Tag: declaratory judgment

Declaratory Judgments in Georgia

New Georgia Supreme Court

What is a declaratory judgment? When is it helpful? When can it be used? These questions were answered by the Georgia Supreme Court in Cobb County v. Floam, __ Ga. __ (S24A0599, decided May 9, 2024).

Simply put, declaratory judgments are designed to provide legal guidance to a party uncertain about their future legal rights. For example, in a contract dispute, if parties disagree regarding the future performance of a contract term, either party may seek a declaratory judgment. A declaratory judgment is appropriate in this situation because a clear understanding of the parties’ future rights is necessary to help or protect the parties determine their future conduct.

Existing Georgia Statutory Law

By statute, the Georgia legislature instructs that Georgia courts are entitled “to declare rights and other legal relations of any interested party petitioning for such declaration” “[i]n cases of actual controversy” and “in any civil case in which . . . the ends of justice [so] require[.]” OCGA § 9-4-2(a), (b). The Georgia legislature further instructs a declaratory judgment “is to settle and afford relief from uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, status, and other legal relations[.]” OCGA § 9-4-1.

Yes, the above language is vague . . . even for attorneys. “Actual controversy” and “ends of justice” are not exactly objective measures. Since the above law was passed in 1946, Georgia courts have issued many decisions interpreting these laws, culminating in the most recent Georgia Supreme Court decision mentioned above.

Like a United States Supreme Court decision, when the Georgia Supreme Court tackles an issue, it creates a strong precedent that usually applies for many years. Thus, Floam is a significant case. Floam confirms that a declaratory judgment is appropriate only when it will “direct the plaintiff’s future conduct” but is not appropriate to decide already accrued rights. Floam explains that a declaratory judgment is not to resolve “academic debates or deciding purely theoretical questions” but only to offer “relief from the threat of wrongful acts and injuries yet to come.”

At issue in Floam was the Floams’ allegation that a recent redistricting in Cobb County was unconstitutional. In particular, the Floams claimed that they had voted for a specific commissioner before the redistricting but are now represented by a different commissioner.

The Takeaway

Applying the above analysis, the Supreme Court determined that the Floams claim had “no relation to any uncertainty as to their future conduct. The Floams frame their right as the right to be represented by the person for whom they voted. But any violation of such a right occurred once the BOC Amendment took effect, and the Floams have not alleged how that past violation creates uncertainty as to their future conduct.” Thus, while redistricting may or may not have been unconstitutional, the Floams could not obtain a declaratory judgment because they did not allege a possible future injury.

Floam concludes by warning that despite its ruling, the proposed redistricting in Cobb County will no doubt impact Cobb residents in the future. It explains that its decision is limited only to the facts presented by the Floams. Reading between the lines, the outcome likely would have been different had the Floams made a better argument, i.e., not being able to vote for the same commissioner was not persuassive.

Call Us!

While Floam involves government law, it provides valuable instruction for reaal estate and business disputes, where declaratory judgments can be critical. Please call us at 404-382-9994 with any litigation-related questions.