Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review in Case Number S18G1189 to consider whether: (1) the standard that appellate courts should apply when reviewing a trial court’s ruling on a claim under OCGA 51-12-12; and (2) whether the Court of Appeals properly applied that standard in this case. In Case Number S181190, the Supreme Court questioned whether it was error for the appellate court to remand the case for retrial on both liability and damages, assuming the proper standard of review had been applied. Janice Evans fell violently ill and was taken to defendant Rockdale Hospital. What was first diagnosed as high blood pressure was later revealed to have been a blood clot to the brain from a ruptured aneurysm. She and her husband sued Rockdale for medical malpractice. Her damages totaled over $1 million. A jury found in Mrs. Evans’ favor, and awarded her husband damages for loss of consortium. Plaintiffs filed a new motion for additif or for a new trial on the ground that the jury’s damage award was so inadequate as to be inconsistent with the preponderance of the evidence. The Georgia Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals applied the wrong standard when reviewing the trial court’s decision, so that judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Rockdale Hospital, LLC v. Evans" on Justia Law

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Appellant Polo Golf and Country Club Homeowners Association, Inc. (“PGHOA”) filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against appellees John Cunard, Director of Forsyth County, Georgia's Department of Engineering, and Benny Dempsey, Stormwater Division Manager of Forsyth County’s Department of Engineering (the “stormwater executives”), in their individual capacities to determine their constitutional authority to prospectively enforce an addendum to Forsyth County’s stormwater ordinance. In January 2014, Forsyth County enacted a new version of Section 4.2.2 of the Georgia Stormwater Management Design Manual. PGHOA argued the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2 was unconstitutional because: (1) it impaired PGHOA’s contractual obligations with homeowners inasmuch as the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2 made PGHOA responsible for the maintenance of all stormwater mechanisms within the subdivision; and (2) it was retrospective in nature. According to PGHOA’s complaint, the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2 precluded it from enforcing the Declaration of Covenants, Restrictions and Easements (the “Declaration”), which required individual homeowners of the Polo Fields to maintain such drainage and stormwater mechanisms. The trial court rejected these constitutional challenges to the 2014 version of Section 4.2.2. Because it determined that the 2014 version of 4.2.2 was constitutional, the trial court concluded the stormwater executives were immune from suit based on the doctrine of sovereign immunity and granted the stormwater executives’ motion for judgment on the pleadings. The trial court granted the executives' motion, denying the motions for summary judgment as moot. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it did not make a ruling on whether sovereign immunity applied before it considered more substantive matters. Likewise, the trial court erred in its finding that sovereign immunity barred PGHOA's suit. Therefore, that portion of the trial court's judgment dismissing the case on sovereign immunity grounds was reversed. The Court affirmed the trial court's grant of the motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the constitutional issues concerning PGHOA's contract rights. The trial court did not address PGHOA's various other claims, including trespass and involuntary servitude. The case was remanded for the trial court to address those claims in order to fully resolve the stormwater executives' motion for judgment on the pleadings. View "Polo Golf & Country Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Cunard" on Justia Law

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In this case’s previous appearance before the Georgia Supreme Court, the primary issue involved taxation of alcoholic beverages at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Clayton County appealed the trial court’s partial grant of summary judgment to the City of College Park on claims the City was not receiving its statutorily mandated share of taxes collected on alcoholic beverages. When the parties could not resolve their dispute, the City filed a complaint naming as defendants the County and two businesses that operated within the Airport, Mack II, Inc. and General Wholesale Company (the “taxpayer defendants”). The complaint sought an interlocutory and permanent injunction against the County (as well as the taxpayer defendants), and a declaratory judgment as to the City’s and County’s division and collection of alcoholic beverage taxes, as well as the taxpayer defendants’ payment of those taxes. The complaint also asserted claims against the County for an accounting, unjust enrichment, attorney fees, and damages. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the County’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding that sovereign immunity does not apply to the City’s claims or the taxpayer defendants’ cross-claims for indemnity and contribution. The court granted the City’s motion for partial summary judgment on the declaratory judgment counts, finding that the Alcoholic Beverage Code, OCGA 3-3-1 et seq., permitted the City to impose alcoholic beverage tax only within its municipal limits and the County to impose such a tax only in the unincorporated areas of the County, that neither could impose and collect alcoholic beverage taxes within the other’s taxing jurisdiction, and that the taxpayer defendants had to submit tax monies only to the entity authorized to collect the funds. Ultimately, the Supreme Court vacated this judgment and remanded the case for consideration of the “threshold question of whether sovereign immunity applies at all in suits between political subdivisions of the same sovereign (like the City and the County).” The Supreme Court disagreed sovereign immunity did not apply to multiple issues raised by this case. The case was remanded for reconsideration. View "City of College Park v. Clayton County et al." on Justia Law

