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Released Opinions

January 21, 2014

This morning, the Supreme Court released opinions in 21 cases, two of which are within the scope of our coverage. Summaries of the cases and opinions are below. The Court is also hearing oral argument this morning. Apologies for the late posting.

S13G0614. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION v. MCMEANS

This case involves a condemnation proceeding but turns on questions of whether a property owner can bring a claim for business loss. The Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) brought a condemnation action against property owned by McMeans. McMeans operates a leasing business on the property of which he is the sole owner. After multiple filings, the trial court struck McMeans’ “First Amendment to Answer,” saying it improperly added a business loss claim when the only business loss was from the leasing company, not McMeans personally. McMeans appealed.

The Court of Appeals (Doyle, Andrews, Boggs) unanimously reversed the decision, finding that McMeans was able to amend his pleadings to assert a business loss claim (to the extent it was not already asserted) and that McMeans was able to plead a business loss from a business he owns and operates on the condemned property. The Court of Appeals emphasized that the decision was only at the pleading stage and that McMeans may not be able to establish his claim at summary judgment or trial.

On May 20, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that, in a condemnation proceeding, an individual can plead a business loss for a business operated on condemned property by a corporation that is solely owned by that individual?

The case was heard at oral argument on September 9, 2013.

On January 21, 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the decision. Writing for the Court, Justice Hines explained that corporations are separate entities, even when owned by a single person. McKeans could not claim business losses due to the condemnation because those belonged solely to the corporation.

S13A1635 Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners’ Association, Inc. v. Rymer et al.S13A1636 Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners’ Association v. Forsyth County et al.

This case involves a dispute over which entity is responsible for the repairs to a stormwater drainage system in a subdivision. Forsyth County has an ordinance which requires “legally created property or homeowners association[s]” to maintain stormwater facilities in their development. The homeowners’ association of the Polo Fields subdivision was sued by homeowners within Polo Fields after their basement flooded due to alleged failure to maintain the stormwater system. Eventually a number of pipes in the neighborhood failed, leading to sinkholes and additional flooding in the subdivision. Then county then issued a notice to the association, requiring them to repair the pipes, and the association sued the county, claiming the ordinance was unconstitutional. The trial court granted the county’s summary judgment motion, finding the ordinance constitutional. The trial court also denied summary judgment motions filed by the homeowners and the association. The  association appealed to the Supreme Court.

The case was heard at oral argument on October 8, 2013.

On January 21, 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed and reversed in the two cases. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Thompson explained that a genuine issue of fact remained regarding whether the covenants required the association to maintain the pipes based on equitable estoppel, meaning the denial of summary judgment to the homeowners was not error. The Court also found that the ordinance was only applicable to projects which came into being after its adoption. Thus, by its terms the ordinance did not apply to the subdivision and the trial court erred by granting the county’s motion for summary judgment.

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