Constitutional Transfer of Appeal from Superior Court to Court of Appeals

On July 24, the Court of Appeals issued a decision in Laster v. National Collegiate Student Loan Trust, A14A1057, A14A1059. After the State Court of Sumter County granted summary judgment against the Lasters, they appealed pro se to the Superior Court, which dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Lasters then appealed to the Court of Appeals. Citing Georgia Constitution Article VI, Section I, Paragraph VIII, which states, “Any court shall transfer to the appropriate court in the state any civil case in which it determines that jurisdiction or venue lies elsewhere,” the Court of Appeals held that the case should have been transferred to it, rather than dismissed.

On the surface, the decision—only two paragraphs long—is unremarkable, and seems to be a straightforward application of the plain language of the Constitution. But the relief it orders—transfer of a case from the Superior Court to the Court of Appeals—is of a type that published decisions rarely if ever mention. Most cases interpreting Article VI, Section I, Paragraph VIII involve either transfers among trial-level courts (e.g., from probate court to superior court, or between superior courts of two different counties), or transfers from the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals. The issue in Blackmon v. Tenet Healthsystem Spalding, Inc., 284 Ga. 369 (667 SE2d 348) (2008), cited by the Court of Appeals in Laster, was a transfer from state court to superior court; in the other cited case, Bosma v. Gunter, 258 Ga. 664 (373 SE2d 368) (1988), the Supreme Court transferred an appeal to the superior court.

It may be that this issue is rarely discussed in published opinions because appeals courts simply treat the appeal of the dismissal as if it were a transfer. In Laster, the Court of Appeals could not do that, because it received only an incomplete record. Slip op. at 2 n.1. Instead, the court vacated the Superior Court’s order and remanded so that the entire appellate record could be transmitted. Id. at 2. The majority and concurring opinions in Spurlock v. Department of Human Resources, 690 SE2d 378 (Ga. 2010), addressed a related issue, although in that case the improper appeal was to the Court of Appeals, not a superior court. Compare id. at 384 (Nahmias, J., concurring specially) (“[R]ulings made by a court without competent jurisdiction that affect the merits of an appeal—including, obviously, the judgment whether even to allow the appeal of a case—are nullities, whether or not they are vacated by the issuing court…. Vacating such rulings before transferring the case will make the record, and the need for an authorized decision of those issues, clearer.”), with id. at 381 (majority op.) (finding “the procedure which we followed in the unpublished orders cited by Justice Nahmias is plainly unnecessary,” and that the Court’s “practice has been simply to resolve the appeal”).

Another interesting note about Laster: the Court of Appeals directs the Lasters to its website, www.gaappeals.us, and notes that it “contains a Citizen’s Guide, directed primarily at pro se parties, which they also may find helpful.” Slip op. at 2 n.2. I could not immediately find another example of the Court of Appeals citing its website or the Citizen’s Guide in the body of a decision.