Georgia Supreme Court Takes Homeless Task Force Case, as City Threatens Water Shut-off Again
(APN) ATLANTA — On August 29, 2014, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a ruling in two related emergency appeals brought by the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. The court accepted the Task Force’s direct appeal; and dismissed the other appeal, an application for immediate review, as duplicative. The appeals case going forward is S14M1956.
Meanwhile, the City of Atlanta has again threatened to turn off the Task Force’s water due to unpaid bills that the City claims amount to approximately 580,000 dollars, unless the Task Force pays the amount purportedly due by Monday, September 22, 2014.
Yesterday, Friday, September 19, the City refused to accept a cashier’s check from the Task Force for 100,000 dollars, or to make a payment plan for the past amounts owed.
Atlanta’s corporate media, particularly the “Fresh Loaf” blog, have predicted the Task Force may have to close, even quoting the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta as saying they have an alleged transition plan in place for the homeless men, women, and children at the shelter.
However, the Task Force tells Atlanta Progressive News that they have emergency plans to transition to an independent water supply, which includes a rainwater catchment system and contracting with a private entity to ship in water.
“The rainwater catchment system we’re already done implementing. In the meantime, we have private resources coming in with water on Monday. We expect to have alternative sources of potable water, and we’re asking people to bring water,” Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Task Force, told APN.
“The main thing is, right now, this is part of our plan to become sustainable, and not to depend on funding, public or private, but to be sustainable in this building, with our residents. This could be a model project. This is our first step toward that,” Beaty said.
“If anybody [such as the United Way] has alternative space, we’ve needed to know it every single day. Now they say they are going to open up 150 beds at Springdale, we say hallelujah, where have they been?” Beaty said.
“We don’t expect to go anywhere, there’s no eviction order. The sharks are swimming, the sharks are circling. They smell blood, but we say, wait a minute, you’re a little premature. They can turn off our water. If we have… alternative sources for potable water, we cannot be evicted. It would take a process that really belongs to Fulton County. We have to have potable water available – it has to be drinkable. That’s what we’re planning to do,” Beaty said.
SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA TAKES DIRECT APPEAL
The Supreme Court of Georgia accepted the Task Force’s direct appeal of an order by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall, dated August 08, 2014, in the Task Force’s litigation with Premium Funding Solutions (PFS), Central Atlanta Progress, Manny Fialkow, and other co-conspirators in the effort to sabotage the homeless shelter.
As previously reported by APN, that August 08 order allowed PFS to file a dispossessory action against the Task Force in Superior Court, lifting a stay that has been in place for four years.
Presumably, the dispossessory action would have been transferred to Schwall, where it would have been stayed.
PFS did not even wait one day, filing their dispossessory action on August 08, following up with a Motion to Compel Payment of Rent on August 11, 2014.
The Task Force then filed a notice of appeal in Superior Court, giving notice of its plans to undertake a direct appeal to the Supreme Court.
On August 25, 2014, the Task Force filed a Motion for Stay/Supersedeas, asking the Supreme Court to stay the lower court’s proceedings; and on August 26 the Task Force filed an Interlocutory Application with the Supreme Court.
The Task Force enumerated several errors in its Motion, including:
“1. Having all of the parties before it and jurisdiction to hear all claims, the Court erred in finding it was compelled to authorize one party to bring a separate dispossessory action over the same transactions and occurrences.
“2. Having determined there are material questions of fact as to whether the Task Force was subjected to a wrongful foreclosure and is entitled to quiet title and retain possession, the Court violated its equitable duty to do complete justice by authorizing a separate, expedited dispossessory action that cannot address the Task Force’s viable claims and defenses.
“3. The Subject Order constitutes an interlocutory injunction that impermissibly upends the status quo.
“4. The Subject Order violates the Court’s obligation to secure a just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of the issue.
“5. The Subject Order improperly requires the Task Force to pay rent to retain possession when Defendants made it unable to do so.”
The Supreme Court found, in its August 29 ruling, that Judge Schwall’s order was directly appealable because it dissolved a stay of dispossessory. Therefore, the Court dismissed the Task Force’s application for immediate review because there was already a direct appeal.
As for the emergency motion, the Supreme Court ruled, “we note that the Task Force appears to have an adequate remedy at law… a plea in abatement.” A plea in abatement is a plea that contests the date, time, or form of a pleading. Here, the dispossessory would be untimely because of the pending quiet title claims.
“At least at this point, the Task Force has made no showing that a plea in abatement would be an inadequate remedy at law. For that reason, we deny the emergency motion for now without prejudice. If the Task Force can show the absence of an adequate remedy at law, it may renew its emergency motion,” the Supreme Court ruled.
On September 11, 2014, Judge Schwall held a hearing on PFS’s motion to compel payment of rent. Josh Belinfante, attorney for PFS, argued that, following the dispossessory statute, the Task Force should have to pay rent into the Court while the dispossessory proceeding was pending.
Steve Hall, attorney for the Task Force, argued that, based on the Supreme Court’s order, the case is now on appeal and Judge Schwall lacks jurisdiction to change the status quo in any way, let alone order the payment of rent.
In addition, Hall made a plea in abatement, challenging the timeliness of PFS’s action for dispossessory and motion for payment of rent.
Judge Schwall said he felt inclined to assess payment of rent; stay the order; and issue a certificate for immediate review, allowing all issues to go up to the Supreme Court in one neat, little package, as he put it.
He said he would rule on September 19, 2014; however, no ruling has been issued, according to the Task Force.
Part of the water bill amount that is purportedly due was the subject of dispute in a federal lawsuit between the Task Force and the City of Atlanta, where the City of Atlanta prevailed.
Apparently, the City did not threaten disconnection for nonpayment of the bill, or the accumulation of new charges.
In recent weeks, the City announced that it would become more aggressive regarding the collection of several past due corporate accounts, including the Task Force’s account.
According to a bill for one of the Task Force’s accounts, obtained by APN, the Task Force owed $148,328.60 as of August 19, 2014, including copious late fees. The account appears to be for old service, with no new charges on the bill within the last several years, and the most recent payment by the Task Force in 2009.
According to a second bill, the Task Force owed $419,724.32, as of August 08, 2014.
“Currently, the Task Force owes $433,135.69 on the Active Account and $147,288.73 plus post-judgment interest imposed by federal court order on the Inactive Account, totaling over $580,000.00,” Michael Geisler, Chief Operating Officer of the City of Atlanta, wrote in a September 19, 2014, letter to the Task Force.
“I am writing this in response to your attorney’s September 18th offer of partial payment for the outstanding water and sewer bills owed by the Metropolitan Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. Your proposal is for a partial payment of a very large outstanding balance, with no commitment of payment for the remaining balance,” Geisler wrote.
“On Monday, September 22, 2014, should the City of Atlanta not receive full payment of your bill, a work order will be initiated in our Department of Watershed Management for the water to be turned off,” Geisler wrote.