Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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James Brock appealed the denial of his mandamus petition seeking records related to his murder convictions. The Georgia Supreme Court determined it had jurisdiction over the appeal arising from this civil action: "[w]e conclude that this appeal arises from an extraordinary remedies case 'concerning proceedings in which a sentence of death was imposed or could be imposed,' and thus we have jurisdiction under OCGA 15-3-3.1(a)(4)." Nevertheless, Brock’s appeal had to be dismissed for failure to file a discretionary application as OCGA 42-12-8 required for civil cases filed by prisoners. View "Brock v. Hardman" on Justia Law

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Following the Court of Appeals’ decision in RL BB ACQ I-GA CVL, LLC v. Workman, 798 SE2d 677 (2017), the Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider two questions: (1) whether attorney fees and costs are available under OCGA 9-15-14 for conduct that occurs during the course of post-judgment discovery; and (2) whether an entity is barred from seeking sanctions under OCGA 9-11-37 by failing to request sanctions at the time it sought and obtained a protective order under OCGA 9-11-26. The Court of Appeals reversed that portion of the order awarding fees pursuant to OCGA 9-15-14, concluding that the statute spoke only to conduct occurring during the course of a “lawsuit,” which concludes at judgment, and, thus, did not apply to post-judgment discovery proceedings. The appellate court also noted, without discussion, that OCGA 9-15-14 did not apply to non-parties. With respect to the fee award made pursuant to OCGA 9-11-37(a)(4)(A), the Court of Appeals questioned whether Appellants’ “failure to request their expenses at the time they sought the protective order barred them from seeking those expenses by way of a separate motion, filed more than 40 days after the protective order was entered,” and remanded the case to the trial court to consider the waiver issue. The Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative, the second in the negative, and, in so doing, affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "Workman et al. v. RL BB ACQ I-GA CVL, LLC et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Candice Reis and Melvin Williams appealed the grant of summary judgment to defendant OOIDA Risk Retention Group, Inc. (“OOIDA”) in a direct action against OOIDA and others arising from a vehicular collision involving Plaintiffs and a motor carrier insured by OOIDA. At issue was whether provisions in the federal Liability Risk Retention Act of 1986 (“the LRRA”), 15 USC 3901, et seq., preempted Georgia’s motor carrier and insurance carrier direct action statutes, OCGA sections 40-1-112 (c),1 40-2-140 (d) (4), in regard to risk retention groups, thereby precluding this direct action against OOIDA. After review of the statutes at issue here, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded there was indeed federal preemption of this action against OOIDA, and consequently, affirmed summary judgment. View "Reis et al. v. OOIDA Risk Retention Group, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from the Forsyth County, Georgia Probate Court’s finding that Emanuel Gladstone breached his fiduciary duty as conservator for his incapacitated wife, Jacqueline Gladstone. The court entered a judgment against Gladstone and his surety, Ohio Casualty Insurance Company, for $167,000 “on the settlement of accounts and as damages” and $150,000 in punitive damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed the probate court’s judgment. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Ohio Casualty’s petition for certiorari, and the Georgia Supreme Court directed the parties to address two questions: (1) whether the appellate court erred in holding that a conservator’s bond covered punitive damages even though such damages were not expressly provided for under OCGA 29-5-40 et seq. or under the provisions of the bond itself; and (2) if a conservator’s bond did cover punitive damages, did the Court of Appeals err in holding that because the probate court complied with OCGA 29-5-92 (b) (4) in imposing sanctions against the petitioner, compliance with the procedures for imposing punitive damages under OCGA 51-12-5.1 was not required. The Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative, rendering the second question moot. View "In re Estate of Gladstone" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Department of Revenue denied New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC; Chattanooga MSA LP; Georgia RSA No. 3, LP; and Northeastern Georgia RSA Limited Partnership (collectively “AT&T”) a tax refund. The appellants alleged that from November 1, 2005 until September 7, 2010, they sold wireless Internet access services to Georgia customers, which were exempt from state sales tax under OCGA 48-8-2. In November 2010, the appellants filed refund claims with the Department for sales tax that they claimed was, until September 2010, erroneously charged