The Georgia Supreme Court Monday dismissed the city of Atlanta’s attempt to annex valuable property in part of unincorporated Fulton County.
In a unanimous decision, the court threw out the case, saying Atlanta didn’t pass a local annexation ordinance and that the court couldn’t rule on proposed legislation.
"The City simply wants to know whether this objection to its proposal – if its proposal were enacted – would have merit. Such a question is no more justiciable than an inquiry by the General Assembly about whether a proposed statute would be inconsistent with, for instance, the First Amendment,” the opinion said. “The courts are not legislative counsel, and they cannot answer such questions.”
Last year, the city of Atlanta sued the county, challenging a 1979 constitutional amendment that created the Fulton County Industrial District and protected the area from being annexed into other cities. The city argued that the legislation was invalid, and a Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the city. Fulton County then appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Lawyers for Fulton County argued the city was suing “to get the camel’s nose into the tent,” and annex land that it could bring into its tax base.
Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves praised the high court's decision to dismiss the case.
“The revenue, the financial support in terms of a strong commercial base -- a lot of it falls on Fulton Industrial Boulevard,” Eaves said. “And so the court ruling is a good news for Fulton County and our ability to provide services to our constituents.”
A spokesperson for Atlanta in a statement said the city is evaluating its options:
“The City of Atlanta brought suit in 2015 seeking a judicial declaration of its rights as a municipality and as a land owner. The City argued that the legislation creating the Fulton Industrial District (“FID”) is invalid and that land owners in the FID should be able to choose whether to pursue annexation. While the City prevailed in the Superior Court of Fulton County, the Georgia Supreme Court today ruled that the FID’s viability is not ripe. The Georgia Supreme Court expressed no view as to the merits of the City’s ultimate legal position that the FID legislation is invalid. In light of this ruling, the City will evaluate its options going forward within the FID.”
The decision comes after a Fulton County Superior Court judge, in another lawsuit, recently overturned the city’s annexations of several South Fulton neighborhoods.
Residents in unincorporated Fulton County will vote in November to incorporate into their own city, the city of South Fulton.