Court of Appeals Affirms Municipality’s Right To Permanent Injunction Enjoining Code Violations

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently affirmed the right of municipalities to obtain a permanent injunction enjoining code violations.  The Court held that a permanent injunction requiring a homeowner to remove trash and inoperable vehicles from his property and enjoining him from violating property maintenance and health codes in the future did not serve to improperly enjoin prosecution of criminal offenses, but instead merely gave the municipality an additional avenue to enforce its ordinances against the homeowner.  The Court also rejected the argument that an injunction is impermissible to enjoin code violations because the municipality has an adequate remedy at law through criminal prosecutions where the facts show a repeated and consistent code violations.

Keep reading for GZB’s summary of Jacobs v. Chatham County, Georgia, No. A09A0128, decided December 2, 2008.

Over a twelve year period, Jay Jacobs repeatedly violated the Chatham County Property Maintenance Code by accumulating garbage and inoperable vehicles on his residential property.  On at least four occasions, Chatham County cited Jacobs for code violations.  Jacobs would temporarily bring his property into compliance and remove the inoperable vehicles to a hiding place.  However, Jacobs would always bring the inoperable vehicles back to his property and begin accumulation of garbage.  Jacobs repeatedly and consistently failed to maintain his property despite ordinance citations and court orders.

Chatham County petitioned the local superior court for an interloctory injunction requiring Jacobs to remedy the code violations and sought a permanent injuniction enjoining future violations.  The trial court entered the interlocutory injuniction requiring immediate compliance and issued the permanent injunction against future violations.  Jacobs appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals arguing that the county had no authority to seek to enjoin the violation of its ordinances.  The appeal was not supported by any transcript from the trial court requiring the Court of Appeals to assume that the lower court’s findings were based upon sufficient evidence.

On appeal, Jacobs argued that the permanent injunction improperly enjoins the prosecution of criminal offenses.  The Court of Appeals rejected that argument holding that an injunction does not in any way impede the prosecution for code violations.  The Court of Appeals noted that the injunction actually gives the county an additional avenue to enforce its ordinances against Jacobs rather than restraining criminal prosecution.

Jacobs countered that the injunction was impermissible in that the county has an adquate remedy at law through criminal prosecutions.  The Court of Appeals also rejected this argument based upon the longstanding deliberate acts of Jacobs.  The Court of Appeals held that the lower court acted well within its discretion in finding that criminal prosecutions would not adequately protect the county nor be as practical and efficient to the ends of justice as a permanent injunction enjoining future infractions.

Jacobs v. Chatham County, 295 Ga.App. 74, 670 S.E.2d 885 (2008).  Sherwin Robin of Reynolds & Robin represented Jay Jacobs.  R. Jonathan Hart and Lisa Colbert of Lee, Black, Hart & Rouse represented Chatham County.


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