Cobb Cnty. Sch. Dist. v. Learning Ctr. Found. of Cent. Cobb, Inc., A18A1098

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Writing for the CourtGobeil, Judge.
Citation821 S.E.2d 127,348 Ga.App. 66
Docket NumberA18A1098
Decision Date02 November 2018
Parties COBB COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT et al. v. LEARNING CENTER FOUNDATION OF CENTRAL COBB, INC.

348 Ga.App. 66
821 S.E.2d 127

COBB COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT et al.
v.
LEARNING CENTER FOUNDATION OF CENTRAL COBB, INC.

A18A1098

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

November 2, 2018


821 S.E.2d 128

Todd Emory Hatcher, Marietta, for Appellant.

Robert Livingston Fortson, Peter Norbert Farley, Jarrod Sean Mendel, Atlanta, for Appellee.

Gobeil, Judge.

348 Ga.App. 66

The Cobb County School District and eight named individuals1 (collectively, the "District") appeal from an order of the Superior Court of Fulton County which denied their motion to dismiss a complaint filed by the Learning Center Foundation of Central Cobb, Inc. d/b/a International Academy of Smyrna (the "Academy").2 The District contends, inter alia, that the superior court erred in refusing to dismiss the Academy’s complaint on sovereign immunity grounds. We disagree and affirm the order of the superior court.

Until the late Spring of 2017, the Academy was a charter school authorized by the District and the Georgia Department of Education. In addition to the specific terms contained in the written charter agreement between the District and the Academy, the parties’ relationship was governed by the Charter Schools Act, OCGA § 20-2-2060, et seq. (the "Act"). In its complaint, the Academy alleged that, starting in 2014, the District made certain reporting errors that resulted in the Academy being underfunded. The Academy asserted that it was thus "treated less favorably than its traditional school counterparts" within the school district. As a result of the reporting errors, the Academy contended it lost "$2,086,560 in funds."

The Academy sued the District for breach of contract, alleging that the District violated its obligations under the Act to treat the Academy no less favorably than other local schools, for instance, with

348 Ga.App. 67

respect to certain funding provisions. See, e.g., OCGA § 20-2-2068.1 (a) ("[t]he local board and the state board shall treat a start-up charter school no less favorable than other local schools ... with respect to the provision of funds ..."). The Academy also asserted that the District violated State Board of Education Rule 160-4-9-.06(1)(a)(ii)(XIII)(II), which requires the District to "[p]rovide funds to local charter schools on the same basis as it provides funds to its other local schools." Further, the Academy claimed that the District violated OCGA §§ 20-2-167 (a) and 20-2-182 (g), statutes concerning how school funding is computed. The District filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Academy’s claim was barred by sovereign immunity. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motion, finding that the Academy was entitled to maintain a suit against the District because the Academy had asserted a prima facie claim for breach of contract. The court further found that, by entering into the charter agreement, and pursuant to the Act, the District agreed to be bound by the provisions of the Act as if those provisions were specifically set forth in the charter agreement.

On appeal, the District disputes that the Act’s provisions are incorporated into the terms of the charter, characterizing the Act merely as an expression that the parties to the charter will be governed by the Act.3

821 S.E.2d 129

Asserting the Act’s terms are incorporated by statute into its charter agreement, the Academy contends it therefore may pursue a breach of contract claim for the alleged violations.

"Because sovereign immunity is not an affirmative defense, but rather a privilege that is subject to waiver by the State, the party seeking to benefit from that waiver has the burden of establishing the waiver of sovereign immunity." Williams v. Dept. of Corrections , 338 Ga. App. 719, 720 (1), 791 S.E.2d 606 (2017). "We review de novo a trial court’s denial of a motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity grounds, which is a matter of law." Dept. of Transp. v. King , 341 Ga. App. 102, 798 S.E.2d 492 (2017) (Citation and punctuation omitted).

348 Ga.App. 68

It is undisputed that the District has sovereign immunity for tort claims.4 The sovereign immunity of the State, and its political subdivisions such as the District, may be waived by an act of the General Assembly. See Gilbert v. Richardson , 264 Ga. 744, 748 (3), 452 S.E.2d 476 (1994) ; Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. I, Sec. II, Par. IX (a). However, the Georgia Constitution further provides that "[t]he state’s defense of sovereign immunity is hereby waived as to any action ex contractu for the breach of any written contract now existing or hereafter entered into by the state or its departments and agencies." Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. I, Sec. II, Par. IX (c) (emphasis supplied). Therefore, the Georgia Constitution expressly waives such actions arising in contract, without any action being required by the General Assembly.

Our analysis of the proper interpretation of the Act 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.

Patton v. Vanterpool , 302 Ga. 253, 254, 806 S.E.2d 493 (2017) (Citations and punctuation omitted).

