Melton, Chief Justice.
S. Cowen, a Clayton County State Court judge since December
1995, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, in which she
sought, among other things, over $120, 000 in back pay from
Clayton County and several of its county
commissioners for allegedly violating Ga. Const. of
1983, Art. VI, Sec. VII, Par. V ("All judges shall
receive compensation and allowances as provided by law. . . .
An incumbent's salary, allowance, or supplement shall not
be decreased during the incumbent's term of
office."). More specifically, Cowen claimed that the
County had been improperly calculating her compensation under
County Ordinance 30-4 (the "Supplemental
Ordinance") and Local Law 2006 Ga. Laws 926 passed by
the General Assembly (the "Local Law"),
which, she alleged, resulted in an illegal reduction in her
overall compensation each year between 2007 and 2017. She
also alleged that, when the County repealed the Supplemental
Ordinance effective December 20, 2016, the County, once
again, illegally reduced her compensation in violation of Ga.
Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. VII, Par. V.
trial court rejected all of Cowen's claims, concluding in
part that: (1) Cowen's mandamus action was barred by
gross laches; (2) even if the mandamus action was not barred,
it was subject to dismissal because mandamus was not an
appropriate vehicle through which Cowen could seek her back
pay; and (3) even if mandamus were an appropriate vehicle,
the mandamus action was without merit.
appeals, and, for the reasons that follow, we conclude that
(1) some, but not all, of Cowen's claims for back pay
were time barred; and (2) the trial court erred in concluding
that mandamus was not an appropriate vehicle here; but (3)
the trial court properly denied the claim for mandamus.
Accordingly, we affirm.
Cowen claims that the trial court erred when it determined
that her mandamus action was barred by gross laches. In its
order, the trial court concluded that, because Cowen waited
until 2017 to file her mandamus action, which included some
claims for back pay dating as far back as 2007, then all of
her claims for back pay were barred by gross laches. As
explained more fully below, this broad conclusion by the
trial court was incorrect.
mandamus is a quasi-equitable remedy, such an action
"can be barred by gross laches." (Citation
omitted.) Marsh v. Clarke Cty. Sch. Dist., 292 Ga.
28, 30 (732 S.E.2d 443) (2012); OCGA § 9-3-3
("[C]ourts of equity may interpose an equitable bar
whenever, from the lapse of time and laches of the
complainant, it would be inequitable to allow a party to
enforce his legal rights."). See also West v. Fulton
Cty., 267 Ga. 456, 458 n. 3 (479 S.E.2d 722) (1997)
("[M]andamus as a remedy may not lie where an applicant
is guilty of gross laches or has permitted an unreasonable
period of time to elapse") (citation omitted). However,
in reaching its conclusion that the action here was barred,
the trial court ignored the two-year statute of limitations
of OCGA § 9-3-22 that actually applies in this case. In
this regard, OCGA § 9-3-22 provides in relevant part:
[A]ll actions for the recovery of wages, overtime, or damages
and penalties accruing under laws respecting the payment of
wages and overtime shall be brought within two years after
the right of action has accrued.
See City of Atlanta v. Adams, 256 Ga. 620, 620-621
(351 S.E.2d 444) (1987) (two-year statute of limitations of
OCGA § 9-3-22 applied to claims for back pay by
firefighters who were paid pursuant to municipal ordinance).
Sea also Buskirk v. State, 267 Ga. 769 (2) (482
S.E.2d 286) (1997); Milhollin v. Salomon Smith Barney,
Inc., 272 Ga.App. 267 (1) (612 S.E.2d 72) (2005). This
two-year statute of limitations applies to claims for the
recovery of back pay where, as here, a public officer's
compensation is fixed by law. See Johnson v.
