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Amazing Amusements Group, Inc. v. Wilson

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

October 30, 2019

WILSON et al.

          DOYLE, P. J., DILLARD, P. J. and REESE, J.

          Doyle, Presiding Judge.

         Amazing Amusements Group, Inc. ("AAG"), appeals from an order of the Superior Court of Fulton County dismissing its petition for certiorari and/or statutory judicial review of an adverse decision by the Georgia Lottery Corporation ("GLC").[1]The superior court dismissed the petition on the ground that AAG failed to exhaust its administrative remedy before seeking judicial review. On appeal, AAG contends that the superior court erred because the controlling statute authorizes an appeal of "all actions of the [GLC]" to the superior court, so the administrative remedy exhaustion requirement does not apply. We disagree and affirm.

         This case turns on statutory interpretation and resolution of questions of law, so we apply a de novo standard of review.[2]

         The facts are not materially disputed. AAG held a master license issued by the GLC authorizing AAG to lease coin-operated amusement machines to licensed retail businesses.[3] In April 2016, the GLC issued a citation to AAG alleging certain violations of GLC rules. The citation notified AAG of a hearing date, AAG contested the citation, and an evidentiary hearing ensued before a hearing officer over three days with both parties present and represented by counsel. After considering all of the evidence from the hearing, the hearing officer entered a 27-page "Executive Order" listing his findings, analysis, and conclusions, ultimately revoking AAG's master license for 10 years, revoking any other business licenses, and fining AAG a total of $75, 000.

         AAG did not pursue an appeal of the hearing officer's decision available under GLC rules.[4] Instead, within 30 days, on December 19, 2016, AAG filed a petition in the Superior Court of Fulton County seeking a writ of certiorari under OCGA § 5-4-1 et seq. and judicial review under OCGA § 50-27-76 (a). The superior court sanctioned the petition and issued a writ of certiorari on December 20, 2016. The GLC made a limited appearance to move to dismiss the case, and following a hearing, the superior court granted the motion. The superior court reasoned that because AAG had not exhausted its administrative remedies, it could not seek judicial review in the superior court.[5]

         Following the denial of AAG's motion for reconsideration, AAG sought discretionary review in this Court, which was granted, giving rise to this appeal.

         We begin by noting that our interpretation and application of statutory language is guided by the following principles:

A statute draws its meaning, of course, from its text. Under our well-established rules of statutory construction, we 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. Though we may review the text of the provision in question and its context within the larger legal framework to discern the intent of the legislature in enacting it, where the statutory text is clear and unambiguous, we attribute to the statute its plain meaning, and our search for statutory meaning ends.[6]

         AAG's appellate argument relies on OCGA § 50-27-76 (a) which provides: "Appeal by an affected person from all actions of the [GLC] or chief executive officer shall be to the Superior Court of Fulton County. The review shall be conducted by the court and shall be confined to the record." Based on this language, AAG argues that any and all actions by the GLC or its CEO are appealable to the superior court at any time, regardless of whether the decision was appealed at the agency level. In short, AAG argues, "all actions" should mean all actions in the most literal and broad sense - whether final, temporary, pending, or otherwise. Therefore, AAG argues that it did not have to engage in the agency appeal process required by GLC rules.

         Those rules provide for the three-day evidentiary hearing before a hearing officer that took place in this case as well as a two-step appeal procedure:

(1) The following two-step appeal procedure shall be the exclusive administrative remedy for appealing decisions entered pursuant to these rules.
(a) Step One - Request for Reconsideration:
1. A licensee or applicant who is aggrieved by the Order entered by the Hearing Officer . . . may appeal by filing a Request for Reconsideration with the Hearing Officer no later than ten (10) days after receipt of the Order.
2. The Hearing Officer shall review the request and either deny the request or modify the initial Order by an Order on Reconsideration. . . .
(b) Step Two - Motion for Review:
1. (A) Provided a timely Request for Reconsideration was filed with the initial Hearing Officer . . . a licensee or applicant shall have ten (10) days from the date of receipt of the Hearing Officer's Order on Reconsideration (or denial of request), to file with the President/CEO a written Motion for Review by electronic mail to . . .
2. The motion shall set forth a concise statement of the basis upon which the appeal is made together with supporting arguments setting forth an enumeration of erroneous ...

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