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Mercer University sought immunity from liability for claims by the estate and family of Sally Stofer, who was fatally injured when she fell at a free concert hosted by the university at Washington Park in Macon, Georgia in July 2014. The park was owned by Macon-Bibb County, but Mercer had a permit to use the park for its concert series. The concert series was planned, promoted, and hosted by Mercer’s College Hill Alliance, a division of Mercer whose stated mission is to foster neighborhood revitalization for Macon’s College Hill Corridor. The trial court concluded, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on its claim of immunity under Georgia’s Recreational Property Act, given evidence that Mercer hosted the concert and it might (at least indirectly) benefit financially from the event. In arriving at this conclusion, the Georgia Supreme Court surmised the Court of Appeals was led astray by language in the Supreme Court’s most recent relevant decision that was inconsistent with previous case law. After careful consideration of the statutory text and a thorough review of the case law, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that whether immunity was available under this provision requires a determination of the true scope and nature of the landowner’s invitation to use its property, and this determination properly is informed by two related considerations: (1) the nature of the activity that constitutes the use of the property in which people have been invited to engage, and (2) the nature of the property that people have been invited to use. Clarifying that considerations of evidence of Mercer’s subjective motivations in hosting the concert and some speculation of the indirect benefits Mercer might have received as a result of the concert were generally improper, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded the case with direction that the court revisit its analysis consistent with the standard that was clarified here. View "Mercer University v. Stofer" on Justia Law

