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By: Dana K. Maine
In an opinion issued Monday, Athens Cellular, Inc. v. Oconee County, Georgia, et al, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit determined that a decision under Telecommunications Act (“TCA”) was “final” when the local government adopted the minutes from the denial meeting. This meant that the cellular company’s complaint was timely when it was filed within 30 days of the approval of the minutes. The panel reached this decision by applying the language from the Georgia Open Records Act, highlighting the fact that there was nothing in the local ordinance that indicated when a decision was final. The county had considered the decision final when it was reduced to writing, approved by the chairman of the county commission and inserted in the minute book. (The TCA requires that a decision be reduced to writing and provides the reasons for the decision.)
A concurrence written by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, senior district Judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, sitting by designation, concluded that the complaint was timely, but on the basis of equitable tolling of the 30-day TCA statute of limitations, not the Georgia Open Records Act. Judge Kaplan’s opinion points out an extremely concerning result of the majority opinion – no action of a local government is final until the minutes from the meeting at which the decision was made are adopted. There is not any Georgia case that reaches this conclusion and, as a practical matter, this is not how local governments operate. It would be impractical for there to be a month delay on the implementation of decisions.
Rather than making a broad proclamation about how local government decisions are made, it appears that the panel was attempting to fill in a void that was created by the lack of local ordinance addressing the finality of decisions. Thus, our advice to local governments is to review your ordinances and ensure that they explicitly include this information.
For assistance with this or any other local government matter, please contact Dana Maine, [email protected], or any other member of our National Government Practice Group, a list of which can be found on our website – www.fmglaw.com.