It is that time of year again in Georgia. New laws are being proposed and some of them are aimed at the legal justice system. Subcommittees in the House and Senate each heard their own respective versions of legislation to implement a statewide business court. The proposed legislation provides that the court has concurrent jurisdiction and the powers of a court of equity over claims arising under the Uniform Commercial Code, the Georgia Uniform Securities Act and the Georgia Business Corporation Code, among others. Additionally, under the bill, the court has concurrent jurisdiction over certain claims between two or more businesses where the amount in controversy exceeds $250,000, as well as claims involving commercial real property that exceed $1 million. The business court may accept cases that are (1) directly initiated with the court; (2) removed from superior or state court by an agreement of all the parties; or (3) transferred after a party files a petition to transfer and the business court finds by a written order that the case is within its authority. The most recent revision of the bill sets the filing fee at a ridiculously high $1,000 and provides that the judge shall be appointed by Aug. 1, 2019, and the court will begin accepting cases on Aug. 1, 2020. Obviously, the authors of the bill are trying to chill consumers and small business from being able to file lawsuits as a $1,000 filing fee is prohibitive under a lot of scenarios. In addition, who will the sole judge be that sits before business litigants. To put so much influence in one judge does not seem wise. It would be fairer and more just to leave the business cases in the state, superior and federal court systems, which have competently adjudicated over them to date.
The Senate version of the business court’s legislation includes some of the same subject matter jurisdiction as the House bill, but has a lower amount in controversy requirement ($100,000) and expressly lists concurrent jurisdiction in cases involving receivership of businesses, non-competition covenants, and antitrust laws or restraints of trade. Under the senate bill, the business court would commence operations on Jan. 1, 2020, and could begin accepting cases on Aug. 1, 2020. The filing fee for a case in the business court would be $1,000, paid by the party filing the action in the business court or seeking to transfer the case, or by an equal allocation across all parties if they all agree to remove the case to the business court.
As a business litigator in Georgia who regularly handles commission disputes in state and local courts, I am not in favor of a special business court. At least not one that would be mandatory if one party requests removal to it. The state and superior courts, along with the federal courts of the 11th circuit have amply provided recourse for the citizens of Georgia with business disputes for hundreds of years and there is no reason to make an exception for business cases now. For instance, we file many commission disputes and we have never found any of the judges or court personnel lacking in any respect with these types of cases.