Posted by: Patricia Salkin | June 4, 2022

GA Supreme Court Holds Landowners’ Prior Mandamus Suit About Land Disturbance Permit was Not Identical to Current Suit for Res Judicata Purposes 

This post was authored by Matthew Loescher, Esq.

This case arises from Rockdale County’s denial of an application for a permit to build a QuikTrip on property owned by William Corey and U.S. Enterprises, Inc., on the ground that the proposed facility was a “truck stop,” which was a prohibited use under the County’s Unified Development Ordinance (“UDO”). After the County’s Board of Adjustment affirmed the denial of the permit, the Owners filed a petition in the Rockdale County Superior Court seeking certiorari under OCGA § 5-4-1 et seq. The Superior Court sustained the petition for certiorari, rejecting the County’s argument that the Owners’ lawsuit was barred by res judicata and reversing the Board’s decision on the ground that the UDO’s applicable definition of a “truck stop” was unconstitutionally vague and therefore violated due process under the Georgia Constitution. After the court granted the County’s application for a discretionary appeal, the County appealed, and the Owners cross-appealed.

The record reflected that in August 1999, more than seven years before the UDO, which contains the “truck stop” definition at issue in this case was adopted, the Owners filed a petition for mandamus and declaratory relief against the County and, in their official capacities, the members of the Board of Commissioners and the Director of the Department of Public Services and Engineering. While the Owners’ 1999 lawsuit and this case both related to their seeking a permit to construct a facility on their same property, the two lawsuits were based on different sets of operative facts and different alleged wrongs. Specifically, in the 1999 lawsuit, the Owners claimed that their application for a permit to build a “travel plaza” should be reviewed under a different zoning ordinance that was in effect many years before the UDO was enacted, that a travel plaza was permitted under the former ordinance, that an amendment to the former ordinance was invalid, and that parts of the former ordinance were unconstitutional. In this case, the Owners claimed that their application for a permit to build a facility on the property was improperly denied under the express prohibition against “truck stops” in the UDO – which was adopted more than seven years after the 1999 lawsuit, and that the “truck stop” definition in the UDO was unconstitutionally vague.

The County further argued that the Superior Court erred by ruling on the merits of the vagueness challenge because the Owners did not properly raise it, and that even if the challenge was properly raised, the UDO’s definition of a “truck stop” was not unconstitutionally vague in violation of the due process provision of the Georgia Constitution. In its order ruling that the “truck stop” definition was unconstitutionally vague, the Superior Court concluded that the terms “maintenance” and “servicing” were ambiguous. The court found that the Superior Court erred in its reliance on hypotheticals, as the Owners had not identified any aspect of the proposed use of their own property to which the definition of “truck stop,” as properly interpreted, could be intelligibly applied and would instead require pure guesswork at its meaning. Since the Owners failed to establish that the “truck stop” definition was unconstitutionally vague as applied to their proposed QuikTrip, the superior court erred by concluding that the definition was vague on its face. Accordingly, that part of the court’s judgment was reversed.

Rockdale County v Enterprises, Inc. 865 SE 2d 135 (GA 11/2/2021)

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