Brooks, 139 Ga. 787, 791 (78 SE 37) (1913) (public
officer's "compensation belongs to the office, and
is an incident of his office, and he is entitled to it . . .
because the law attaches it to the office") (citation
and punctuation omitted).
it is undisputed that Cowen's compensation as a state
court judge is determined by state law,  the Local Law,
and the Supplemental Ordinance, and that her claims for back
pay are rooted in the interpretation of these laws,
Cowen's claims are subject to the two-year limitations
period contained in OCGA § 9-3-22, and any claims for
back pay that accrued more than two years before Cowen filed
her mandamus action on October 6, 2017, are time
barred. See Adams, supra, 256 Ga. at 820.
being said, while the claims that arose before October 6,
2015 would be barred by the applicable statute of
limitations, this would not necessarily prevent Cowen from
pursuing claims that were, in fact, timely raised within the
applicable limitations period. See Clover Realty Co. v.
J. L. Todd Auction Co., 240 Ga. 124, 126 (4) (239 S.E.2d
682) (1977) ("Delay alone is never enough to show laches
where there is an applicable statute of limitation.").
And because the County has failed to show harm from any delay
in the filing of claims that fell within the two-year
limitations period,  Cowen was free to pursue her claims for
back pay that arose on or after October 6, 2015. Accordingly,
to the extent that the trial court determined that
all of Cowen's claims were barred by gross
laches, this ruling was in error.
Cowen next claims that the trial court erred by concluding
that she could not petition the court for a writ of mandamus
because she was improperly attempting to undo the
County's already completed acts of allegedly underpaying
her. See, e.g., Hilton Const. Co., Inc. v. Rockdale Cty.
Bd. of Ed., 245 Ga. 533, 540 (4) (266 S.E.2d 157) (1980)
("Mandamus is not the proper remedy to compel the
undoing of acts already done or the correction of wrongs
already perpetrated . . . . [E]ven [where] the action taken
[by the county] was clearly illegal," mandamus "is
the remedy for inaction of a public official") (citation
omitted). We agree with Cowen that the trial court was once
Court has held that actions for the recovery of compensation
that, by law, one public official is required to pay to
another, may be pursued through mandamus. See, e.g., Lee
v. Peach Cty. Bd. of Comm'rs, 269 Ga. 380 (497
S.E.2d 562) (1998); Best v. Maddox, 185 Ga. 78 (194
SE 578 (1937). See also Chatham Cty. v. Massey, 299
Ga. 595 (791 S.E.2d 85) (2016); Inagawa v. Fayette
Cty., 291 Ga. 715 (732 S.E.2d 421) (2012); OCGA §
9-6-20 ("All official duties should be faithfully
performed, and whenever, from any cause, a defect of legal
justice would ensue from a failure to perform or from
improper performance, the writ of mandamus may issue to
compel a due performance if there is no other specific legal
remedy for the legal rights."). Contrary to the trial
court's analysis, Cowen's mandamus action was not
designed to "undo" the already completed acts of
the County in supposedly underpaying her, but to
compel the County to correct its inaction
in failing to properly pay her under the laws that govern her
Because Cowen was able to pursue her timely claims for back
pay through mandamus, we must address the propriety of the
trial court's decision to deny the writ of mandamus with
respect to those claims. In analyzing the trial court's
decision, we bear in mind that
[m]andamus is an extraordinary remedy that is available only
where a litigant seeks to require a public official to
perform an act or fulfill a duty that is required by law and
where there is no other specific legal remedy. OCGA §
9-6-20. A writ of mandamus should only be granted where there
is a clear legal right to the relief being sought. . . . [or
where] [t]here may . . . have been a gross abuse of the
public official's discretion.
(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Fein v. Bessen,
300 Ga. 25, 29 (793 S.E.2d 76) (2016). Further, "[t]he
duty which a mandamus complainant seeks to have enforced must
be a duty arising by law, either expressly or by necessary
implication; and the law must not only authorize the act to
be done, but must require its performance.") (Citation
and punctuation omitted.) Bland Farms, LLC v. Ga. Dept.
of Agriculture, 281 Ga. 192, 193 (637 S.E.2d 37) (2006).
Thus, for the timely claims for back pay, we must determine
(a) whether the County compensated Cowen consistent with the
requirements of the applicable state statutory law, Local
Law, and Supplemental Ordinance, and (b) even if it did,
whether Cowen had a clear legal right to be paid more,
notwithstanding these provisions, pursuant to the
requirements of Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI, Sec. VII, Par.
Proper Calculation of ...