SEARS, Chief Justice.
We granted certiorari in this case to consider whether the Court of Appeals correctly held that the trial court used the proper standard when it required plaintiffs, in a suit seeking to challenge the use of Special Local Option Sales Tax ("SPLOST") funds, to establish their standing by first proving Columbus Consolidated Government acted ultra vires.
In 1999, the Columbus Consolidated Government, the Muscogee County School District, and the Muscogee County Library Board ("the appellees") sought voter approval of a SPLOST to fund the building of a new public library. While informing voters about the project, the appellees circulated an architectural rendering that illustrated a park-like space behind the library and, at informational meetings, the appellees referred to the project as having "green space" and a "park." The SPLOST was approved by voters on November 2, 1999, with the stated purpose of "paying the costs, in part, of acquiring, constructing, and equipping a county library." A park, however, was not constructed at the time the library was built. Subsequently, when the last of the SPLOST funds was designated to landscaping around the library building and to purchasing books, a park still had not been built. The appellants then filed a complaint for injunctive relief and for mandamus, contending that the appellees had promised to build a park as part of the project, that they impermissibly abandoned a SPLOST purpose by failing to build the promised park, and that the trial court should compel the appellees to spend the remaining SPLOST funds on a park.
The appellants moved for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") to prohibit the appellees from spending the last SPLOST funds until the trial court had ruled on the appellants' request for mandamus relief. At the hearing on the request for a TRO, the appellees moved to dismiss the complaint, contending that the appellants lacked standing because they could not show that the
For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the trial court and the Court of Appeals improperly concluded that the appellants were attempting to enjoin the appellees from spending money on the ground their expenditure was ultra vires and that both courts erred by concluding that the appellants had to prove the merits of their case at the preliminary hearing to have standing to maintain the action.
The appellants' complaint does not allege that the appellees engaged in ultra vires action in planning to spend the remaining SPLOST funds on landscaping and library books. Instead, the complaint primarily sought mandamus relief on the ground the appellees were required by law to spend the SPLOST funds on the projects detailed in the SPLOST referendum, that a public park was promised as part of the referendum, and that the appellees thus were required to use the remaining funds to build the promised park. The complaint secondarily sought injunctive relief, alleging that the only way to ensure the public purpose of building a park could be satisfied was to enjoin the appellees from spending the last of the SPLOST funds until the merits of the appellants' action could be resolved.
Cases in which citizens contend that public officials are misusing SPLOST funds traditionally come to this Court by way of mandamus petitions.
With regard to standing to bring a mandamus action, we have followed the language of OCGA § 9-6-24, which provides that "[w]here the question is one of public right and the object is to procure the enforcement of a public duty, no legal or special interest need be shown, but it shall be sufficient that [the] plaintiff is interested in having the laws executed and the duty in question enforced." For example, in Moseley v. Sentence Review Panel,
The question is whether the trial court erred in holding a preliminary hearing at which it resolved the merits of the appellant's claim in order to determine standing. We conclude that it did err and that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming that decision. The error appears to stem from our decision in Arneson in which we held that the plaintiffs' standing was "`dependent upon the correctness of their contention that the questioned actions are ultra vires.'"
When factual inquiries regarding the merits of a claim are necessary to resolve standing, we agree with a leading treatise that it is undesirable to resolve the issue pursuant to a preliminary hearing.
For the foregoing reasons, we conclude the trial court erred by resolving the standing issue by a preliminary hearing on the issue of the merits of the appellants' claim and that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court's judgment.
All the Justices concur.