On October 3, 2016, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued 26 opinions, of which three are within the scope of our coverage. Summaries of the cases and decisions are set forth below.
S16G0490 Pandora Franchising, LLC v. Kingdom Retail Group, LLC
In a unanimous opinion by Justice Benham, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that, in a lawsuit where the basis for venue is an allegation that the cause of action originated in the county where the claim was filed, only a company with its worldwide principal place of business has the right to remove the lawsuit to the county where that principal place of business is located. The Court affirmed the decision of the Georgia Court of Appeals.
The underlying case is a dispute over the proposed acquisition of franchises. Kingdom Retail group filed suit in Thomas County, asserting that the claim arose there. Pandora, which has its principal place of business in Maryland, removed the complaint to Gwinnett County, where Pandora has its principal place of business in Georgia. The trial court granted the request to remove the case to Gwinnett County, but the Court of Appeals reversed.
Drawing on the US Supreme Court’s decision in Hertz Corp. v. Friend, the Supreme Court reasoned that the removal statute’s reference to a company’s “principal place of business” means its worldwide “nerve center.” It explained, “[W]e conclude that for purposes of determining the right to remove to another county pursuant to subsection (b)(4) of the corporate venue statute, ‘principal place of business’ refers to only one single place. If that place is a county in Georgia, a corporate defendant sued for tort in a complaint asserting jurisdiction under subsection (b)(4) has a right to remove to a court in that county; if that place is not in Georgia, the right to remove is not applicable.”
S16A0689 Fulton County v. City of Atlanta
In a unanimous opinion by Justice Blackwell, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that a lawsuit filed by the City did not amount to a justiciable controversy and directed that it be dismissed. It noted that its action was warranted even though justiciability was not raised on appeal because justiciability relates to the court’s jurisdiction. The Court vacated the decision of the trial court and remanded with directions to dismiss the case.
The underlying lawsuit involved a proposed annexation of property by the City in the Fulton County Industrial District, which appeared to be barred by a constitutional amendment. The City filed suit attacking the provenance of the amendment and asking for a declaratory judgment that the proposed annexation was lawful.
The Supreme Court noted, “[Q]uestions about merely proposed legislation present no justiciable controversy, and judicial attempts to resolve such questions amount to advisory opinions.” The City’s proposed annexation “would amount to a legislative act, both in substance and in form.” Given that the City had not yet enacted an ordinance to carry out the annexation, any action was only proposed. Likewise, the effect of the constitutional amendment mattered “only because of [its] potential impact upon proposed legislation,” so it did not create a justiciable controversy either.
S16A1257 GeorgiaCarry.Org, Inc. v. Allen, et al.
In a unanimous opinion by Justice Melton, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that GeorgiaCarry lacked either individual standing or associational standing on behalf of its members to pursue a claim of quo warranto against the members of the Georgia Code Revision Committee. It affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
Quo warranto “inquire[s] into the right of any person to any public office the duties of which he is in fact discharging.” OCGA § 9-6-60. A quo warranto claim may be brought by someone claiming the office or by someone “interested therein.” Id. “Where the purpose is to declare the public office vacant, any citizen and taxpayer may file a proceeding in the nature of quo warranto.” Hathcock v. McGouirk, 119 Ga. 973, 978, 47 SE 563 (1904).
The Supreme Court held that a nonprofit corporation like GeorgiaCarry was not a “person” within the meaning of the quo warranto statute. It reasoned that “as only individual natural persons can hold or claim to hold a public office, only individual natural persons can be otherwise interested therein.”
With respect to associational standing, the Supreme Court noted that an association can bring suit on behalf of its members when (1) the members themselves would otherwise have standing; (2) the interests at issue are germane to the organization’s purpose; and (3) the participation of individual members was not required. In this case, the members themselves could pursue a quo warranto claim. In addition, because the claim was not a claim to occupy it, the participation of the members was not required.
Nonetheless, GeorgiaCarry lacked associational standing because the suit was not germane to its purpose. The Commission is tasked with working toward the “revision, codification, or recodification” of the Georgia Code and had no role in changing the substance of the laws passed by the General Assembly. GeorgiaCarry’s concern that bills in which it had an interest had not been codified correctly was not part of its stated purpose, and there was no testimony to show that the Commission’s work “has had any impact, let alone a negative one” on GeorgiaCarry’s stated corporate purpose.