Deal v. Coleman, Nos. S13A1084

CourtGeorgia Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACKWELL
Citation294 Ga. 170,751 S.E.2d 337
PartiesDEAL et al. v. COLEMAN et al. Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, Inc. et al. v. Coleman et al.
Docket NumberS13A1085.,Nos. S13A1084
Decision Date18 November 2013

294 Ga. 170
751 S.E.2d 337

DEAL et al.
v.
COLEMAN et al.
Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, Inc. et al.
v.
Coleman et al.

Nos. S13A1084, S13A1085.

Supreme Court of Georgia.

Nov. 18, 2013.


[751 S.E.2d 339]


Samuel S. Olens, Atty. Gen., Dennis R. Dunn, Deputy Atty. Gen., Russell D. Willard, Sr.
Asst. Atty. Gen., Nels S. D. Peterson, Sol.-Gen., Fisher & Phillips, Claud L. McIver III, for Deal et al.

Constangy, Brooks & Smith, R. Carl Cannon, for Kia Motors, Manufacturing Georgia, Inc.


Craig L. Goodmark, Gerald R. Weber, Jr., for Coleman et al.

Robbins, Ross, Alloy, Belinfante & Littlefield, Joshua B. Belinfante, Kimberly L. Anderson, Stuckey & Manheimer, Hollie G. Manheimer, amici curiae.

BLACKWELL, Justice.

When Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, Inc. opened a manufacturing facility in West Point, the Technical College System of Georgia undertook to provide technical and vocational training—as a part of its Quick Start program 1—to the workers whom Kia hired for the new facility. Years later, Krystal

[751 S.E.2d 340]

Coleman, Sabrina Robinson Bolston, Tim Durden, and Darrell Strawbridge each submitted a request to the Technical College System pursuant to the Open Records Act,2 seeking to inspect certain records concerning the hiring practices of Kia.3 The Technical College System refused on several grounds to make the requested records available for inspection, and Coleman, Bolston, Durden, and Strawbridge then filed a lawsuit to compel their production.4 In 2012, while the lawsuit was pending, the General Assembly amended the Open Records Act, and among other revisions, it added OCGA § 50–18–72(a)(47), which excepts certain records concerning the Quick Start program from public inspection. The Technical College System and Kia then moved to dismiss the lawsuit,5 asserting that paragraph 72(a)(47) excepts every record that Coleman, Bolston, Durden, and Strawbridge requested. Without deciding the extent to which paragraph 72(a)(47) applies to the requested records, the trial court denied the motions to dismiss, concluding that it would be unconstitutional in any event to apply paragraph 72(a)(47) in a pending lawsuit. The Technical College System and Kia appeal, 6 and we conclude that paragraph 72(a)(47) applies by its terms in this case, and we conclude as well that its application in this case is constitutional. For these reasons, we reverse the decision of the trial court. But we cannot say from the pleadings alone that every record requested is excepted from public inspection under paragraph 72(a)(47), and so, we also remand for the trial court to determine the extent to which the requested records are so excepted.

1. We first consider whether OCGA § 50–18–72(a)(47)—on its face, and assuming its constitutionality—applies at all in this case.7 Paragraph 72(a)(47) excepts the following records from public inspection under the Open Records Act:

Records related to a training program operated under the authority of Article 3 of Chapter 4 of Title 20 disclosing an economic development project prior to a binding commitment having been secured, relating to job applicants, or identifying proprietary hiring practices, training, skills, or other business methods and practices of a private entity.

[751 S.E.2d 341]


OCGA § 50–18–72(a)(47).
8 No one disputes that the technical and vocational training provided to Kia workers by the Technical College System as a part of its Quick Start program is a “training program operated under the authority of Article 3 of Chapter 4 of Title 20.” See OCGA § 20–4–40 et seq. But the appellees contend that the statutory exception in paragraph 72(a)(47) is limited in time and applies only for so long as “[no] binding commitment ha [s] been secured.” Because the binding commitment of Kia to open its facility in West Point was secured years ago, before they asked to inspect any records, paragraph 72(a)(47) does not apply at all, they say, in this case. About this, the appellees are mistaken.

