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Elbert County v. Sweet City Landfill, LLC

Supreme Court of Georgia

June 29, 2015


Page 659

County ordinance. Elbert Superior Court. Before Judge Boswell, Senior Judge.

Brinson Askew Berry Seigler Richardson & Davis, Ansel F. Beacham II, Norman S. Fletcher, Lee B. Carter; Jenkins & Bowen, Brandon L. Bowen, Robert L. Walker; Billy I. Daughtry, Jr., for appellants.

George E. Butler II; Smith, Welch, Webb & White, Andrew J. Welch III, Lajuana C. Ransaw, for appellees.

HINES, Presiding Justice. All the Justices concur.


Page 660

Hines, Presiding Justice.

This Court granted the application for discretionary appeal of Elbert County, its Board of Commissioners, and the County Manager (collectively, " the County" ) from an order of the Superior Court of Elbert County that, inter alia, granted a declaratory judgment to the effect that the Elbert County Solid Waste Disposal Ordinance was unconstitutional, denied the County's motion to dismiss, and issued a writ of mandamus requiring the County to reasonably consider the site proposed by Sweet City Landfill, LLC and its members (collectively, " Sweet City" ) for a solid waste landfill. For the reasons that

Page 661

follow, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

On November 2, 2009, Sweet City filed with the County a document styled " Application and Agreed Minimum Operating Conditions" ; this document requested that " a Special Use Permit and a zoning estoppel letter and a certificate of solid waste plan consistency be simultaneously issued ... in accordance with Section 62-52 of the Elbert County Code of Ordinances [and relevant sections of the [297 Ga. 430] Georgia Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Act, OCGA § 12-8-20 et seq., and regulations of the Department of Natural Resources]." At the time of Sweet City's application, Elbert County ordinances required a Special Use Permit (" SUP" ) be issued for operation of a solid waste landfill. However, also at the time of the application, the County was in the process of amending its ordinances pertaining to waste disposal landfills, having already given a proposed amendment a " first reading" ; the effect of this 2009 amendment was to exempt a " waste to energy" solid waste facility, as defined by OCGA § 12-8-22 (41),[1] from the requirement that a landfill SUP be obtained. Sweet City then sought to amend its application to qualify, in its view, as a " waste to energy" project and thus be exempted from the requirement to secure a SUP.

Without formal action on Sweet City's proposal, the County decided to go forward with a proposal for a waste disposal facility operated by Plant Granite, LLC, which in the County's view would be a " waste to energy" facility.[2] Sweet City twice filed suit in connection with this decision, and on October 14, 2011, Sweet City and the County entered into a " tolling agreement" which put in abeyance the legal disputes between the County and Sweet City while they sought common ground on Sweet City's application for a SUP. On September 11, 2011, the County again amended its solid waste management ordinance to require that all solid waste facilities, including those that qualified as a " waste to energy" facility, would require a SUP.

On June 29, 2012, Sweet City requested to be placed on the agenda of the July 9, 2012 meeting of the Elbert County Board of Commissioners (" Board" ) " for discussion and consideration [of] siting of a proposed solid waste facility and the associated proposed host agreement." [3] At that meeting, the Board voted 5-0 " not to enter into a 'Host Agreement' with Sweet City Landfill, LLC, and, furthermore, to terminate the tolling agreement."

On March 13, 2013, Sweet City filed in the superior court a " Verified Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, and Injunctive Relief," requesting various relief, including declaratory judgments that the [297 Ga. 431] County's Solid Waste Ordinance was null and void as unconstitutional, and that Sweet City had a vested right to develop the subject property as a waste disposal facility; Sweet City also sought a mandatory injunction allowing it to proceed with the landfill. The County moved to dismiss Sweet City's complaint, and Sweet City moved for summary judgment. On September 11, 2014, the superior court issued an order: granting summary judgment to Sweet City on the grounds that the County's Solid Waste Ordinance violated the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, and that the July 9, 2012 Board action deprived Sweet City of equal protection under both the United States and Georgia Constitutions; declaring that Sweet ...

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