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Bishop v. Goins

Supreme Court of Georgia

February 18, 2019

BISHOP
v.
GOINS et al. BISHOP et al.
v.
POWELL et al.

          Benham, Justice.

         In Bishop v. Goins, 344 Ga.App. 174 (809 S.E.2d 174) (2017), the Court of Appeals held that OCGA § 16-5-94 (d) (3) authorizes a trial court to award a party costs and attorney fees incurred during appellate proceedings following the entry of a stalking-related protective order. We granted certiorari to consider the issue, and, following an examination of the plain language of the statute, we conclude that OCGA § 16-5-94 (d) (3) does not permit such an award in this case. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

         As the parties acknowledged at oral argument, neither the facts nor the procedural posture of this case are in question. After the Superior Court of Jasper County issued protective orders against Steven and Jodi Bishop in favor of their neighbors, Bernie and Michael Goins and Jana and Keith Powell ("the Neighbors"), the Bishops appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the orders in an unpublished decision. The Neighbors then moved the trial court for costs and attorney fees incurred as a result of the appellate proceedings, asserting that such an award was permissible under OCGA § 16-5-94 (d) (3). The trial court granted the motions, over the Bishops' objections, awarding the Goinses $4, 907.06 in attorney fees against Steve Bishop and awarding the Powells $4, 873.90 against both Jodi and Steve Bishop.[1]

         The Bishops sought relief in the Court of Appeals, continuing their argument that OCGA § 16-5-94 (d) (3) does not authorize an award of costs and attorney fees in connection with appellate proceedings.[2] See Bishop, supra. The Court of Appeals - which apparently reviewed the legal question under an abuse-of-discretion standard - concluded that the fee award was authorized because "nothing in the fee provision [in OCGA § 16-5-94 (d) (3)] expressly limits recovery of attorney fees to those incurred in trial court litigation." Bishop, 344 Ga. at 176-179. We subsequently granted certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' decision, and we agree with the Bishops that the fee award here was not authorized by statute.

         As we now consider the text of the relevant statutory provision, we are mindful that we must

presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant. 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 v. Coleman, 294 Ga. 170, 172-173 (751 S.E.2d 337) (2013). Where the statutory text is "clear and unambiguous," we attribute to the statute its plain meaning, and our search for statutory meaning ends. See id. at 173. The issue before us is purely legal and, as such, is reviewed de novo. See Expedia, Inc. v. City of Columbus, 285 Ga. 684, 689 (681 S.E.2d 122) (2009).

         Turning to the question of attorney fees, we recognize that, "[g]enerally, an award of attorney fees in Georgia must be authorized by statute or contract." Robinson v. Williams, 280 Ga. 877, 880 (635 S.E.2d 120) (2006). At issue here is whether the cited statutory provision authorizes such an award. OCGA § 16-5-94 (d) states as follows:

         The court may grant a protective order or approve a consent agreement to bring about a cessation of conduct constituting stalking. Orders or agreements may:

(1)Direct a party to refrain from such conduct;
(2) Order a party to refrain from harassing or interfering with the other;
(3) Award costs and attorney's fees to either party; and
(4) Order either or all parties to receive appropriate psychiatric or psychological services as a further measure to prevent the recurrence of stalking.

         This statutory authorization for attorney fees is in derogation of common law, see Hudson v. Abercrombie, 258 Ga. 729 (2) (a) (374 S.E.2d 83) (1988); Bowersv. Fulton County, 227 Ga. 814 (1) (183 S.E.2d 347) (1971), and, thus, must be strictly construed, see Workman v. RL BB ACQ I-GA CVL, LLC, 303 Ga. 693 (1)(814 S.E.2d 696) ...


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