to Georgia customers on the purchase of wireless Internet access service. The Department officially refused to pay the requested refund claims. On April 17, 2015, the appellants filed their complaint to challenge this denial. The Department answered and moved to dismiss for a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and the failure to state a claim, because: (1) appellants did not reimburse the alleged illegally collected sales tax to customers before seeking a refund from the Department, in violation of Department Regulation 560-12-1-.25; (2) the appellants lacked standing to file sales-tax-refund claims on behalf of customers for periods prior to May 5, 2009; and (3) the action was barred by Georgia class-action law. Following a hearing on the motion to dismiss, the trial court granted it on all three grounds. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review to determine whether Ga. Comp. R. & Regs. R. 560-12-1-.25 (2) properly required a dealer seeking a sales tax refund reimburse its customer before applying for a refund from the Department of Revenue. The Supreme Court determined this was not a requirement, and that the Court of Appeals’ opinion had to be vacated in part and reversed in part, and that the case remanded with direction. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC v. Georgia Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Bryan Harrell was driving his pickup truck at more than 50 miles per hour when he rear-ended the 1999 Jeep in which four-year-old Remington Walden was a rear-seat passenger, with his aunt behind the wheel. The impact left Harrell and Remington’s aunt unhurt, but fractured Remington’s femur. The impact also caused the Jeep’s rear-mounted gas tank to rupture and catch fire. Remington burned to death trying to escape; he lived for up to a minute as he burned, and witnesses heard him screaming. Remington’s parents (“Appellees”) sued both Chrysler and Harrell for wrongful death. At trial, in March and April of 2015, Appellees challenged the Jeep’s vehicle design, arguing that Chrysler should not have used a rear-mounted fuel tank. When questioning Chrysler Chief Operating Officer Mark Chernoby at trial, Appellees’ counsel asked about the CEO’s salary, bonus, and benefits; Marchionne himself was never questioned about his income and benefits. The trial court overruled Chrysler’s repeated relevance and wealth-of-a-party objections to this line of questioning. Appellees’ counsel referenced Marchionne’s compensation testimony again in closing, arguing, “what [Chrysler’s counsel] said Remi’s life was worth, Marchionne made 43 times as much in one year.” The jury determined that Chrysler acted with a reckless or wanton disregard for human life and failed to warn of the hazard that killed Remington. In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeal discussed admission of CEO compensation, holding “evidence of a witness’s relationship to a party is always admissible” and that the CEO’s compensation “made the existence of [the CEO’s] bias in favor of Chrysler more probable.” The Georgia Supreme Court held not that compensation evidence is always admissible to show the bias of an employee witness, or that it is never admissible, but that such evidence is subject to the Rule 403 analysis weighing the evidence’s unfair prejudice against its probative value. Because Chrysler did not raise a Rule 403 objection to the compensation evidence at issue in this appeal, the Supreme Court considered the question not under the ordinary abuse-of-discretion standard, but as a question of plain error. The Court concluded that under the particular circumstances of this case, it could not say that the prejudicial effect of the evidence so far outweighed its probative value that its admission was clear and obvious reversible error. Accordingly, although the Supreme Court disagreed with the rationale of the Court of Appeals, it ultimately affirmed its judgment. View "Chrysler Group, LLC v. Walden" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to determine whether the Court of Appeals in the preceding case, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company v. Koch, 793 SE2d 564 (2016), properly articulated the legal standard for when a plaintiff’s duty to preserve evidence begins and properly applied that standard to the facts of this case. Like a defendant’s duty, a plaintiff’s duty to preserve relevant evidence in her control arises when that party actually anticipates or reasonably should anticipate litigation. Because the Court of Appeals appropriately identified and applied this standard, as did the trial court, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Koch" on Justia Law

