Task Force for the Homeless Wins Favorable Georgia Supreme Court Ruling
(APN) ATLANTA — This morning, Monday, November 23, 2015, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a ruling that is favorable to the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, upholding prior summary judgment rulings, and paving the way for a trial on the merits of the case.
The Task Force claims that Central Atlanta Progress, Manny Fialkow, and other individuals and entities conspired to sabotage the Task Force, by depriving it of funds and maneuvering the organization into foreclosure so that a member of the conspiracy could obtain the building.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled, in an opinion authored by Justice Robert Benham, that the Fulton County Superior Court, and the Special Master before that, had both correctly found that the Task Force has viable claims that must be considered by a jury.
“There is evidence… that Fialkow may have been part of a concerted action with a common design insofar as his role in acquiring the notes on the property through defendant Ichthus,” Justice Benham wrote.
“For instance, there is evidence that Fialkow communicated with A.J. Robinson [of CAP] about his intent to form Ichthus as a vehicle to purchase the notes from ICE and Mercy after his efforts to approach the Task Force to buy the property and to approach lenders to buy the notes were turned down in early 2009,” Benham wrote.
“There is also evidence that PFS is majority-owned by Sunshine Property Group, a company which is owned by Fialkow’s wife; there is evidence that Fialkow transferred, from his wife’s bank account, the money that PFS used to loan Ichthus when it purchased the notes ICE and Mercy in 2010; and there is some evidence that the sole officer and director of Ichthus is defendant Fialkow’s longtime assistant,” Benham wrote.
“Thus, should a jury determine that a conspiracy existed, then Fialkow could be held jointly liable for any torts committed by the other defendants to effect the common design of the conspiracy, even if he did not engage in each and every tort alleged,” Benham wrote.
The Supreme Court disagreed, however, regarding one of the claims. It found that even if the conspiracy successfully persuaded donor Dan Cathy to stop funding the Task Force, it would not legally qualify as a tort because the recipient of a gift does not necessarily have a legal right to expect future gifts.
The Supreme Court also ruled, for technical reasons, that the Task Force did not have a viable claim for quiet title, but did have a viable claim for wrongful foreclosure.
Actually, the ruling was also a victory for property rights, in that it provides that property owners with viable tort claims in connection with claims for wrongful foreclosure, can remain on their property until those claims are settled.
In this case, it is arguably ironic, that a homeless shelter and hundreds of homeless people have secured such a meaningful property rights victory in the State of Georgia.
“The Mayor [Kasim Reed] needs to read this decision and get on the right side,” Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Task Force, told Atlanta Progressive News.
The Task Force has been represented pro bono by the Baker Donelson law firm.
“Baker Donelson, [attorney] Steve Hall, is the hero in this situation. He’s been David against this Goliath of every powerful law firm in Atlanta,” Beaty said.
“We’ve been in deposition after deposition, hearing after hearing, and it’s been amazing to watch him come up against five and six different law firms and to come out successfully, legally sound, and heroically brave, in the face of business and the law firms,” Beaty said.
“They’ve kept going faithfully, because they believe in the cause and they understand justice and [that] justice can be served,” Beaty said.
The Supreme Court also dismissed as moot an appeal by the Task Force related to an order by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall to allow Premium Funding Solutions to proceed with a dispossessory.
The Task Force had already won a plea in abatement in connection with PFS’s attempt at dispossessory, and as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, the Court of Appeals of Georgia upheld the abatement.
Therefore, the foreclosure issue is now permanently off the table until such time that a jury trial rules on the merits.
Also as previously reported by APN, there is significant documentary evidence that the conspiracy took place. The defendants have been legally maneuvering their way around a trial on the merits for years. But, the Task Force will soon have the day in court for which they have been patiently awaiting.
“We are delighted, the Task Force is delighted, this on the day that is the coldest we’ve had yet this season,” attorney Steve Hall said.
“There were 105 women and children, and over four hundred men last night,” at the shelter, Hall said.
“We’re delighted this ruling came out giving those folks a chance to have those claims heard before a jury, which is what we’ve been [seeking] since 2010,” Hall said.
“This order means we will get to go to a jury. We will get a chance to let the impartial people in our society make a decision as to whether what happened here was correct, and whether we’re going to allow this stuff to go forward,” Hall said.
“We came into this with two goals, one, to get title back to the property, because we felt it had been improperly foreclosed upon; and [two,] the Task Force wanted to tell the world what had happened to them and recover the damages that were inflicted on them with tortious interference,” Hall said.
“The Supreme Court decision doesn’t decide the final outcome, but finds there is evidence from which a jury could find that the Task Force has been right all along that it was wrongfully foreclosed upon, and its business relationships were wrongfully interfered with,” Hall said.
“Throughout the case, there have been what we think were a lot of collateral efforts to avoid having a case going before a jury, some within the legal system, and some without it, and this puts an end to all of those efforts,” Hall said.
“This is so exciting, to feel that justice may be served after all, and we get to go to court, and all the documents we have, that’s the most exciting part to me, that there may be justice around the corner,” Beaty said.
“We’re thrilled no dispossessory can be filed, and we’re really thrilled the wrongful foreclosure [claim] has legs and the tortious interference as well. We can’t wait to got to court,” Beaty said.