Every city will face a problematic property or business at some point. How to deal with a nuisance property can be challenging. Legal remedies are available, and the city could choose to bring an in rem action against the property/business in municipal court. But, municipal courts are limited by what remedy they can fashion to abate the nuisance, as reaffirmed in a recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals.
On September 20, 2023, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the Superior Court of Fulton County, which had affirmed an order entered by the Atlanta Municipal Court declaring a business within the City of Atlanta as a nuisance. While the Municipal Court found that recurring criminal activity at the property did not warrant closure of the business, the court ordered the business to enhance security measures and limit its hours of operation for one year.
Because the Municipal Court’s order imposed injunctive remedies — that is, requiring the business to take action (enhance security) and refrain from acting (reduce operating hours) — the Court of Appeals held that the Municipal Court acted beyond its authority. In its decision, the Court of Appeals explained that, unlike the superior and appellate courts, municipal courts do not have the authority to enter injunctive relief like the court sought to impose here.
Notably, the Court of Appeals, having reversed for the reason explained above, did not address the underlying issue of whether the business was properly found to be a public nuisance in the first place or whether the Municipal Court had exceeded its in rem powers in this instance.
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