Georgia eminent domain laws can be found in Title 22 of Georgia Code. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 22-1-3, the General Assembly determines when the right of eminent domain may be exercised. The right of eminent domain is the right of the state, to reassert, either temporarily or permanently, its dominion over any portion of the soil of the state on account of public exigency and for the public good. Thus, in time of war or insurrection the proper authorities may possess and hold any part of the territory of the state for the common safety. The condemning authority shall use eminent domain unless it is for public use. Public use is a matter of law to be determined by the court and the condemnor bears the burden of proof. All condemnations shall not be converted to any use other than a public use for 20 years from the initial condemnation. If property acquired fails to be put to a public use within five years, the former property owner may apply to the condemnor or its successor or assign for reconveyance or quitclaim of the property to the former property owner or for additional compensation for such property[i].
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 22-2-20 any person seeking to condemn property for public purposes shall serve a notice of condemnation on the owner of the property or of any remainder, reversion, mortgage, lease, security deed, or other interest therein.
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 22-2-40, the condemnor and the condemnee shall each select an assessor, and the two assessors so selected shall select a third assessor. No person shall be selected as an assessor unless such person is a real estate appraiser who has an appraiser classification of certified general appraiser granted under Chapter 39A of Title 43, the “Real Estate Appraiser and Classification Act.” The condemnor shall be liable for the costs of the assessor selected by or for the condemnor, the condemnee shall be liable for the costs of the assessor selected by or for the condemnee, and the costs of the assessor selected by the other assessors or by the judge shall be split equally between the condemnor and condemnee. The combined total costs of all three assessors shall not exceed $500.00 per day. If by reason of delay in appointing assessors or other cause the hearing cannot be conducted at the time fixed in the original notice, the assessors shall fix the time for the hearing and shall notify the parties in writing of the time and place of the hearing[ii].
The assessors shall have the same power to issue subpoenas and compel the attendance of witnesses as is vested in the superior court[iii]. The assessors shall assess the value of the property and the consequential damages to the property or interests not taken, and shall deduct from such consequential damages the consequential benefits to be derived by the owner from the operation of the franchise by the condemnor or from the carrying on of the business of the condemnor. However, the consequential benefits assessed shall not exceed the consequential damages assessed[iv]. The award shall be filed and recorded in the office of the clerk of the superior court of the county where the property or interest is situated, within ten days after the award is made[v].
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 22-2-80, if either party is dissatisfied with the amount of the assessors’ award, s/he may, within ten days from the time the award is filed, enter in writing an appeal from the award to the superior court of the county where the award is filed. At the term succeeding the filing of the appeal, it shall be the duty of the judge to cause an issue to be made and tried by a jury as to the value of the property or interest taken or the amount of damage done, with the same right to move for a new trial and file an appeal as in other cases at law. If the condemnor fails to pay the amount of the award or judgment within ten days after the same is filed or entered, then the clerk shall issue execution upon such award or judgment which may be levied upon any property of the condemnor[vi].
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 22-2-102, whenever it is desirable, for any reason, to arrive at a quick and certain determination of the compensation to be paid first to the condemnee for the taking or damaging of private property, the condemnor shall:
1) File a petition in a superior court having jurisdiction for a judgment in rem against the property or interest therein; and
2) At or before the filing of the petition, present a copy of the petition to a judge of the superior court of the county wherein the property is located. Thereupon, unless waived by the parties, the judge shall have a hearing in court, in chambers, or by telephone with the parties not less than ten days nor more than 30 days from the filing of the petition to appoint a special master. After such hearing, the judge shall make an order requiring the condemnor, and each person with a legal claim or interest to appear at a hearing before a special master at a time and place specified in the order and to make known their rights, in and to the property, their claims as to the value of the property or interest, and any other matters material to their respective rights.
The hearing before the special master shall take place not less than 30 days nor more than 60 days after the date of the entry of the order appointing the special master.
The special master is appointed by the judge or judges of the superior courts of each judicial circuit. The special must be a competent attorney at law, be of good standing in his profession, and have at least three years’ experience in the practice of law. The relation and accountability of the special master to the court shall be that of an auditor or master. The special master shall hold office at the pleasure of the judge and shall be removable at any time with or without cause. Each special master shall take and file in the office of the clerk of the superior court of the county in which the property or interest to be condemned is situated, along with the order of his appointment, an oath or affidavit[vii].
The award of the special master shall be served upon all the parties and filed with the clerk of the superior court of the county where the property is situated within three days after the date on which such hearing is completed. The special master shall mail the award to the condemnor and any condemnees on the date of filing of the award and provide a certificate of service evidencing the mailing of such award[viii].
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 22-2-114 when the condemnor has paid into the registry of the court the amount provided for in the award of the special master, the effect of such payment into the registry of the court shall be the same as if paid to the condemnees directly. The clerk shall pay out the money to the condemnees or their personal representatives upon proper proof submitted to him or her as to the quantity of their interests. Where there are conflicting claims, the clerk may require the conflicting parties to establish their claims before the court as is provided by law in other similar matters.
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 22-2-130, if the condemning authority has reason to believe that the title of the owner of the property sought to be condemned is defective or in controversy and concludes that it is desirable to have a judicial ascertainment of any question connected with the matter, the authority may petition the superior court of the county having jurisdiction for a judgment in rem against the property or interest, condemning the same to the use of the petitioner upon payment of just and adequate compensation therefor to the person or persons entitled to such payment. The court has power, upon payment of the award or verdict into the registry of the court, to adjudge a condemnation of the title to the property or interest therein and give such direction as to the disposition of the fund as shall be proper, according to the rights of the several respondents, and to cause such pleadings to be filed and such issues to be made as shall be appropriate for an ascertainment and determination of such rights[ix].
[i] O.C.G.A. § 22-1-2.
[ii] O.C.G.A. § 22-2-60.
[iii] O.C.G.A. § 22-2-61.
[iv] O.C.G.A. § 22-2-63.
[v] O.C.G.A. § 22-2-65.
[vi] O.C.G.A. § 22-2-83.
[vii] O.C.G.A. § 22-2-103.
[viii] O.C.G.A. § 22-2-110.
[ix] O.C.G.A. § 22-2-138.