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Home » Morgan Cnty. Hosp. Auth. v. City of Madison

Morgan Cnty. Hosp. Auth. v. City of Madison

Morgan Cnty. Hosp. Auth. v. City of Madison, A23A0795, 2023 WL 7101211 (Ga. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2023)

Morgan County Hospital Authority (“MCHA”) filed a declaratory judgment action against the City of Madison (“the City”) regarding certain property MCHA owned and operated as an acute care hospital (“1077 Main Street”). MCHA intended to sell the property to a buyer to operate an acute drug and alcohol treatment facility (“treatment facility”), which the City refused to allow without the buyer obtaining a conditional use permit (“CUP”). Following the trial court’s entry of judgment in favor of the City, MCHA appeals,1 arguing that the trial court erred (1) by applying a City zoning ordinance to MCHA, which is immune from zoning as a government entity; (2) by finding that MCHA had abandoned use of 1077 Main Street such that the property could not be sold, leased, or operated as a treatment facility by a buyer without obtaining a CUP; and (3) by finding that MCHA could not itself reopen 1077 Main Street as a treatment facility without obtaining a CUP. For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

[. . .]

In this case, MCHA has marketed 1077 Main Street to prospective purchasers for a number of years, reaching at least two asking-price offers, and it has been prevented from closing by the City’s insistence that the purchaser obtain a CUP. The City’s ordinance change has created a sufficient controversy such that the trial court correctly ruled on MCHA’s petition and has not issued an improper advisory opinion.10 While we note that no potential lease appears in the record,11 the City conceded at the abandonment hearing that MCHA could sell or lease without respect to zoning ordinances.

[. . .]

Next, the trial court correctly found that MCHA is immune from the City’s zoning ordinances.12 Thus, in the event that MCHA retained ownership of the property and operated a treatment facility at 1077 Main Street, it would be immune from any requirement to obtain a CUP under the City’s 2019 zoning ordinances.13 The City conceded this at the first hearing on the matter. To the extent that the trial court’s orders hold this, we affirm those portions of the orders, but we reverse any portions that could be read to hold otherwise.

[. . .]

MCHA established that it operated an acute care hospital at 1077 Main Street for almost 60 years, providing a range of healthcare services, both emergency and non-emergency, over that time period. Prior to moving, MCHA began marketing 1077 Main Street to other healthcare providers. Despite its move and inability to close on a sale, MCHA continues to house some of its hospital operations at 1077 Main Street, even though the full variety of hospital services do not currently occur at that location. Despite this, MCHA has spent over $100,000 a year maintaining the facilities and could restart full operations at the facility in a matter of days if necessary.29 Pretermitting whether the common law notion of abandonment can even be applied to the vested right of a government actor like MCHA, in this case, the record before us does not establish any intent to abandon the use at 1077 Main Street by MCHA under the common law understanding of abandonment.30 Therefore, to the extent that the trial court found otherwise, we reverse those rulings.