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Supreme Court rules in favor of DNR
The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that a Glynn County environmental organization lacks the legal ground to ask the courts to force the state Department of Natural Resources to stop issuing letters of permission that allow certain activities in protected areas without going through the permitting process.

The court released the opinion Monday.

In 2011, the Center for a Sustainable Coast, a nonprofit environmental watchdog, filed a lawsuit against the DNR's Coastal Resources Division and its director, Spud Woodward. It asked for a temporary restraining order to stop the issuance of what it said were letters allowing certain people or groups to negatively impact environmentally sensitive areas without meeting requirements of the law.

The letters violated the Shore Protection Act, the center claimed.

Letters of permission were issued for everything from rebuilding houses and drainage systems to building a movie set, the center said.

The state filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, claiming it was protected by sovereign immunity. It also said the letters were not unauthorized acts and that there was no justifiable controversy because the letters had already been issued.

The lawsuit was initially dismissed, but the Georgia Court of Appeals overturned the decision, saying the DNR could not hide behind sovereign immunity while performing illegal acts to the detriment of its citizens.

The DNR appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which ruled in its favor, saying the Court of Appeals made a mistake by overturning the dismissal.

"We hold that sovereign immunity bars the center's claim for injunctive relief against the state in this case," the Supreme Court said in its ruling. "Our decision...does not mean that citizens aggrieved by the unlawful conduct of public officers are without recourse. It means only that they must seek relief against such officers in their individual capacities."

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