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Released Opinions

February 4, 2013

The Supreme Court released opinions in nine cases, two of which actually were within the scope of our coverage (contrary to our Friday report).

Remember you can watch today’s oral arguments live at the Court’s website beginning at 10:00 am.

S12A1720 Barham et al. v. City of Atlanta

This case is a direct appeal from a Fulton County Superior Court ruling regarding cheating on the City of Atlanta’s promotional examination for firefighters. The case is a class action suit alleging that fire chiefs gave information about the content of a promotional examination to favored firefighters before the test to give them an unfair advantage. After a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that cheating occurred and that the city acted in bad faith. The court then put a permanent injunction in place, requiring a new test and placing a requirement regarding scores for those who scored high on the test previously.

The primary jury verdict is on appeal before the Court of Appeals, but four firefighters affected by the injunctive relief appealed directly to the Georgia Supreme Court, requesting relief from the requirements placed by the trial court on those who previously scored high on the test.

The case was heard at oral argument on October 2, 2012.

On February 4, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed in part and vacated in part. Writing for the Court, Presiding Justice Thompson explained that the firefighters have standing to appeal the judgment and that the trial court abused its discretion in creating the permanent injunctive relief. While normally only a party can appeal, when a judgment is entered against a nonparty, they become a party with standing to appeal. In addition, the trial court’s injunctive relief violated the principle that requires notice and an opportunity to be heard prior to having judicial action taken against an individual.

S12A1603. ASSOCIATION OF GUINEANS IN ATLANTA, INC. v. DEKALB CO., et al.

This case began when the Association of Guineans in Atlanta filed for a special land use permit to allow a single-family house in a residential area to be used as a “place of worship and family life center.” The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners denied the application and the Association sought relief in superior court. The trial court granted the county’s motions to dismiss for failure to make a prima facie showing of a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and failure to raise constitutional claims to the Board. The trial court also dismissed the petition for a writ of mandamus on the merits. The Association appealed and the Supreme Court granted the application for discretionary review.

On February 4, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded with direction. Writing for the Court, Justice Benham explained that the trial court properly dismissed the constitutional challenge to the zoning ordinance for failure to raise it to the Board of Commissioners. But the Court found the trial court erred when it dismissed the RLUIPA claims because it applied the wrong analysis for a motion to dismiss by failing to assume the facts in the complaint to be true.

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