Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

by
In July 2015, the Juvenile Court of Cherokee County, Georgia terminated the parental rights of a father and a mother as to their three minor children, I.L.M., I.T.M., and B.M. On October 8, 2015, in a separate case, the Cherokee County Department of Family and Children Services (“DFCS”) filed a petition alleging the parents’ newly-born child E.G.M. to be dependent. That same day, the juvenile court entered a protective custody order and appointed a guardian ad litem for E.G.M.; an adjudication hearing on DFCS’s petition was scheduled for October 22, 2015. At the hearing on that date, all parties announced that they were ready to proceed. However, the court, on its own motion and over the parents’ objections, decided to continue the hearing until a later date, and set the adjudication hearing for November 18, 2015; no written continuance order was entered at that time. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to the Court of Appeals in the case of In the Interest of E.G.M., 798 SE2d 639 (2017), to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in the manner in which it applied certain provisions of the Juvenile Code, OCGA 15-11-1, et seq., pertaining to the juvenile court’s decision to order a continuance of a dependency hearing. Finding that the continuance order did not meet the requirements of OCGA 15-11-110, and it was that flawed continuance order that caused the failure to meet the adjudication time limit of OCGA 15-11-118(a), the Supreme Court reversed: "The General Assembly has stated that dependency proceedings are to be completed expeditiously, OCGA 15-11-100 (2) , dismissal of a petition without prejudice furthers that goal by imposing a consequence for a failure to meet the statutory time requirements, see In the Interest of M.D.H., 300 Ga. 46, 57 (6) (793 SE2d 49) (2016), and in the circumstances of this case, we must conclude that the juvenile court abused the discretion afforded it under OCGA 15-11-181(a) to dismiss the petition without prejudice." View "In the Interest of I. L. M. et al., children" on Justia Law

by
Timothy Coen filed suit against CDC Software Corporation, Aptean, Inc. (CDC’s successor in interest), and four individuals acting as either a board member or general counsel for CDC, for defamation, false light and disclosure of private facts, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and attorney fees. The trial court dismissed Coen’s action based on both res judicata and failure to state a claim, referencing an earlier lawsuit filed by Coen for breach of his employment contract with CDC. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed, finding both actions arose from the underlying circumstances surrounding the termination of Coen’s employment with the CDC. Thereafter, the Georgia Supreme Court granted Coen’s petition for certiorari to review whether the Court of Appeals erred in its formulation and application of the doctrine of res judicata. The Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals did err in its formulation, and, accordingly, reversed for the Court of Appeals to consider the trial court’s alternative holding. View "Coen v. CDC Software Corp." on Justia Law

by
The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals in Thomas v. Tenet HealthSystem GB, 796 SE2d 301 (2017), to consider whether that court properly held that a claim of imputed simple negligence against a hospital, which was asserted in a second amended complaint, related back to the original complaint pursuant to OCGA 9-11-15 (c). Finding that the Court of Appeals was correct, the Supreme Court affirmed that court’s judgment. View "Tenet HealthSystem GA, Inc. v. Thomas" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Maxim Cabaret, Inc. d/b/a Maxim Cabaret was a strip club in Sandy Springs, Georgia, and appellant Theo Lambros was the club’s operator, sole shareholder, and president (collectively “Maxim”). Maxim appealed the superior court's order granting summary judgment to the City of Sandy Springs on Maxim’s legal challenges to city ordinances. The Georgia Supreme Court held that Maxim’s challenges to prior versions of the City’s ordinances that have since been replaced or amended were moot; current adult business ordinances prohibiting the sale of alcohol at businesses that offer live nude entertainment constitutionally regulate negative secondary effects of strip clubs without unduly inhibiting free speech or expression; and because the City may constitutionally prohibit Maxim from obtaining a license to sell liquor on its premises under the City’s adult business licensing ordinances, Maxim lacked standing to challenge the City’s alcohol licensing regulations. View "Maxim Cabaret v. City of Sandy Springs" on Justia Law

by
In a wrongful death lawsuit involving Georgia law, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court. In September 1992, Delia Bibbs was involved in a car accident in which she sustained a head injury that left her in a coma. A few months after the accident, she filed, through her husband, a personal injury lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. The case was tried by a jury, but before it returned a verdict, Bibbs and Toyota entered into a “high-low” settlement agreement, which guaranteed some recovery for Bibbs in the event of a verdict for Toyota, but limited Toyota’s exposure in the event of a verdict for Bibbs. The jury returned a verdict for Bibbs, awarding substantial damages, including more than $400,000 for past medical expenses, $6 million for future life care expenses, and $30 million for past and future pain and suffering. Within the next month, Toyota paid the amount required under the settlement agreement, and Bibbs executed a written release that incorporated the settlement agreement. Expressly excluded from the release was “any claim for Delia Bibbs’ wrongful death, inasmuch as Delia Bibbs has not died and no such claim was made or could have been made in the [personal injury lawsuit].” Also in connection with the settlement, Bibbs dismissed her personal injury lawsuit with prejudice. More than 20 years later, Bibbs died, Together with her surviving children, Bibbs’s husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Toyota, seeking damages for the full value of her life. The case was removed to federal district court, and Toyota filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Under Georgia law, the federal court asked whether the damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death action brought by survivors of a decedent limited by a settlement entered into by the decedent’s guardian in a previous personal injury suit settling all claims that were or could have been asserted in that suit. If the answer was yes, what components of wrongful death damages were barred? The Georgia Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative, and in response to the second question, explained that damages recovered or recoverable in an earlier personal injury lawsuit could not be recovered again in a wrongful death suit. View "Bibbs v. Toyota Motor Corporation, Inc." on Justia Law

