FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Attorney James Radford attained an unanimous decision by the Georgia Supreme Court, reversing a lower court’s order that the City and Mayor of Greenville, Georgia, were immune from liability for acts taken without authority of law.
In a unanimous opinion, the Georgia Supreme Court today held that the City of Greenville, Georgia, as well as Greenville Mayor James Bray, may be personally liable for damages arising from the unlawful termination of the Chief of Police and City Clerk in January of 2008. A lower court had held that both the City and the Mayor were immune from any claims for damages. The Supreme Court’s order reverses that decision, setting the case up for trial.
Bray terminated Greenville Chief of Police Daryl Williams and City Clerk Johnnie Mae Owens shortly after he was sworn into office in 2008. According to Williams’ and Owens’ judicial complaint, Bray terminated them as one of his first acts of office, without a vote by the City Council, and over the objections of a majority of the members of the City Council. Williams and Owens argued that, under the laws and regulations governing employment in Greenville, the appointment of the Chief of Police and City Clerk was up to a majority vote of the City Council, and the Mayor was without authority to terminate them on his own.
The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with Williams and Owens, holding that, if they can prove to a jury that Mayor Bray’s actions were carried out “without authority of law,” he and the City would be liable for any damages arising from his actions. The Court held:
Statutory law provides [. . .] Members of the council and other officers of a municipal corporation shall be personally liable to one who sustains special damages as the result of any official act of such officers if done oppressively, maliciously, corruptly, or without authority of law. [. . .]
In this case, Owens and Williams have maintained throughout that Bray unilaterally terminated them from their position without authority of law because the City passed a 2007 resolution requiring that the mayor get City Council approval prior to any such termination. At the very least, a question of fact remains whether Bray acted “without authority of law” by failing to comply with this directive. As such, he was not entitled to summary judgment on this point pursuant to official immunity.
Attorney James Radford represented Owens and Williams both in the lower court proceedings and before the Supreme Court. “The court’s order stands for the principle that being an elected official does not give you a license to break the rules. If you abuse your authority, you will have to answer to the law.”
The Supreme Court’s full opinion can be found at the following link: http://www.gasupreme.us/sc-op/pdf/s11a1645.pdf