Sovereign immunity does not bar suits between political subdivisions of the state, such as cities and counties, according to the Supreme Court of Georgia. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Airport) is owned and operated by the City of Atlanta but is located in Clayton County. Some businesses at the Airport are located in unincorporated Clayton County, while other businesses are located within the City of College Park. The City of College Park asserted that since the enactment of O.C.G.A. 3-8-1 in 1983, which provides for the regulation and taxation of alcohol at the airport, it had not been receiving the proper amount of alcoholic beverage taxes and that Clayton County and improperly infringed on its authority to tax by instructing Airport vendors to remit to the county 50% of the taxes due from the sale of alcohol in those portions of the Airport located within College Park.
The city and county disagreed to the interpretation of state law and when they could not come to an agreement on the revenues the city filed a suit seeking an interlocutory and permanent injunction against the county, a delcaratory judgment as to the division of taxes, and payment of those taxes. The county filed cross-claims and a motion for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that the city's claims were barred by sovereign immunity. The trial court found that sovereign immunity did not apply to the city's claims or to the cross-claims and granted partial summary judgment to the city on the declaratory judgment counts. On the first county appeal with the issue of sovereign immunity the Supreme Court held that there was a threshold question of whether sovereign immunity applies at all between suits between political subdivisions. As a result, the Court remanded back to the trial court.
On remand, the trial court granted the county’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and held that the county had sovereign immunity against claims from the city except for the constitutional takings claims. The trial court specifically held that sovereign immunity barred all mandamus claims against the county officials, even in their official capacities. The city appealed. The Court held that sovereign immunity in Georgia is a continuation of English common law, as it was understood in Georgia at the time sovereign immunity became part of the Georgia Constitution. Taking a deep look at the history of sovereign immunity in Georgia, the Court held that sovereign immunity has no application in suits between counties and cities when both are exercising their home rule powers and neither is acting on behalf of the State of Georgia. The Court held that in such situations there is no sovereignty to be maintained and there are only two political subdivisions, neither of which has governing authority over the other.