by
In Lynchar, Inc. v. Colonial Oil Industries, Inc., 801 SE2d 576 (2017), the Court of Appeals found that certain individual guaranties of Lynchar, Inc.’s debt to Colonial Oil Industries, Inc. were unenforceable under Georgia’s Statute of Frauds. Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that the guaranties were unenforceable because they did not reference the legal name of the corporate debtor (“Lynchar, Inc. d/b/a T & W Oil Company”), but instead referenced only the corporate debtor’s trade name (“T&W Oil, Inc.”). The Georgia Supreme Court granted a petition for certiorari filed by Colonial Oil and posed two questions: (1) To what extent did a misnomer or other defect in the identification of the principal debtor render a contract of suretyship or guaranty unenforceable; and (2) Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that the guaranties sought to be enforced against appellees are unenforceable? The Supreme Court held: (1) to the extent that any misnomer or clerical defect created any ambiguity or Lynchar contended that it was not a party to the guaranty, parol evidence would be admissible to identify the parties to the guaranty; and (2) the Court of Appeals erred by holding the guaranty was unenforceable. View "Colonial Oil Industries, Inc. v. Lynchar, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Amy Cazier and four other consumers of retail electrical service brought this putative class action against Georgia Power Company, asserting that Georgia Power for several years has collected municipal franchise fees from customers in amounts exceeding those approved by the Public Service Commission, and sought to recover the excess fees for themselves and a class of Georgia Power customers. The Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs were not required to exhaust administrative remedies before bringing their putative class action. The Georgia Supreme Court found no reversible error in the appellate court's judgment and affirmed. View "Georgia Power Company v. Cazier" on Justia Law

by
The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in this case to decide whether, when a motion to recuse the trial judge is filed after the judge has orally held a party’s attorney in contempt, the recusal motion must be decided before the judge may properly proceed to enter a written contempt order. Michael O. Mondy, Esq. represented Moses Langford, the defendant in a breach of contract and trade secrets lawsuit brought in state court by Langford’s former employer, Magnolia Advanced Materials, Inc. Langford was also the plaintiff in an employment discrimination case against Magnolia brought in federal court in Georgia, and Magnolia was also the defendant in a trade secrets case brought by its competitor, Epoplex, in federal court in South Carolina. A few days after Epoplex issued a federal court subpoena to Langford requesting Magnolia documents, the trial judge in the state case entered an injunction prohibiting Mondy and Langford from directly or indirectly disclosing or permitting unauthorized access to Magnolia’s non-public information. Magnolia moved to quash the federal subpoena, and a federal magistrate judge entered an order staying compliance with the subpoena until further order. A few days later, Mondy filed an unsealed brief with 28 exhibits opposing the motion to quash. Because the brief was not sealed, Magnolia’s non-public information in the exhibits was made available not only to the general public but to Magnolia’s competitor Epoplex – to whom Mondy also directly sent a Dropbox link containing the brief and exhibits. Magnolia then filed a motion in the state case to hold Mondy and Langford in contempt of the injunction. Days later, Mondy moved the trial court to recuse the trial judge. The judge did not immediately rule on the recusal motion. Instead, the judge held Mondy in contempt, then voluntarily recused himself from further proceedings. Mondy appealed the contempt order. The Court of Appeals held that the trial judge could ignore the pending recusal motion and enter the contempt order. The Georgia Supreme Court disapproved that holding, concluding that under Uniform Rule of Superior Court 25.3, the entry of a written contempt order was an “act upon the merits” of the contempt proceeding that a trial judge whose impartiality has been formally called into question may not properly perform until the recusal motion has been decided. The Court concluded, however, that even assuming the motion to recuse in this case was not only filed with the clerk but also “presented” to the trial judge as Rule 25.3 required, the motion was legally insufficient on its face. Thus, if properly considered, the recusal motion would not have required the trial judge’s recusal, and the judge’s procedural error does not require the Supreme Court to vacate the contempt order that followed. Therefore, the Court ultimately affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Mondy v. Magnolia Advanced Materials, Inc." on Justia Law

by
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

by
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