Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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Joshua Martin sustained life-changing injuries in a brutal attack at a bus stop outside the Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park in 2007. A jury determined that Six Flags was liable for those injuries, along with the four named individual defendants who perpetrated the attack. The trial court apportioned the jury’s $35 million verdict between the parties, assigning 92% against Six Flags and 2% each against the four assailants. On cross-appeals by Six Flags and Martin, a majority of the twelve-member Court of Appeals found no error in the jury’s determination regarding Six Flags’ liability but concluded that the trial court had erred in its pretrial rulings regarding apportionment of fault, necessitating a full retrial. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine: (1) whether Six Flags could properly be held liable for the injuries inflicted in this attack; and (2) assuming liability was proper, whether the trial court’s apportionment error does indeed require a full retrial. After review, the Supreme Court concluded: (1) because the attack that caused Martin’s injuries began while both he and his assailants were on Six Flags property, Six Flags’ liability was not extinguished simply because Martin stepped outside the property’s boundaries while attempting to distance himself from his attackers; and (2) the trial court’s apportionment error did not require a full retrial, but rather required retrial only for the apportionment of damages. View "Martin v. Six Flags Over Georgia II, L.P." on Justia Law

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This case involved challenges to the City of Atlanta’s attempted annexation of five areas. Shortly after the Governor approved HB 514 on April 26, 2016, Atlanta received petitions for annexation from five unincorporated areas of Fulton County contiguous to Atlanta. Emelyn Mays and five other individuals (collectively, “Mays”), who represented each of the proposed annexation areas as residents or property owners, filed a petition for declaratory judgment challenging the annexations. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing, and shortly thereafter issued an order granting Mays’s request declaring the annexations null and void on the ground that they were untimely under the terms of HB 514 and thus the Communities were part of South Fulton. In reaching this conclusion, the court expressly rejected Atlanta’s contention that HB 514 unconstitutionally conflicted with the general laws governing annexation by municipalities by preventing Atlanta’s annexation of the Communities as of July 1, 2016. Atlanta appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found the trial court correctly held that the annexations were invalid because at the time they would have become effective, the areas in question were already part of the newly incorporated City of South Fulton and thus ineligible for annexation by Atlanta. Accordingly, the Court affirmed. View "City of Atlanta v. Mays" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Appellee Sean Elliott filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Appellants Resurgens and Dr. Tapan Daftari in the State Court of Fulton County. Elliott alleged that Dr. Daftari failed to timely diagnose and treat an abscess in his thoracic spinal cord, which resulted in his paralysis. During trial four years later, Elliott attempted to call Savannah Sullivan, a nurse who was not specifically identified as a potential witness in either Elliott’s written discovery responses or in the parties’ pre-trial order (“PTO”). The trial court subsequently excluded Sullivan as a witness. After the jury returned a defense verdict, Elliott appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing that the trial court’s exclusion of Sullivan was error. The Court of Appeals agreed, reversing the jury’s judgment and remanding for a new trial. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred in its judgment, and reversed. View "Resurgens, P.C. v. Elliott" on Justia Law

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In response to Wife’s request for an award of attorney fees and costs, the trial court entered an order finding Husband’s conduct had unnecessarily expanded the litigation and awarded Wife fees and expenses. The decree awarded primary physical custody of the child to Wife, and permitted Wife to relocate to Arizona where she and the child resided prior to the marriage. To address problems that immediately arose concerning child custody and the exchange of the child between Arizona and Georgia, the trial court entered an amended final judgment and decree that changed the terms of the original child custody award with respect to Husband’s visitation and other details. On appeal, Husband challenged the award of attorney fees to Wife, and further asserted that even if attorney fees were properly awarded, the trial court erred in failing to offset from the final attorney fees award the amounts he had previously paid as temporary support and attorney fees. Due to the terms of the parties’ prenuptial agreement, the Supreme Court agreed with Husband that the trial court erred in awarding attorney fees: “[t]he fact remains, however, that pursuant to Georgia law, when they are awarded, attorney fees under OCGA § 19-6-2 are awarded ‘as an intrinsic part of temporary alimony.’” View "Vakharwala v. Vakharwala" on Justia Law

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After the Merle and Lesia Long and their business Water Park Properties, LLC dismissed their most recent lawsuit against the City of Helen with prejudice, the trial court awarded more than $17,000 to the City for attorney fees and litigation expenses pursuant to OCGA 9-15-14. The Longs and Water Park appealed, contending that the award of fees and expenses was improper because those fees and expenses actually were borne by the City’s insurer, not the City itself. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the award. View "Long v. City of Helen" on Justia Law

