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| 1 minute read

Still Standing

State or federal court, what's the difference?

Personnel changes on the Supreme Court of Ga. over the past 15 years have coincided with increased reliance on federal law and terminology, even when interpreting Georgia state law and the Georgia Constitution. In Sons of Confederate Veterans v. Henry County Bd. of Commissioners ("SCV"), decided today, the Court pulled back from its recent wholesale reliance on federal principles of standing when interpreting Georgia statutes.

A plaintiff might sue in federal court because of a perceived favorable forum, compared to state court. Apart from subject-matter jurisdiction (a federal question is at issue, or the case is between parties from different states), federal court requires the plaintiff to have standing, which means showing an injury that the court can redress in its decision. Generally, a plaintiff can't simply sue in federal court because of disagreement with government action.

Justice Nels Peterson, writing for the unanimous Supreme Court of Georgia, holds in SCV that Georgia's standing requirement is broader than in federal court, at least for the right to sue under a Georgia statute (putting aside the issue of suing under the Ga. Constitution for another day): A resident of Newton County (in one of the three consolidated cases under review) could sue to challenge the County's removal of a Confederate monument, but members of SCV groups, who did not reside in the County, could not. The County resident had a right to seek injunctive relief--in other words, to ask for it. The issue of the award of injunctive relief is yet to be determined, as are any possible damages that she claims.

As the Court noted at the outset, the standing issue is broader than the particular issues in SCV and will have to be considered whenever a lawyer asks, "State or Federal Court?"

"[T]o invoke a Georgia court’s 'judicial power,' a plaintiff must have a cognizable injury that can be redressed by a judicial decision. . . . Unlike federal law, however, that injury need not always be individualized; sometimes it can be a generalized grievance shared by community members, especially other residents, taxpayers, voters, or citizens."


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