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Released Opinions

March 10, 2014

The Supreme Court of Georgia released nine opinions this morning, two of which are within the scope of our coverage. Summaries of the cases and opinions are below. The next scheduled date for oral argument is April 7, 2014.

S13A1395 Bibb County v. Monroe County et al.S13A1396 Kemp, Secretary of State v. Monroe County

Bibb County and Monroe County have disputed part of the boundary line between the two counties for years. Under a statutory process, the Governor appointed a surveyor who filed his survey and plat with the Secretary of State in 2009. Bibb County challenged the survey and, after review, the Secretary of State rejected it, leaving the boundary unresolved. Monroe County then brought a mandamus action to compel the Secretary of State to adopt the survey and set the boundary line, which the trial court granted. Bibb County was not notified of the action and filed a motion to intervene the next day, which was denied. Both Bibb County and the Secretary of State appealed to the Supreme Court.

The case was heard on September 10, 2013.

On March 10, 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed and remanded the case (Nahmias, not participating). Writing for the Court, Justice Melton Hunstein [Updated: Justice Hunstein wrote the opinion for the Court] explained that boundary disputes are justiciable and not political questions. Mandamus is available as a remedy to require the Secretary of State to set a boundary line, but the trial court lacked the authority to require the Secretary to accept a particular boundary line. There was no question about the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to hear these cases because they were granted applications for discretionary appeal. Finally, the Court found the trial court abused its discretion in denying Bibb County’s motion to intervene.

S13G1590. AUSTIN v. CLARK et al.

This case involves the proper application of the doctrine of official immunity. Donna Austin was injured as she was leaving the graduation ceremony at Peach County High School when she stepped from the sidewalk into the road and her leg became stuck in a water drain in the curb. Austin sued the school district and a number of individual defendants. The trial court dismissed the claims, finding claims against the school district were barred by sovereign immunity and that claims against the individual defendants were barred by official immunity.

The Court of Appeals (McFadden, Doyle, Boggs) unanimously affirmed the decision of the trial court regarding official immunity and the individual defendants, finding that the methods used to eliminate or avoid hazards are left to the discretion of school officials. Because the duties involved were discretionary, the claims were properly dismissed on the basis of official immunity. The Court of Appeals also reversed the trial court decision on sovereign immunity.

On October 21, 2013, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issue:

  1. Whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s order granting the individual defendants’ motion to dismiss based on official immunity.

The case was heard on February 4, 2014.

On March 10, 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Court of Appeals decision (Nahmias and Blackwell, concurring specially). Writing for the Court, Justice Melton explained that the key question–whether the duty was discretionary or ministerial–could not be answered due to the procedural posture of the case. The determination is fact-specific and the record contains no job descriptions for the individuals being sued. Thus, the individual defendants have not shown there are no facts under which Austin would be entitled to relief. Justice Nahmias, joined by Justice Blackwell, noted in his concurrence that the trial court can manage the discovery process to avoid open-ended and expensive discovery.

  1. March 10, 2014 8:48 am

    A slight correction: Justice Hunstein authored the opinion in the county line case.

  2. Bryan Tyson permalink*
    March 10, 2014 9:00 am

    Thank you for catching that!

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