The latest ruling in ongoing litigation between the city of Cumming and the state Attorney General’s office over videoing of a City Council meeting more than three years ago appears to have fallen in the city’s favor.
Last week, the Court of Appeals of Georgia affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded with direction several issues previously ruled in favor of Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens by Senior Superior Court Judge Robert Adamson in August 2014, who ordered the city and mayor to pay $12,000 in penalties plus attorney fees.
The lawsuit stemmed from an April 2012 incident in which Nydia Tisdale, who often records local government meetings, was directed by Mayor H. Ford Gravitt to stop shooting video during a Cumming City Council meeting and asked to leave. She later returned and resumed shooting video with a different device.
Of the six issues brought before the court of appeals, four went in the city’s favor, including a reversal of the summary judgment on whether Gravitt had ordered Tisdale removed, which Tisdale alleged.
“Construing the record in favor of the defendants, we conclude that a disputed factual issue remains on whether Tisdale was removed from the meeting at the direction of Mayor Gravitt,” the decision states.
“The trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Attorney General on this alleged violation, and the use of this violation as a basis for imposition of a civil penalty, is reversed.”
The city also had penalties reduced from $12,000 to $1,000, and the court found that that the city was not a “person” and therefore not subject to certain civil penalties under the Official Code of Georgia.
Kevin Tallant, a partner with Miles, Hansford and Tallant, the local law firm that represents the city, said that the city was happy with the court’s decision.
“We are very pleased with this decision,” Tallant said in an email. “As we asserted from the inception of this case, every claim against the City of Cumming was improper, and the Court of Appeals agreed with us.”
Tallant said that Attorney General’s Office had overreached and he felt the ruling could have statewide implications.
“From the beginning of this dispute we have continually asserted that the Plaintiff was overreaching, and the Court of Appeals overwhelmingly agreed with that assessment,” he said. “This is an important decision not only for the City of Cumming and its elected officials, but local governments across the state.”
The Attorney General’s Office, which could not be reached for comment as of press time, did have some of the issues fall its way.
The court ruled that the city was not entitled to “assert sovereign immunity” and that the “trial court correctly ruled that official immunity did not bar the [Open Meetings Act] enforcement action brought against Mayor Gravitt, individually.”
The court also ruled that the Attorney General was entitled to reasonable attorney fees and litigation costs incurred in the case.
A separate federal lawsuit filed by Tisdale was settled in April for $200,000. The city’s liability insurance provider, Public Risk Underwriters, settled with Tisdale in that issue.