GEORGIACARRY.ORG, INC., et al.
ATLANTA BOTANICAL GARDEN, INC.
DILLARD, C. J., ELLINGTON, P. J. and RICKMAN, J.
question presented in this case is whether Atlanta Botanical
Garden, Inc., a private organization, is lawfully permitted
under OCGA § 16-11-127 (c), to prohibit individuals from
carrying guns onto its property, which it leases from the
City of Atlanta. We answer this question in the affirmative.
The plain and unambiguous language of OCGA § 16-11-127
(c) grants persons in legal control of private property
through a lease the right to exclude individuals carrying
weapons, and well-established authority from the Supreme
Court of Georgia designates the land leased by the Garden as
private property. We, therefore, affirm the trial court's
grant of summary judgment to the Garden on the petition for
declaratory and injunctive relief filed by Phillip Evans and
pertinent facts are not in dispute. The Garden is a private,
non-profit corporation that operates a botanical garden
complex on property secured through a 50-year lease with the
City of Atlanta. Evans holds a Georgia weapons carry license
and is a member of GeorgiaCarry, a gun-rights organization.
In October 2014, Evans twice visited the Garden, openly
carrying a handgun in a holster on his waistband. Although no
Garden employee objected to Evans's weapon on his first
visit, he was stopped by a Garden employee during his second
visit and informed that weapons were prohibited on the Garden
premises, except by police officers. A security officer
eventually detained Evans, and he was escorted from the
Garden by an officer with the Atlanta Police Department.
and GeorgiaCarry subsequently filed a petition in the Fulton
County Superior Court, seeking declaratory and injunctive
relief on the basis that OCGA § 16-11-127 (c) authorized
Evans-and similarly situated individuals-to carry a weapon at
the Garden. The trial court dismissed the petition after
concluding that the issues were not appropriate for the
relief sought, a ruling that the Supreme Court reversed in
part on appeal. See GeorgiaCarry.org v. Atlanta Botanical
Garden, Inc., 299 Ga. 26 (785 S.E.2d 874) (2016). On
remand, the trial court held that the Garden's property
was considered private under well-established Georgia
precedent, allowing the Garden to exclude weapons and,
consequently, granted summary judgment to the Garden. This
§ 16-11-127 (c) provides, in pertinent part, that:
A license holder . . . shall be authorized to carry a weapon
. . . in every location in this state not [otherwise excluded
by] this Code section; provided, however, that private
property owners or persons in legal control of private
property through a lease, rental agreement, licensing
agreement, contract, or any other agreement to control access
to such private property shall have the right to exclude
or eject a person who is in possession of a weapon or long
gun on their private property . . . (Emphasis supplied.)
axiomatic that when examining this text, "we must
presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said
what it meant." (Citation and punctuation omitted.)
Deal v. Coleman, 294 Ga. 170, 172 (1) (a) (751
S.E.2d 337) (2013); see also Williams v. State, 299
Ga. 632, 633 (791 S.E.2d 55) (2016). "To that end, we
must afford the statutory text its plain and ordinary
meaning, we must view the statutory text in the context in
which it appears, and we must read the statutory text in its
most natural and reasonable way, as an ordinary speaker of
the English language would." (Citations and punctuation
omitted.) Deal, 294 Ga. at 172-173 (1) (a); see also
OCGA § 1-3-1 (a), (b); Williams, 299 Ga. at
the unambiguous text of OCGA § 16-11-127 (c) leaves no
doubt that the legislature afforded only private property
owners, or those in control of private property through a
lease or otherwise, the power to exclude licensed weapons
holders from that private property. See id. It follows that
"we attribute to the statute its plain meaning, and our
search for statutory meaning is at an end."
Deal, 294 Ga. at 173 (1) (a).
pertinent question in this case thus becomes whether the land
leased by the Garden constitutes public property or private
property within the context of OCGA § 16-11-127 (c). The
statute does not specifically define those terms, but Evans
and GeorgiaCarry contend that although the Garden, as lessee,
is a private organization and operates as a private entity,
the property it leases is considered public for the purposes
of OCGA § 16-11-127 (c) because the lessor of the
property is the City of Atlanta.
appellate courts of this state have not yet examined the
classification of property under OCGA § 16-11-127 (c).
Nevertheless, our Supreme Court has previously
held-specifically in the context of a leasehold interest-that
"[p]rivate property becomes public property when it
passes into public ownership; and public property becomes
private property when it passes into private ownership."
Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. Coleman, 219 Ga. 12, 16 (1)
(131 S.E.2d 768) (1963). Delta Air Lines involved a
tract of land that Delta leased from the City of Atlanta.
Id. at 12-13. Delta argued that it was exempt from
paying ad valorem tax on the land because the land was public
property. Id. at 13. The Court disagreed, holding
that, "[w]hen any estate in public property is disposed
of, it loses its identity of being public property and is
subject to taxes while in private ownership just as any other
privately owned property." Id. at 16 (1). Thus,
when a public authority conveys a leasehold interest to a
private lessee, the leasehold estate "is severed from
the fee" and classified as private property. See id.
in Douglas County v. Anneewakee, Inc., 179 Ga.App.
270 (346 S.E.2d 368) (1986), a tax-exempt organization leased
property from a taxable, for-profit corporation, and the
issue was whether the county could tax the leasehold
interest. Id. at 271. Relying on the holding in
Delta Air Lines, this Court affirmed the trial
court's holding that "the leasehold held by the
[tax-exempt organization], when severed from the private-and
taxable-fee owned by [the for-profit corporation], took on
the tax exempt status of the holder of the leasehold . .
." Id. at 274 (3).
most recently, in Columbus Bd. of Tax Assessors v. Med.
Ctr. Hosp. Auth., 312 Ga. 358, 806 S.E.2d 525 (2017),
the Supreme Court again reiterated that, under Georgia law,
we look to the lessee, not the lessor, to determine the
status of leased property. Id. at 362-363 (2). In
that case, the hospital authority sought a declaration that
its leasehold interest in a building located on real property
owned by a private entity constituted public property and was
thus tax exempt. Id. at 358. The Supreme Court held
that the hospital authority could claim a tax exemption if it
could demonstrate that its property interest was held for a
public purpose in furtherance of its interest as a hospital
authority. Id. at 362 (2).
to the authority of Delta Air Lines, Inc., Anneewakee,
Inc., and Columbus Bd. of Tax Assessors, the
leasehold interest held by the Garden, when severed from the
fee owned by ...