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Released Opinions

May 10, 2016
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On May 9, 2016, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued nine opinions, of which two are within the scope of our coverage. Summaries of the opinions and cases are set forth below.

S16A0177 Williford v. Brown

Although this case involves the application of family law, the Supreme Court’s decision also addresses a question of appellate jurisdiction. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Nahmias, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that it, rather than the Court of Appeals, should decide whether the “novel equitable remedy” sought was available under Georgia law. Holding that such relief is not available, the Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling on the merits. The Court observed, however, that the claimant expressly asked the trial court to craft a remedy using its equitable powers; that meant that the case came within the Court’s traditional equitable jurisdiction.

Significantly, the Court noted that the newly enacted Appellate Jurisdiction Reform Act of 2016 changes its traditional equitable jurisdiction. It explained that the Act vests the Court of Appeals with “appellate jurisdiction over ‘[a]ll equity cases, except those cases concerning proceedings in which a sentence of death was imposed or could be imposed and those cases concerning the execution of a sentence of death, as well as other categories of civil cases that currently come directly to this Court.” The Supreme Court will review such cases “only by writ of certiorari or if the Court of Appeals is evenly divided or certifies a question here.” As a result, the Act will likely cause “the need for Georgia’s appellate courts and appellate litigants to engage in many intricate jurisdictional analyses” of the sort presented in this case to “dissipate as of January 1, 2017.”

S16A0294 GeorgiaCarry.Org, et al. v. Atlanta Botanical Garden, Inc.

In a unanimous opinion by Justice Hunstein, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that the trial court improperly dismissed claims for declaratory and injunctive relief brought by the holder of a Georgia weapons carry license unhappy with the policy of the Botanical Garden.

Phillip Evans twice wore a handgun in a waistband holster to the Garden, but was stopped the second time and eventually escorted from the premises. He filed suit contending that O.C.G.A. § 16-11-27(c) authorizes him—and others similarly situated—to carry a weapon in the Garden. He sought declaratory relief to the effect that the Garden could not prohibit him from carrying a weapon and injunctive relief prohibiting the Garden from banning the carrying of weapons by licensees. The trial court dismissed the action, but the Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part.

The Supreme Court rejected the contention that declaratory relief was inappropriate simply because the claim touched on a question of criminal law. The claim did not come from one whose criminal conduct was complete, who had been charged, or who had been convicted. In addition, it was not based on speculation because the Garden had already enforced its ban against Evans. Finally, the declaratory judgment claim would not require the Garden to act in a particular way. The practical effect of the claim was to seek a declaration of rights to the effect that Evens and other licensees may carry their weapons in the Garden.

The Supreme Court also held that a claim for an injunction that would prohibit the Garden from banning licensed individuals from carrying weapons within it was properly stated. Injunctive relief would not lie to prevent the Garden, a private party, from causing an arrest or prosecution of someone like Evans.

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