(a) We consider first whether OCGA § 50–18–72(a)(47) applies by its terms only for so long as “[no] binding commitment ha[s] been secured.” When we consider the meaning of a statute, “we must presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant.” Arby's Restaurant Group, Inc. v. McRae, 292 Ga. 243, 245(1), 734 S.E.2d 55 (2012) (citation omitted). To that end, we must afford the statutory text its “plain and ordinary meaning,” City of Atlanta v. City of College Park, 292 Ga. 741, 744, 741 S.E.2d 147 (2013) (citation and punctuation omitted), we must view the statutory text in the context in which it appears, Hendry v. Hendry, 292 Ga. 1, 3(1), 734 S.E.2d 46 (2012), and we must read the statutory text in its most natural and reasonable way, as an ordinary speaker of the English language would. See Luangkhot v. State, 292 Ga. 423, 424(1), 736 S.E.2d 397 (2013). Consequently, courts sometimes refer to the rules of English grammar, see, e.g., Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 26(II), 124 S.Ct. 376, 157 L.Ed.2d 333 (2003), inasmuch as those rules are the guideposts by which ordinary speakers of the English language commonly structure their words, and the legislature “is presumed to know ... the rules of grammar.” 9United States v. Goldenberg, 168 U.S. 95, 103, 18 S.Ct. 3, 42 L.Ed. 394 (1897). Applying these principles, if the statutory text is “clear and unambiguous,” we attribute to the statute its plain meaning, and our search for statutory meaning is at an end. See Opensided MRI of Atlanta v. Chandler, 287 Ga. 406, 407, 696 S.E.2d 640 (2010).

Here, OCGA § 50–18–72(a)(47) naturally and reasonably admits of only one meaning, and it is not the one that the appellees urge. Paragraph 72(a)(47) applies, of course, only to certain records “related to a [Quick Start] training program.” The particular Quick Start records to which it applies are identified by three participial phrases: “disclosing an economic development project”; “relating to job applicants”; and “identifying proprietary hiring practices, training, skills, or other business methods and practices of a private entity.” That each of these participial phrases identifies a separate and distinct class of records to which the exception applies is signaled quite clearly by the commas that separate each participial phrase, see Garner, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage p. 537 (1998), especially the serial comma—followed immediately by the disjunctive “or”—that separates the second and third participial phrases. See id. at 253 (“whether to use the serial comma ... is more vehemently argued than any other punctuation issue ..., but [use of the serial comma is the only method that] is ironclad in avoiding unnecessary ambiguities”). See also Strunk, White, & Kalman, The Elements of Style § I(2), p. 3 (2000). The adverbial phrase on which the appellees rely—“prior to a binding commitment having

[751 S.E.2d 342]

been secured”—follows immediately after the first participial phrase, “disclosing an economic development project,” and it can only be reasonably understood to modify that participial phrase and no others. See 2A Singer, Statutes and Statutory Construction § 47:33, p. 369 (6th ed. 2000) (“Referential and qualifying words and phrases, where no contrary intention appears, refer solely to the last antecedent.”). Accordingly, Quick Start records “disclosing an economic development project” are excepted only to the extent that no “binding commitment ha[s] been secured,” but the exception for Quick Start records “relating to job applicants” or “identifying proprietary hiring practices, training, skills, or other business methods and practices of a private entity” is not so limited.10 See OCGA § 50–18–72(a)(47). The Technical College System and Kia rely in this case upon the latter parts of the exception, and their reliance upon those parts is not foreclosed by the fact that Kia committed long ago to open its facility in West Point.11

(b) With this understanding of OCGA § 50–18–72(a)(47), we next consider the extent to which this statutory exception—on its face, and again assuming its constitutionality—applies in a lawsuit pending at the time of its enactment and arising from a request made before its enactment. Generally speaking, the retroactive application of statutes has long been disfavored in the law, even if it is not always forbidden. See Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U.S. 244, 265(IV)(A), 114 S.Ct. 1483, 128 L.Ed.2d 229 (1994) ( “[T]he presumption against retroactive legislation is deeply rooted in our jurisprudence, and embodies a legal doctrine older than our Republic.”). For that reason, courts usually insist upon some clear indication in the statutory text that a statute is to be applied retroactively before so applying it.12 See Polito v. Holland, 258 Ga. 54, 55(2), 365 S.E.2d 273 (1988) (“Generally statutes prescribe for the future and that is the construction to be given unless there is a clear contrary intention shown.” (Citations omitted)). Such a clear indication appears in the amendment that enacted paragraph 72(a)(47), which provides explicitly that “[ OCGA § 50–18–72(a)(47) ] shall apply to any request for public records made prior to the effective date of this Act.” Ga. L.2012, p. 218, § 18. Accordingly, paragraph 72(a)(47)

[751 S.E.2d 343]

applies in this case, unless our Constitution forbids it, a question to which we now turn.

