Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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This case came to the Georgia Supreme Court by way of three certified questions from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. As the receiver of the Buckhead Community Bank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) sued nine former directors and officers of the Bank in federal district court, alleging that the former directors and officers were negligent and grossly negligent under Georgia law for their approval of ten commercial real-estate loans. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found that some of the former directors and officers were negligent in approving four of ten loans at issue, and awarded the FDIC $4,986,993 in damages. The district court entered a final judgment in that amount and held the former directors and officers jointly and severally liable. They timely appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, arguing the district court erred by failing to instruct the jury on apportionment, which, they say, was required by OCGA 51-12-33 because purely pecuniary harms (such as the losses at issue here) were included within “injury to person or property” under Georgia’s apportionment statute. Concluding that these arguments required answers to questions of law that “have not been squarely answered by the Georgia Supreme Court or the Georgia Court of Appeals,” the Eleventh Circuit certified questions of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court. The Georgia Court concluded OCGA 51-12-33 did apply to tort claims for purely pecuniary losses against bank directors and officers, but did not abrogate Georgia’s common-law rule imposing joint and several liability on tortfeasors who act in concert insofar as a claim of concerted action invokes the narrow and traditional common-law doctrine of concerted action based on a legal theory of mutual agency and thus imputed fault. View "Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation v. Loudermilk" on Justia Law

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According to precedent, Georgia superior courts had jurisdiction to review by writ of certiorari under OCGA 5-4-1 not only the judicial decisions of inferior courts, but also the quasi-judicial decisions of other instrumentalities and officers of state and local government. In Gould v. Housing Authority of the City of Augusta, 808 SE2d 109 (2017), a divided panel of the Court of Appeals held that the certiorari jurisdiction of the superior courts extended to decisions of municipal housing authorities discontinuing the provision of housing assistance under Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937. The Georgia Supreme Court brought the case up to consider whether the writ of certiorari reached so far, and concluded that it did not. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "Housing Authority of the City of Augusta v. Gould" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to review whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the grant of summary judgment to the insurer on the insured’s failure-to-settle claim. The Court also asked the parties to address whether an insurer’s duty to settle arises only when the injured party presents a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits or whether, even absent such an offer, a duty arises when the insurer knows or reasonably should know that settlement within the insured’s policy limits is possible. As to this threshold issue, the Court concluded an insurer’s duty to settle arises only when the injured party presents a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits. Applying the applicable rules of contract construction to correspondence from two injured parties in the instant case, the Court concluded the injured parties presented to the insurer a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits but that the offer did not include any deadline for accepting the offer. Based on the undisputed evidence, as a matter of law, the insurer did not act unreasonably in failing to accept the offer before it was withdrawn by the injured parties. As the insurer was entitled to summary judgment, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "First Acceptance Insurance Company of Georgia, Inc. v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from a dispute between homeowners James and Mary Hanham and Access Management Group L.P., the management agent for the St. Marlo Homeowner’s Association. In 2011, the Hanhams filed claims for trespass, nuisance, negligence, invasion of privacy and breach of contract against their neighbor Marie Berthe-Narchet (“Narchet”), her landscaper GreenMaster Landscaping Service, Inc., and Access Management in response to a landscaping project on Narchet’s property that resulted in flooding to the Hanhams’ property and restricted their view of the golf course. During a 2016 jury trial, Access Management moved for a directed verdict on the negligence and breach of contract claims; the trial court denied both motions. The jury subsequently found in favor of the Hanhams, and Access Management appealed to the Court of Appeals, alleging, among other things, that the trial court erred in denying its motion for a directed verdict as to the Hanhams’ breach of contract claim. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the jury’s judgment as to that claim. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the trial court’s denial of Access Management’s motion for a directed verdict as to the Hanhams’ breach of contract claim. The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals’ decision was in error, and reversed the judgment as it pertained to the breach of contract claim. The Court vacated the final division of the Court of Appeals’ opinion, and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further consideration. View "Hanham v. Access Management Group, L.P." on Justia Law

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In the early stages of the underlying lawsuit, the trial court struck fifteen paragraphs from plaintiff's complaint pursuant to OCGA 9-11-12 (f), but the Court of Appeals reversed most of that order. The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to address how a trial court should evaluate a party’s section 9-11-12 (f) motion to strike matter from a pleading on the ground that it is “scandalous.” Because the trial court in this case did not properly evaluate the defendants’ motion to strike, and because that court should have the opportunity to properly exercise its discretion regarding the motion, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals' judgment in part and remanded with direction to vacate the trial court order and remand the case to the trial court for further analysis. View "Chappius v. Ortho Sport & Spine Physicians Savannah, LLC" on Justia Law

