Appeals court to decide whether Rivian critics must pre-pay legal fees

Local judge previously ruled the plaintiffs would have to put up $365K to continue their lawsuit



An appeals court panel will determine whether opponents of a planned $5 billion electric vehicle factory an hour east of Atlanta will have to pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars to continue their zoning and permit lawsuit.

The Georgia Court of Appeals agreed Thursday to take up the case after a Fulton County judge ordered opponents of the Rivian EV factory to pay $365,000 to cover legal costs and attorney’s fees for the state and a local development authority. The local judge ordered the plaintiffs to pre-pay legal fees under what’s known as a petition for bond, a tactic designed to discourage frivolous lawsuits against local and state governments.

Attorneys for the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties (JDA) argued the Rivian opponents’ lawsuits are “frivolous” and are designed only to hinder the factory’s construction. The plaintiffs were involved in a similar lawsuit in Morgan County last year that they withdrew after failing to get a judge to issue a stop-work order.

John Christy, an Atlanta attorney representing the plaintiffs, previously said the state is trying to “discourage” his clients’ litigation. Christy’s clients won’t have to pay a penny while the matter is under appeal and unless the previous ruling is affirmed.

In a prior joint statement, the state and JDA said it was time for the “needless” litigation to end.

Christy and his clients, who include six residents who live or own property near the Rivian site, argue the state took over the 2,000-acre Rivian site to avoid public scrutiny during rezoning discussions. They currently are embroiled in two zoning-related lawsuits against government officials related to the Rivian project, one of the state’s largest economic development deals which promises 7,500 jobs. Cox Enterprises, owner of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, owns about a 4% stake in Rivian.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

One lawsuit is in Fulton County against the state and JDA. The other is a new complaint filed this year in Morgan County and accuses that county’s leaders of failing to enforce their codes. The state and JDA also filed motions to intervene in the Morgan County case, which remained pending Thursday.

In a separate legal battle, an appeals court panel recently dealt a blow to the Rivian opponents by reinstating some $700 million of local tax breaks that were struck down by a different local judge. Christy, who is also involved in that case, filed an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, which has yet to say whether it will hear the case.