Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 13, 2009

Neighbor Has Standing to Sue for Granting of a License to Build a Dock Prior to Construction

The Supreme Court of Georgia reversed a decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals and ruled that a couple living in the coastal marshlands has the right to sue the State for granting a neighbor a license to build a dock. Jane Britt Vasarhelyi sought, and obtained, a license from the State Department of Natural Resources to build a private dock on state-owned marshlands. According to briefs filed in the case, in 2006, her neighbors, William and Lucy Hitch, sued her and the State, alleging the dock would ruin their view, diminish the value of their property and impair their future ability to build their own dock along the Skidaway River. After dismissing Vasarhelyi as a defendant, the trial court dismissed the Hitches’s complaint against the State, finding they lacked “standing” – or the right – to sue because they had not yet suffered damages. The Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the ruling. But the Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals and the lower court were wrong.  In affirming the dismissal of the Hitches complaint, the Court of Appeals focused on the fact that the dock had not yet been built.  However, the Supreme Court said that the appellate court’s conclusion that any injury to the Hitches must be deemed speculative is entirely too narrow and erroneous.  The Court noted that in several cases, Georgia “courts have concluded that landowners had standing to contest a zoning or licensing decision even though the contemplated action had not been completed, or even begun.” The Court stated that the consequences of building the dock “are not speculative,” and “a landowner should not have to wait until a contemplated structure is built before bringing suit for declaratory, injunctive, or other relief.”

Hitch v. Vasarhelyi, 2009 WL 1677294 (Ga. 6/17/2009).

The opinion can be accessed at:

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