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Jason Wyno challenged the constitutionality of former OCGA 4-8-30, a portion of the Responsible Dog Ownership Law which purported to exempt local governments and their employees from liability arising from their enforcement of, or failure to enforce, that law and local dog-control ordinances. In 2011, Misty Wyno was attacked and killed by a dog owned by one of her neighbors. In the years leading up to the attack, numerous complaints about dogs at the neighbor’s address had been filed with the Lowndes County Animal Control office. Following Misty Wyno’s death, Jason Wyno brought a wrongful death action against the dog’s owners, Lowndes County, and four individual Lowndes County Animal Control employees, alleging the County and its employees negligently failed to perform ministerial duties negligently failed to provide police protection, negligently created and failed to abate a nuisance, were negligent in their control of allegedly dangerous dogs, and were negligent per se by violating several provisions of the Lowndes County Animal Control Ordinance. The complaint also made a demand for punitive damages and alleged that Lowndes County and the County Employees “acted with actual malice and/or an intent to injure in repeatedly refusing to investigate or take any action with regards to the dangerous dogs[.]” The case was dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds. Wyno argued the statute impermissibly extended the official immunity of local government employees provided in Article I, Section II, Paragraph IX (d) of the Georgia Constitution of 1983 because former OCGA 4-8-30 was not “a State Tort Claims Act.” The Georgia Supreme Court did not reach the constitutional question in this case because the Court found the trial court erred in its preliminary determination that the relevant duties imposed by the Responsible Dog Ownership Law and the Lowndes County Animal Control Ordinance in effect at the time of the incident giving rise to this suit were ministerial in nature. Instead, the Court found the relevant acts of the County Employees were discretionary. Moreover, because the record did not contain evidence the individual defendants acted with malice or intent to injure, they were protected from Wyno’s lawsuit by the official immunity provided by Paragraph IX (d). The Court therefore affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, although for reasons different than relied upon by the trial court. View "Wyno v. Lowndes County" on Justia Law

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After the Superior Court of Jasper County issued protective orders against Steven and Jodi Bishop in favor of their neighbors, Bernie and Michael Goins and Jana and Keith Powell (“the Neighbors”), the Bishops appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the orders in an unpublished decision. The Neighbors then moved the trial court for costs and attorney fees incurred as a result of the appellate proceedings, asserting that such an award was permissible under OCGA 16-5-94 (d) (3). The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider the fees issue, and, following an examination of the plain language of the statute, the Supreme Court concluded OCGA 16-5-94 (d) (3) did not permit such an award in this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "Bishop v. Goins" on Justia Law

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The Anthem Companies, Inc. and Richard Andrews appeal the grant of spoliation sanctions issued against them, arguing that the trial court erred in finding spoliation in the first instance and in sanctioning them with an adverse jury instruction. The underlying suit arose when an Anthem employee allegedly found a bug in her lunch bought from a cafeteria vendor. The employee took pictures, sending copies via email to a building superintendent, and having the images printed at a local drug store. The vendor had been removed as a company cafeteria vendor. This news was posted by someone to Facebook, and the story grew virally. The manager for the vendor, Cheryl Willis, considered the statements in the emails from the superintendent to the company were libelous, asking her attorney to demand the company retract its statements. Wills claimed that, as a result of the wide distribution of the email, the business closed, she and her then-husband filed for bankruptcy, and they lost their home, cars, and savings. Between the time of the original email and the time of trial in 2017, the printed versions of the images were lost. Wills asserted she did not know that the lost drug store prints existed until depositions were scheduled in early 2017. The Georgia Supreme Court determined that under the circumstances of this case, the trial court abused its discretion in awarding spoliation sanctions, and reversed the spoliation sanction. View "The Anthem Companies, Inc. v. Willis" on Justia Law

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The Dawsonville City Council voted to remove W. James Grogan as mayor in May 2017. Grogan sought review of the removal by filing a direct appeal and a petition for certiorari with the superior court. Grogan continued to serve as mayor pending the appeal, and the City then filed counterclaims against Grogan for attorneys’ fees and for money had and received to recoup salary paid and other benefits provided to Grogan if the City prevailed before the superior court. Grogan moved to dismiss the City’s counterclaims under Georgia's Anti-SLAPP statute. The superior court dismissed Grogan’s appeal of the removal decision, found his certiorari petition was “procedurally defective,” denied his motion to dismiss the City’s counterclaims, and granted partial summary judgment on the City’s money-had-and-received counterclaim. Grogan argued to the Georgia Supreme Court he had the right to a direct appeal to the superior court and that his certiorari petition was not procedurally defective. Grogan also argued the superior court erred in denying his motion to dismiss under the Anti-SLAPP statute because the City’s counterclaims were filed to punish Grogan for exercising his constitutional rights to petition and free speech and the City did not establish a reasonable probability of success on the merits of those counterclaims. Furthermore, Grogan argued the court erred in granting relief to the City on its money-had-and-received counterclaim because it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over that claim and failed to apply the voluntary payment doctrine. The Supreme Court concluded it had jurisdiction over this appeal, but did not consider Grogan’s challenges concerning the superior court’s dismissal of his appeal and certiorari petition from the removal decision because those claims were now moot. The Court determined the trial court erred in granting relief to the City on its money-had-and-received counterclaim. View "Grogan v. City of Dawsonville" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this case to resolve whether the trial court applied Georgia's forum non conveniens statute to dismiss a lawsuit filed in Georgia by Michigan residents against a Georgia corporation, instead of the foreign county where the underlying incident occurred. While vacationing in the Dominican Republic in 2014, Appellant Francis La Fontaine was injured in a fall from a collapsed zip-line at a course operated by Cumayasa Sky Adventures (CSA). She and her husband, Appellant Roberto Melendez, were Michigan residents and filed a tort action in Douglas County, Georgia against Appellee Signature Research, Inc. Appellee was a Georgia corporation that inspected and certified the zip-line course operated by CSA. Appellee filed a motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens saying it would submit to jurisdiction in the Dominican Republic and it would agree to extend the applicable statute of limitations period. Pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1, the trial court granted Appellee’s motion because the balance of private and public factors weighed in favor of adjudicating this matter in the Dominican Republic. The Supreme Court found that strictly construed OCGA 9-10-31.1 did not provide for dismissals of actions unless the claim should be moved to one of the other 49 states. The judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the dismissal of Appellants’ action pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1 was reversed. View "La Fontaine v. Signature Research, Inc." on Justia Law