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Georgia Supreme Court Rejects Constitutional Challenge to Statute of Limitations Benefitting Electric Cooperatives

In the context of reviewing the viability of landowners’ nuisance claims against a Georgia electric cooperative, the Supreme Court of Georgia in Daniel v. Amicalola EMC recently rejected the landowners’ constitutional challenge to the one-year statute of limitations for rights of action resulting from an electric cooperative’s acquisition of an easement or use of the land of others.   The court found a rational basis for the statue arising from the origin and nature of electric cooperatives.    

The statute, which is part of the Georgia Electric Membership Corporation Act, requires a landowner bringing an easement claim against an electric cooperative to do so within twelve months from when the cause of action accrues.  O.C.G.A. Sec. 46-3-204.

In determining whether the statute met the rational basis test, the court examined the origin and purpose of the statute.  The court found that unlike for-profit utilities, non-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives have no profit margins to “cushion the financial blow of damage payments or re-routing of distribution facilities as a result of lawsuits filed long after alleged causes of action arise.”  The court held that it was not irrational for the legislature to allow landowners a shorter time period to enforce their property rights against electric cooperatives.   The court also rejected the landowners’ claim that the statute was unconstitutionally vague.  The court held that certain of the landowners’ trespass and conversion claims were time-barred by the statute.

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