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In consolidated actions, brothers-appellants Alex and David Peterson claimed, among other things, that their mother, appellee Mary Peterson, and their brother, appellee Calhoun Peterson, had breached their duties as executors of the will of Mary’s husband, Charles Hugh Peterson, and as trustees of a bypass trust created by that will. This appeal stemmed from the superior court’s grant of a motion for summary judgment filed by Mary. Of the many allegations of the complaints, the superior court specifically addressed two of them: one was Alex’s and David’s allegation that Mary and Calhoun, as trustees, had not properly considered the testator’s stated intention “to provide for the proper support and education of my descendants taking into account and consideration any other means of support they or any of them may have to the knowledge of the Trustees.” With regard to this issue, the superior court ruled against Alex and David for two reasons: (1) because Item 21 of the will provided that a decision of the majority of the trustees would be controlling only so long as Mary was one of the majority, Alex and David would be entitled to income under the bypass trust only if Mary approved it; and (2) because of the requirement that Mary be a part of the majority of executors or trustees for one of their decisions to control, because of the benefits granted to Mary under the trusts, and because of her power to appoint trust property, the primary purpose of the trusts was to support Mary, and there was thus “no requirement that income be provided to either [Alex or David].” The Georgia Supreme Court concluded that based on the facts of record, these conclusions did not warrant the grant of summary judgment to Mary. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Peterson v. Peterson" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to examine whether the Court of Appeals improperly construed OCGA 16-11-135(e), which was part of the Business Security and Employee Privacy Act, as granting immunity “from firearm-related tort liability” to an employer who was sued for liability for the allegedly negligent acts of its employee under the theory of respondeat superior, and for the employer’s alleged negligent supervision. Appellant Claude Lucas sued appellee Beckman Coulter, Inc. (“BCI”) along with BCI’s employee Jeremy Wilson for injuries Lucas suffered when Wilson accidentally shot Lucas with a handgun. The accident occurred while Wilson was on the premises of BCI’s customer where he had driven his employer-owned vehicle to make a service call. In apparent violation of BCI’s policy prohibiting employees from transporting firearms while on company business, Wilson had taken a firearm with him on this service call. When he learned that a number of vehicles in the customer’s parking lot had been vandalized in recent days, he removed his gun from the vehicle and took it inside, where he accidentally fired it, injuring Lucas. Lucas filed his complaint, and following discovery, BCI filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment on three grounds: (1) that Wilson’s choice to take his firearm onto the client’s property was not within the scope of Wilson’s employment, and therefore BCI is not liable for these actions under a theory of respondeat superior; (2) that Lucas explicitly abandoned his claims for BCI’s negligent supervision; and (3) that OCGA 16-11-135(e) barred Lucas’s claims against BCI. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. On remand, the Court of Appeals was instructed to address Lucas’s assertion that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to BCI on his claims of liability under respondeat superior and for negligent supervision. View "Lucas v. Beckman Coulter, Inc." on Justia Law

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Companion appeals raised questions about when a jury considering a medical malpractice case might also be instructed on issues of ordinary negligence. Sterling Brown Sr. sued the defendant medical centers and medical professionals individually and on behalf of his wife, Gwendolyn Brown, after she suffered catastrophic brain damage, allegedly from oxygen deprivation while undergoing a procedure to relieve back pain. Mrs. Brown died while this suit was pending, and the complaint was amended to add a wrongful death claim. A trial in which the court instructed the jury on both ordinary negligence and medical malpractice resulted in an award of nearly $22 million. A divided Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted the defendants’ petitions for certiorari to consider their argument that the Court of Appeals erred by concluding that the evidence supported a claim of ordinary negligence. "The plaintiffs’ case of medical malpractice was very strong. But a very strong case of medical malpractice does not become a case of ordinary negligence simply due to the egregiousness of the medical malpractice." The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that an ordinary negligence instruction was authorized by evidence that a doctor defendant responded inadequately to medical data provided by certain medical equipment during a medical procedure. Because the verdict was a general one such that the Court could not determine that the jury did not rely on this erroneous theory of liability, it reversed with instructions that the Court of Appeals on remand order a full retrial as to defendants. View "Southeastern Pain Specialists, P.C. v. Brown" on Justia Law