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Oscar Blalock sought access to records held by the City of Lovejoy under the Georgia Open Records Act. After failing to receive those records, or any response from the City, Blalock filed a mandamus action seeking to compel compliance with the Act. The trial court dismissed Blalock’s petition, finding that mandamus was unavailable because the Act’s civil penalties provision affords Blalock a remedy “as complete and convenient as mandamus.” Although the Supreme Court did not agree with the trial court’s conclusion regarding the remedial adequacy of civil penalties, that did not save Blalock’s claim: because the Act provided its own cause of action for enforcement in OCGA 50-18-73 (a), that provision was plainly a “complete and convenient” alternative to mandamus. View "Blalock v. Cartwright" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia certified a question of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court. Arthur and Barbara Sheridan owned several pre-1972 master sound recordings of certain popular songs, as well as the associated intellectual property and contract rights. iHeartMedia operated AM/FM radio stations, as well as internet radio services. These latter services allow listeners to access and listen to a song through an internet-connected device such as a tablet, computer, or smartphone. iHeartMedia streamed the Sheridans’ recordings to listeners over its internet radio platform, iHeartRadio. It was undisputed that iHeartMedia had no license, authority, or consent from the Sheridans to stream the recordings, and iHeartMedia did not compensate the Sheridans for the use of their recordings. The Sheridans claimed that iHeartMedia needed their consent to transfer their master sound recordings to iHeartRadio listeners, and that iHeartMedia engaged in racketeering activity by making unauthorized transfers. iHeartMedia moved to dismiss the Sheridans’ complaint under the radio broadcast exemption in OCGA 16-8-60 (c) (1), which stated that the statute did not apply to “any person who transfers or causes to be transferred any such sounds or visual images intended for or in connection with radio or television broadcast transmission or related uses." After review, the Supreme Court found that the type of internet radio services being offered by iHeartMedia, Inc. in this case fell under the exemption set forth in OCGA 16-8-60 (c) (l). View "iHeartMedia, Inc. v. Sheridan" on Justia Law

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This case centered on the procedure by which a local zoning board’s quasi-judicial decision on a variance request could be appealed to the superior court. Kerley Family Homes, LLC was granted a variance by the City of Cumming’s Board of Zoning Appeals (“BZA”). Neighboring homeowners aggrieved by the variance sought to appeal the BZA’s decision by filing a complaint seeking a writ of mandamus and an injunction with the superior court. The defendants argued that they were entitled to summary judgment against the homeowners because the zoning variance decision was a quasi-judicial decision that could be challenged in the superior court only by a petition for certiorari under OCGA 5-4-1. The Supreme Court concluded they were right, and therefore reversed the trial court’s denial of summary judgment. View "City of Cumming v. Flowers" on Justia Law

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Donald Markle appealed the grant of a writ of habeas corpus in this child custody case. While residing in Georgia in 2010, Katrina Dass gave birth to the minor child at the center of this controversy; Dass and Markle, the child’s father, were never married, and prior to 2016, Markle did not attempt to legitimate the child. Sometime after the child’s birth, Markle relocated to New Mexico. The child lived in Georgia with Dass from birth until January 2011; he then lived with both Markle and Dass in New Mexico until August 2012. Dass returned to Georgia, and the child lived in Georgia with her from August 2012 until July 2015, spending the summers of 2013 and 2014 in New Mexico with Markle. In July 2015, the child returned to New Mexico, and it is undisputed that between late July 2015 and Dass’s February 16, 2016 filing of her petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the child lived continuously in New Mexico with Markle, and that Dass did not live with them in New Mexico. In 2016, Markle filed a petition seeking to determine paternity, custody, and child support for the minor child in New Mexico, naming Dass as respondent. The New Mexico court entered a temporary order providing, inter alia, that the child not be removed from New Mexico without the written consent of the other party. Dass requested that Markle return the child to Georgia but Markle declined. Dass filed ia “Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and EmergencyMotion for Return of Child” in Georgia. After a hearing, the superior court entered a writ of habeas corpus, finding that Georgia was the “home state” of the child within the meaning of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), and ordering that the child be returned to Dass. The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed that Georgia was the child's home state, and vacated the grant of habeas relief to Dass. "Nothing precludes Dass from seeking such a ruling from the New Mexico court, and nothing indicates that, were a custody determination to be made by the New Mexico court, it would be unfair to her." View "Markle v. Dass" on Justia Law

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Amanda Rae Coon lived in Alabama but received treatment from a hospital owned by The Medical Center, Inc. in Georgia. After the hospital mishandled the remains of her stillborn baby, Coon filed this lawsuit. Among other claims, she sought to recover damages for the negligent infliction of emotional distress. The trial court ultimately entered an order granting summary judgment to the hospital. The court applied Georgia’s common-law “physical impact rule” to reject Coon’s negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, rather than applying case law from the Alabama courts that allows such claims based on the mishandling of human remains. Coon appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, although the seven judges disagreed about the choice-of-law analysis. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded that where a claim in a Georgia lawsuit is governed by the common law, and the common law is also in force in the other state, as it was in Alabama, the common law as determined by Georgia’s courts controlled. Because the Court of Appeals reached the right result, the Supreme Court affirmed its judgment. View "Coon v. The Medical Center, Inc." on Justia Law