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Jurisdiction of the Georgia Supreme Court

September 14, 2010

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, the Georgia Supreme Court does not get to choose most of the cases it hears.  While many cases can come before the Court as petitions for certiorari, the Georgia Supreme Court is required to hear appeals about several subject matters laid out in the Georgia Constitution.  See Ga. Const., Art. VI, Sec. VI, Paragraphs II and III (PDF link).  If the Supreme Court believes that a case does not fall within one of these areas but is filed in the Supreme Court, it has the ability to transfer the case to the Court of Appeals for further consideration.

But the transfers of cases are primarily handled through unpublished orders issued by the Court that do not appear on its public website.  One such order was issued by the Court on September 10, 2010, but was accompanied by a dissent from three Justices of the Supreme Court.

The plaintiff in that case had filed an application for discretionary review with the Georgia Supreme Court following an order requiring him to pay expenses of litigation pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 9-15-14 after losing a mandamus case.  The Supreme Court found that the application “does not involve any issue within this Court’s jurisdiction” and transferred the case to the Court of Appeals.

But Justice Nahmias, joined by Justices Carley and Melton, dissented from the order transferring the application.  Writing for the group, Justice Nahmias discussed a prior Supreme Court case indicating that cases involving mandamus actions lie squarely within the exclusive appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.  If the prior authority did not apply, Nahmias urged that the jurisdictional issues be clarified in a published opinion instead of an unpublished order.

Commenting further on the use of unpublished orders for transfers, Nahmias said:

[T]his Court has not been consistent in addressing similar cases raising the issue of our jurisdiction to decide the ancillary issue of attorney fees awards where the underlying subject matter of the case falls within one of this Court’s specific jurisdictional areas (mandamus, title to land, equity, divorce, constitutional question, etc.). These cases have been decided by unpublished orders, which are not formal precedent for this Court or the Court of Appeals, nor are the orders readily available to practicing attorneys and the public. I therefore believe that we should bring some clarity to this recurring jurisdictional issue with a published opinion.

The dissenting Justices would have granted the application to resolve the jurisdictional question.  It will be interesting to see if the rest of the Court agrees and brings some clarity to these areas at some point in the future.

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One Comment
  1. J. Clifford Head permalink
    September 15, 2010 12:02 pm

    A passage from the Lamar case that the dissent cites:

    Likewise, the citation to two opinions of the Court of Appeals to establish that “this Court has historically transferred mandamus cases to the Court of Appeals” cannot be relied upon. Those cases, Bd. of Trustees &c. v. Mabry, 221 Ga. App. 762, 763 (fn. 3) (472 SE2d 542) (1996), and King v. Bd. of Ed. &c., 214 Ga. App. 325, 326 (fn. 1) (447 SE2d 657) (1994), were transferred by error during a period of development of the law of this Court’s equity jurisdiction, and relied on this Court’s decision in Beauchamp v. Knight, supra. As the Court of Appeals correctly noted in a footnote in King, supra, “Beauchamp appears to rely, at least in part, on the traditional distinction between law and equity. However, that rationale is inapplicable to mandamus cases, since ‘the writ of mandamus is a common law writ, with which equity has nothing to do.’ [Cit.]” Thus, contrary to the dissent’s assertion, the principle that when the relief sought is simply ancillary to the determination of the underlying legal issue, the case is not within this Court’s equity jurisdiction, does not apply equally to this Court’s jurisdiction over cases involving extraordinary remedies. Jurisdiction over this case belongs where the Constitution placed it, in this Court.

    ***

    Is it just me or is that footnote from the King case pointing out conclusively the error of the Supreme Court’s transferring ways at that time in so few words magically delicious?

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