Mortgage Alliance (hereinafter “MA”) filed suit against Pickens County challenging the decision of the county commissioner, alleging the decision resulted in an inverse condemnation of their tract of land. The trial court found the action untimely and granted summary judgment in favor of the County. MA appealed and the Court of Appeals of Georgia affirmed.
MA owned a tract of land in Pickens County and had intended on developing a subdivision thereon. While their proposal was before the County, zoning regulations went into effect requiring land developments with an onsite sewage system to have lot sizes of at least one acre. On August 11, 2006, the county commissioner wrote a letter to MA stating that MA would not be given “granfathered” status and would need to comply with the new regulations. The county commissioner is the final zoning decisionmaker for the County. The trial court found this letter constituted a decision under state law, starting the time from which MA must lodge their appeal. The trial court found the appeal untimely and dismissed the action via summary judgment.
MA first claims that the letter was not a final zoning decision, and thus did not start the statutory time limit for appeal. For the time period to begin to run, Georgia law requires notification to the applicant of a decision. The law does not require a final decision on the proposal. In applying the facts of the case, the court found that the letter informed MA of the application of the new ordinance, and that MA actually alleged the letter constituted a final decision. The court found the letter sufficient to start the clock on MA’s appeal.
Next, the court addressed MA’s claim that the letter was not entered in compliance with state law, and thus the statute of limitations did not accrue. In a similar case, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the sending of a letter reducing a previous decision to writing constituted the “pivotal order,” starting the clock. In this matter, the letter was sent to inform MA that the county had decided that the new ordinance would apply to MA’s proposal. The Court of Appeals found that when the county commissioner sent the letter, the letter was “entered” for the purposes of the statute of limitations. Since MA waited two years to appeal the determination in the letter, it was untimely under the thirty day time period. Thus, the Court of Appeals of Georgia affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Pickens County.
Mortgage Alliance Corp. v. Pickens County, 730 S.E.2d 471 (Ct. Ap. Ga., July 11, 2012).
The opinion can be accessed here.