OCGA § 20-2-2062 (1) defines a "charter" in part as "a performance based contract." The Act further states: "By entering into a charter, a charter petitioner and local board shall be deemed to have agreed to be bound to all the provisions of [the Act] as if such terms

348 Ga.App. 69

were set forth in the charter ." OCGA § 20-2-2062 (1) (emphasis supplied). The plain language of the Act does more than recite that the parties to a charter are bound by the Act. It essentially creates the basic terms of a charter agreement by stating that the parties to a charter "agree to be bound" "as if" the provisions of the Act were

821 S.E.2d 130

replicated word-for-word in the charter agreement. The provisions of the Act are part of the core of any charter agreement and part of the consideration exchanged between the parties. By its express terms, OCGA § 20-2-2062 (1) incorporates the provisions of the Act into the charter agreement entered into by the Academy and the District. And, because the Georgia Constitution waives sovereign immunity for actions ex contractu, the Academy’s action is not subject to dismissal based on sovereign immunity.

Accordingly, the trial court’s order denying the District’s motion to dismiss is affirmed, and the Academy may proceed on its claim for breach of contract.

Judgment affirmed.

Goss, J., concurs fully and specially. Ellington, P.J., dissents.*

* THIS OPINION IS PHYSICAL PRECEDENT ONLY. COURT OF APPEALS RULE 33.2(a).

I concur fully. I write separately to note that the charter contract itself is replete with references to the Charter Schools Act of 1998, OCGA § 20-2-2060, et seq., and many of its specific provisions. Further, the charter contract is signed by the chairperson of the Georgia State...

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4 practice notes
  • Boyd v. Neal, A19A0227
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • May 28, 2019
    ...not directly on point, we find our recent decision in Cobb County School Dist. v. Learning Center Foundation of Central Cobb, Inc. , 348 Ga. App. 66, 821 S.E.2d 127 (2018) (physical precedent only), to be instructive. In Learning Center , our Court, in a divided opinion, found that the Stat......
  • York v. Athens Coll. of Ministry, Inc., A18A0934
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • November 2, 2018
    ...the question of the appellants’ standing for the first time on appeal from the grant of the special use permit in the superior court. See 821 S.E.2d 127 Buckler , 328 Ga. App. at 492-493 (3), 760 S.E.2d 194.1 I therefore dissent.--------Notes:1 We note that a "special use permit" and a "spe......
  • Parr v. Cook Cnty. Sch. Dist., A21A0655
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • June 16, 2021
    ...in part. Gobeil and Markle, JJ., concur.--------Notes:1 See generally Cobb County School Dist. v. Learning Ctr. Found. of Cent. Cobb , 348 Ga. App. 66, 68, n.4, 821 S.E.2d 127 (2018) ("Under Art. I, Sec. II, Par. IX of the Georgia Constitution of 1983, sovereign immunity extends to a county......
  • Parr v. Cook Cnty. Sch. Dist., A21A0655
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • June 16, 2021
    ...Gobeil and Markle, JJ., concur.--------Footnotes: [1]. See generally Cobb County School Dist. v. Learning Ctr. Found. of Cent. Cobb, 348 Ga. App. 66, 68, n.4 (821 SE2d 127) (2018) ("Under Art. I, Sec. II, Par. IX of the Georgia Constitution of 1983, sovereign immunity extends to a county-wi......
4 cases
  • Boyd v. Neal, A19A0227
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • May 28, 2019
    ...not directly on point, we find our recent decision in Cobb County School Dist. v. Learning Center Foundation of Central Cobb, Inc. , 348 Ga. App. 66, 821 S.E.2d 127 (2018) (physical precedent only), to be instructive. In Learning Center , our Court, in a divided opinion, found that the Stat......
  • York v. Athens Coll. of Ministry, Inc., A18A0934
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • November 2, 2018
    ...the question of the appellants’ standing for the first time on appeal from the grant of the special use permit in the superior court. See 821 S.E.2d 127 Buckler , 328 Ga. App. at 492-493 (3), 760 S.E.2d 194.1 I therefore dissent.--------Notes:1 We note that a "special use permit" and a "spe......
  • Parr v. Cook Cnty. Sch. Dist., A21A0655
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • June 16, 2021
    ...in part. Gobeil and Markle, JJ., concur.--------Notes:1 See generally Cobb County School Dist. v. Learning Ctr. Found. of Cent. Cobb , 348 Ga. App. 66, 68, n.4, 821 S.E.2d 127 (2018) ("Under Art. I, Sec. II, Par. IX of the Georgia Constitution of 1983, sovereign immunity extends to a county......
  • Parr v. Cook Cnty. Sch. Dist., A21A0655
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • June 16, 2021
    ...Gobeil and Markle, JJ., concur.--------Footnotes: [1]. See generally Cobb County School Dist. v. Learning Ctr. Found. of Cent. Cobb, 348 Ga. App. 66, 68, n.4 (821 SE2d 127) (2018) ("Under Art. I, Sec. II, Par. IX of the Georgia Constitution of 1983, sovereign immunity extends to a county-wi......

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