2. Even when the General Assembly clearly provides that a law is to be applied retroactively, our Constitution forbids statutes that apply retroactively so as to “injuriously affect the vested rights of citizens.” 13Bullard v. Holman, 184 Ga. 788, 792(2), 193 S.E. 586 (1937). The appellees argue that, applied retroactively, OCGA § 50–18–72(a)(47) impairs their “vested right” to inspect the records that they requested. They have such a “vested right,” they say, because the version of the Open Records Act in effect at the time they made their requests conferred a “right” of access to the records...

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360 practice notes
  • Moats v. Mendez, A18A1721
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 14, 2019
    ...pursuing the suspect who injured the plaintiff.8 Id. at 154 (2), 695 S.E.2d 674.9 (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Deal v. Coleman , 294 Ga. 170, 172-173 (1) (a), 751 S.E.2d 337 (2013).10 Strickland v. Wilson , 205 Ga. App. 91, 93, 421 S.E.2d 94 (1992).11 OCGA § 36-11-1.12 See Gilbert v......
  • Premier Health Care Invs., LLC v. Uhs of Anchor, L.P., S19G1491
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • October 5, 2020
    ...text in its most natural and reasonable way, as an ordinary speaker of the English language would." 849 S.E.2d 448 Deal v. Coleman , 294 Ga. 170, 172-173, 751 S.E.2d 337 (2013) (citations and punctuation omitted). "[I]f the statutory text is clear and unambiguous, we attribute to the statut......
  • Mobley v. State, S18G1546
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • October 21, 2019
    ...consider the meaning of a statute, we must presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant." Deal v. Coleman, 294 Ga. 170, 172 (1) (a), 751 S.E.2d 337 (2013) (citation and punctuation omitted). "To that end, we must afford the statutory text its plain and ordinar......
  • Gallagher Benefit Servs., Inc. v. Campbell, Civil Action No. 1:19-cv-00836-SDG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • March 24, 2021
    ...Ins. Dep't of State of Ga. v. St. Paul Fire & Cas. Ins. Co. , 253 Ga. App. 551, 552, 559 S.E.2d 754 (2002). See also Deal v. Coleman , 294 Ga. 170, 172, 751 S.E.2d 337 (2013) ("When we consider the meaning of a statute, we must presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said w......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
358 cases
  • Moats v. Mendez, A18A1721
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 14, 2019
    ...pursuing the suspect who injured the plaintiff.8 Id. at 154 (2), 695 S.E.2d 674.9 (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Deal v. Coleman , 294 Ga. 170, 172-173 (1) (a), 751 S.E.2d 337 (2013).10 Strickland v. Wilson , 205 Ga. App. 91, 93, 421 S.E.2d 94 (1992).11 OCGA § 36-11-1.12 See Gilbert v......
  • Premier Health Care Invs., LLC v. Uhs of Anchor, L.P., S19G1491
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • October 5, 2020
    ...text in its most natural and reasonable way, as an ordinary speaker of the English language would." 849 S.E.2d 448 Deal v. Coleman , 294 Ga. 170, 172-173, 751 S.E.2d 337 (2013) (citations and punctuation omitted). "[I]f the statutory text is clear and unambiguous, we attribute to the statut......
  • Mobley v. State, S18G1546
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • October 21, 2019
    ...consider the meaning of a statute, we must presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant." Deal v. Coleman, 294 Ga. 170, 172 (1) (a), 751 S.E.2d 337 (2013) (citation and punctuation omitted). "To that end, we must afford the statutory text its plain and ordinar......
  • Gallagher Benefit Servs., Inc. v. Campbell, Civil Action No. 1:19-cv-00836-SDG
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • March 24, 2021
    ...Ins. Dep't of State of Ga. v. St. Paul Fire & Cas. Ins. Co. , 253 Ga. App. 551, 552, 559 S.E.2d 754 (2002). See also Deal v. Coleman , 294 Ga. 170, 172, 751 S.E.2d 337 (2013) ("When we consider the meaning of a statute, we must presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said w......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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