Mandamus & County Boundaries
When a statute requires an elected official to determine the location of a county boundary, the official must make the determination. And, the courts can make him do so. Bibb County v. Monroe County, #S13A1395 (Ga. Sup. Ct., March 10, 2014).
The Georgia Secretary of State is empowered to hold a hearing and “shall determine from the law and evidence the true boundary line in dispute between the respective counties.” In this case, the hearing was held, but the Secretary rejected the hearing officer’s recommendation. The boundary line was left undetermined. The Supreme Court held that the counties “have a clear legal right to a process that results in a definitive determination of the boundary line separating them.”
Because the statute sets out the exclusive method for making the determination, the courts are powerless to dictate the result. They can use their mandamus power, however, to “compel the taking of action in some form.”
County boundary disputes present practical problems for title evidencing when the resolution relocates property from one county to another. These disputes occur more frequently than one might expect, and they are fraught with political concerns affecting zoning, voting, taxation, aid allocations, etc. Indeed, the Secretary in Bibb County had argued (to no avail) the “boundary setting process presents a purely political question that is non-justiciable.” N.B.: procedures for settling these disputes vary widely from state to state.