a Clayton County trial court ruling regarding who should cut the grass of a particular piece of property.  The City of Riverdale adopted an ordinance requiring individuals to maintain their property and limiting grass and weeds in a right of way to less than six inches.  The City informed the Gasses that they would have to cut the grass on the right of way on or adjacent to their 10 acres.  Mr. Gasses attempted to cut the grass, but was injured when his mower rolled over.  Mrs. Gasses was then cited for failure to maintain the right of way.

The Gasses challenged the fine and the constitutionality of the ordinance, and the trial court found the ordinance was constitutional.

S10A1147 Magby v. City of Riverdale et al.

This case from Clayton County involves a different City of Riverdale ordinance, related to tax permits.  Magby began operating a home daycare center in Riverdale, and obtained the necessary state license.  But Magby was cited three times for failing to obtain the occupation tax permit from the City.  Magby was ordered to pay the fine and attempted to appeal, but was unsuccessful.  She filed the present case claiming the ordinance was unconstitutional, and her petition was denied by the Superior Court.

Tuesday, June 8 at 10:00 am Sitting

S10G0448 NUCI Phillips Memorial Foundation, Inc. v. Athens-Clarke County Board of Tax of Tax Assessors

This case involves the proper application of an ad valorem tax exemption for a public charity.  The trial court granted the exemption to the Nuci Phillips Memorial Foundation.

The Court of Appeals (Smith, Phipps, and Bernes) unanimously reversed the trial court, finding that although the institution was a public charity, it used its building for other purposes than just its charitable purposes.  Under the language of OCGA Section 48-5-41(d)(2), the Court of Appeals held that the foundation rented its space for birthday parties and wedding receptions, and thus was not exclusively devoted to a charitable purpose.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari in a 6-1 vote (Carley dissenting) to consider the following question:

  1. Whether the Court of Appeals erred in applying OCGA Section 48-5-41 (d) (2)? Compare Ga. Laws 2006 at 376 and Ga. Laws 2007 at 341.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case on June 8, 2010.

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