Certiorari to the Court of Appeals of Georgia -- 322 Ga.App. 344.
Pursley Friese Torgrimson, Charles N. Pursley, Jr., Christian F. Torgrimson, Angela D. Robinson, Elizabeth R. Story, Maddox, Nix, Bowman & Zoeckler, Thomas A. Bowman, Wendell K. Willard, for appellant.
Robert D. Ware, Diana L. Freeman, Larry W. Ramsey, Jr., Kaye W. Burwell, for appellee.
Baker, Donelson, Bearman & Caldwell, Charles L. Ruffin, amicus curiae.
We granted certiorari to decide whether a condemnor may voluntarily dismiss a condemnation action, without the consent of the court or the condemnee, after a special master has entered his award valuing the property at issue but before the condemnor has paid the amount of the award into the court registry or to the condemnee. We conclude that a condemnor is not entitled to voluntarily
dismiss a condemnation action unilaterally once the special master renders his award, and we reverse the Court of Appeals' judgment to the contrary.
1. On January 18, 2012, the Fulton County Commission adopted a resolution declaring that the County needed more than 12 acres of land on Hollywood Road for the expansion of library facilities. The resolution said that negotiations to purchase the property from its owner, appellant Dillard Land Investments, LLC (" Dillard" ), had thus far failed, and authorized the filing of a lawsuit using the " special master" method of condemnation to acquire the property if the negotiations continued to falter. See Special Master Act of 1957, Ga. L. 1957, p. 387 (codified as amended at OCGA § § 22-2-100 to 22-2-114). On February 24, 2012, the County filed a petition for condemnation, alleging that " all questions of necessity and public convenience with respect to said expansion and the necessity of acquiring the land herein described have been determined" by the County and that the County had " provided, appropriated and made available sufficient funds to pay the adequate and just compensation ... that may be awarded by this Court."
On March 27, the trial court appointed a special master, and on April 27, Dillard filed an acknowledgment of service. After a May 10 [295 Ga. 516] hearing, which was not transcribed, the special master filed an award indicating that he had " heard evidence under oath, both oral and documentation [sic]," and finding that the actual market value of the property was $5,187,500. On May 15, Dillard filed its answer, defenses, and counterclaims to the County's condemnation petition. On May 16, the trial court entered a judgment declaring that the property was " necessary for the functioning of [the County] and is for a public use" ; vesting title to the property in the County upon its payment of the $5,187,500 award into the court registry; and directing the County and Dillard to evenly split the special master's fees and costs.
The County did not pay the award into the registry. Instead, on May 18, the County filed a voluntary dismissal of the condemnation action. See OCGA § 9-11-41 (a). On June 12, Dillard filed a motion to vacate the County's voluntary dismissal, and on June 15, the County filed a motion to vacate the court's judgment on the special master's award. After a July 17 hearing, the trial court issued an order on August 14 granting Dillard's motion on the ground that the County could not voluntarily dismiss the action without the consent of the court or the condemnee once the special master entered his value award. Also on August 14, the court issued an order denying the County's
motion on the ground that the court's entry of a judgment on the award was premature but not void. This order abrogated the prior [295 Ga. 517] judgment, authorized the parties to file any non-value objections to the award within 13 days after service of the order, and indicated that the court would thereafter enter a new judgment. Both August 14 orders included a finding that neither party had filed an appeal for a jury trial under OCGA § 22-2-112 (a) to dispute the amount of the award and ...