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The federal United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia certified questions of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court regarding the scope of the “acceptance doctrine” in negligent construction tort cases. At issue was whether and how the acceptance doctrine applied as a defense against a claim brought by a subsequent purchaser of allegedly negligently constructed buildings. Thomaston Crossing, LLC (the “original owner”) entered into a construction contract with appellee Piedmont Construction Group, Inc. to build an apartment complex in Macon. Piedmont then retained two subcontractors – appellees Alan Frank Roofing Company and Triad Mechanical Company, Inc. – to construct the roof and the HVAC system, respectively. In 2014, the complex was completed, turned over to, and accepted by the original owner. In 2016, the original owner sold the apartment complex to appellant Thomaston Acquisition, LLC (“Thomaston”) pursuant to an “as is” agreement. Shortly after the sale, Thomaston allegedly discovered evidence that the roof and HVAC system had been negligently constructed. Thomaston filed suit against Piedmont, asserting a claim for negligent construction of the roof and HVAC system and a claim for breach of contract/implied warranty. Piedmont then filed a third-party complaint against Alan Frank Roofing and Triad Mechanical because both companies had allegedly agreed to indemnify Piedmont for loses arising out of their work. Each of the appellees later moved for summary judgment based in part on the defense that Thomaston’s negligent construction claim is barred by the acceptance doctrine. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the acceptance doctrine applied to Thomaston’s claim, and that “readily observable upon reasonable inspection” referred to the original owner’s inspection. “Without any real claim of privity, Thomaston nevertheless contends that it should be treated like the original owner because it is the current owner-occupier of the property. But doing so would undermine the acceptance doctrine’s foundational purpose of shielding contractors from liability for injuries occurring after the owner has accepted the completed work, thereby assuming responsibility for future injuries. There is no ‘current owner-occupier’ or ‘subsequent purchaser’ exception to the acceptance doctrine, and the facts of this case do not compel us to recognize one here.” View "Thomaston Acquisition, LLC v. Piedmont Construction Group, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2013, a small business jet crashed into a Georgia Power Company transmission pole on Milliken & Company’s property near the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport in Thomson, Georgia. The two pilots were injured and the five passengers died. In the wake of the crash, the pilots and the families of the deceased passengers filed a total of seven lawsuits against multiple defendants, including Georgia Power and Milliken. The complaints in those seven suits alleged that a transmission pole located on Milliken’s property was negligently erected and maintained within the airport’s protected airspace. The record evidence showed Georgia Power constructed the transmission pole on Milliken’s property for the purpose of providing electricity to Milliken’s manufacturing-plant expansion, and that the pole was constructed pursuant to a 1989 Easement between Georgia Power and Milliken. In each of the seven suits, Milliken filed identical cross-claims against Georgia Power, alleging that Georgia Power was contractually obligated to indemnify Milliken “for all sums that Plaintiffs may recover from Milliken” under Paragraph 12 of the Easement. Georgia Power moved for summary judgment on the crossclaims, which were granted. The trial court reasoned Paragraph 12 of the Easement operated as a covenant not to sue, rather than as an indemnity agreement, because it “nowhere contains the word ‘indemnity’” and “it is not so comprehensive regarding protection from liability.” The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment to six cases. Rather than adopt the trial court’s reasoning, the appellate court held that the provision was an indemnity agreement and affirmed the trial court by applying Georgia’s anti-indemnity statute, OCGA 13-8-2 (b), to determine that Paragraph 12 of the Easement was “void as against public policy,” a theory argued before the trial court but argued or briefed before the Court of Appeals. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred in its construction and application of OCGA 13-8-2(b), vacated the judgment and remanded for the lower court to consider whether, in the first instance, the trial court’s rationale for granting Georgia Power’s motions for summary judgment and any other arguments properly before the Court of Appeals. View "Milliken & Co. v. Georgia Power Co." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case is whether the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (“EPD”) properly issued a permit to the City of Guyton to build and operate a land application system (“LAS”) that would apply treated wastewater to a tract of land through spray irrigation. Craig Barrow III challenged the issuance of that permit, arguing that, among other things, EPD issued the permit in violation of a water quality standard, Ga. Comp. R. & Regs., r. 391-3-6-.03 (2) (b) (ii) (the “antidegradation rule”), because it failed to determine whether any resulting degradation of water quality in the State waters surrounding the proposed LAS was necessary to accommodate important economic or social development in the area. An administrative law judge rejected Barrow’s argument, finding that the rule required an antidegradation analysis only for point source discharges of pollutants and the LAS at issue was a nonpoint source discharge. The superior court affirmed the administrative ruling. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the plain language of the antidegradation rule required EPD to perform the antidegradation analysis for nonpoint source discharges, and that EPD’s internal guidelines to the contrary did not warrant deference. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this matter to consider what level of deference courts should afford EPD's interpretation of the antidegradation rule, and whether that regulation required an antidegradation analysis for nonpint source discharges. The Court concluded the Court of Appeals was correct that the antidegradation rule was unambiguous: the text and legal context of the regulation showed that an antidegradation analysis was required only for point sources, not nonpoint sources. Therefore, the Court reversed. View "City of Guyton v. Barrow" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the State has waived sovereign immunity under the Georgia Torts Claims Act (“GTCA”), for Thomas McConnell’s tort action; and, (2) whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that McConnell’s complaint failed to state a claim. In September 2012, the Georgia Department of Labor created a spreadsheet containing the name, social security number, home telephone number, email address, and age of 4,757 individuals over the age of 55 in Cherokee, Cobb, and Fulton counties who had applied for unemployment benefits or other services administered by the Department, including McConnell. Almost a year later, a Department employee inadvertently sent an email with the spreadsheet attached to approximately 1,000 recipients without the permission of the individuals whose information was included in the spreadsheet. 2014, McConnell filed a complaint against the Department on behalf of himself and a proposed class of all individuals whose information was contained in the spreadsheet, alleging negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and invasion of privacy by public disclosure of private facts. The complaint alleged that, as a result of the Department’s negligent disclosure of McConnell’s and the other proposed class members’ personal information, they were required to place freezes and alerts with credit reporting agencies, close or modify financial accounts, and closely review and monitor their credit reports and accounts for unauthorized activity. The complaint further alleged that McConnell and others whose information had been disclosed incurred out-of-pocket costs related to credit monitoring and identity protection services and suffered adverse impacts to their credit scores related to the closure of credit accounts. The Department moved to dismiss, ruling that sovereign immunity barred the lawsuit because the GTCA did not waive the State’s immunity for the type of “loss” that McConnell alleged. McConnell appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, pretermitting a decision on sovereign immunity and addressing only the trial court’s ruling that each count of the complaint failed to state a claim. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals and affirmed. View "Georgia Department of Labor v. McConnell" on Justia Law

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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