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Next Week at the Court

January 7, 2011

The Supreme Court returns on Monday, along with the inaugural festivities at the Capitol, for its first day of oral argument in 2011.  In its first two days of argument this year, the Court will hear argument in 12 cases, four of which are civil.  Brief recaps of the issues in each civil case are below.

Monday, January 10, 2011 10:00 am Sitting

S10G1220 JUANITA HICKS et al. v. CALVIN T. MCGEE

Calvin McGee was convicted and, after serving his sentence, was supposed to be released from prison in May 2001.  But McGee was not released until March 2003 because an order entered by the trial court reducing his sentence had not been transmitted from the Fulton County Superior Court Clerk’s office to the Department of Corrections.  After being released in 2003, McGee filed suit against the clerk, alleging the clerk breached her statutory duty to notify the Department of Corrections.  The trial court determined that the clerk and her employees were entitled to official immunity because they had not breached their ministerial duties.

McGee appealed, and the Court of Appeals (Barnes, Andrews, Doyle) unanimously reversedthe trial court, finding that a clerk is not given any discretion in transmitting orders to the Department of Corrections and that the clerk was not protected by official immunity.

The county petitioned for certiorari and McGee responded.

On September 20, 2010, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the writ of certiorari to review the following questions:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in its application of the law of the case doctrine in this matter?
  2. Were the clerks of the Superior Court of Fulton County entitled to official immunity for their acts under the fact of this case? See Grammens v. Dollar, __ Ga. __, S09G0510 (July 5, 2010).

The clerks filed their principal brief, arguing that the Court of Appeals did not properly apply the law of the case, and that the clerks were entitled to official immunity under Grammens, because the Court of Appeals failed to take into account the unique facts of this case when deciding whether a ministerial duty was involved or not.

Appellee McGee responded, arguing the Court of Appeals correctly applied the law of the case doctrine because the issue decided was  a question of law, and that the appellants were not entitled to official immunity.

The case will be heard at oral argument in Monday, January 10, 2011 during the 10:00 am sitting.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 10:00 am Sitting

S10A2078. SRB Investment Services, LLLP et al. v. Branch Banking and Trust Company et al.

This case began as a lending dispute, but the sole issue for review by the Supreme Court is whether the trial court properly granted an injunction regarding $25 million in assets.  After a business relationship went south, BB&T issued default notices and began foreclosure proceedings, including on property that secured nine of the promissory notes at issue in this litigation.

BB&T sued Appellants for breach of promissory notes and guaranty agreements, then amended its complaint adding additional defendants and seeking injunctive relief.  The trial court granted BB&T’s motion for preliminary injunction on June 10, 2010 and Appellants appealed, relying on the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over equity cases.

Appellants argue that the injunctive relief is barred by laches, because an adequate remedy exists at law, and because there is no danger of the status quo changing.  Appellants also requested oral argument.

Appellees respond that the proper standard of review is “manifest abuse” by the trial court, and that the trial court properly granted the injunction.

Appellants filed a supplemental brief arguing that BB&T is a secured creditor which has an adequate remedy at law, among other claims.

The case will be heard at oral argument on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 during the 10:00 am sitting.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 2:00 pm Sitting

S11A0023. Fulton County et al. v. Action Outdoor Advertising JV, LLC et al.

This case originated from decisions made by the Fulton County Board of Zoning Appeals denying sign permit applications to place billboards on land in Fulton County.  The advertisers challenged the decision in Superior Court, and that court later found portions of the sign ordinance unconstitutional.  The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the ruling.  Additional advertisers sought to construct signs, and joined in the present litigation.  Faced with six cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted partial summary judgment to the advertisers, relying on language in the Supreme Court’s previous decision related to the scope of the unconstitutionality of the sign ordinance.

The county applied for interlocutory appeal and the advertisers responded.

On July 30, 2010, the Supreme Court granted the petition for interlocutory appeal in a 6-1 vote (Thompson dissenting) to review the following issue:

  1. Whether the trial court erred when it granted plaintiffs’ motions for partial summary judgment and ordered defendants and intervenors to permit plaintiffs to construct their signs.

Appellant Fulton County argued in its principal brief that the trial court misapplied the Supreme Court’s previous decision on billboard sites, applying a facial versus as-applied analysis, among other claims.

Appellees KH Outdoor and Granite State Outdoor argued in response, recounting the history of Fulton County’s refusal to grant advertising permits, and arguing that the trial court’s decision comports exactly with the Supreme Court’s previous decision.

Appellees Sandy Springs, Milton, Johns Creek, and Alpharetta filed a brief, arguing that the trial court was incorrect and was prohibited from issuing the relief it issued.

Appellees Action Outdoor, Boardworks Outdoor, Steve Galberaith, and Larry  Roberts filed a brief, also arguing that the trial court had properly granted the relief sought, relying on the Supreme Court’s previous decision in this case, and arguing that their rights to construct their signs were vested.

Appellees KH Outdoor and Granite State Outdoor also filed a supplemental brief to address claims relating to the brief of the cities of Sandy Springs, Milton, Johns Creek, and Alpharetta.

The case will be heard together with the subsequent case at oral argument on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 during the 2:00 pm sitting.

S11A0101. City of Sandy Springs et al. v. Action Outdoor Advertising JV, LLC et al.

In another case appealing from the same order related to billboard applications in Fulton County, Sandy Springs appealed from a denial of summary judgment where the trial court judge ordered the construction of signs within the jurisdiction of the cities.

Appellants Sandy Springs, Milton, Johns Creek, and Alpharetta filed their principal brief, arguing that the signs violate the overlay district standards, the sign companies hold no legal interest sufficient to vest their rights, and that the trial court’s decision violates the constitutional rights of the cities.

Appellees KH Outdoor and Granite State Outdoor responded, arguing that the superior court’s decision was correct because the entire framework of the ordinance had been invalidated, the reliance on the overlay regulations is incorrect, and the Plaintiffs’ rights have vested.

Appellees Action Outdoor, Boardworks Outdoor, Steve Galberaith, and Larry Roberts responded, also arguing that the overlay districts do not prohibit the signs, the applications are complete and not subject to denial, and thus the Appelles are entitled to construct their signs.

The Georgia Municipal Association filed an amicus brief in support of the Appellant cities, arguing that the order threatens the sovereignty of Georgia cities.  KH Outdoor and Granite State filed a response to the amicus brief filed by the Municipal Association.

The case will be heard together with the previous case at oral argument on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 during the 2:00 pm sitting.

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