Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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In the case before the Supreme Court of Georgia, Premier Pediatric Providers, LLC was sued by Kennesaw Pediatrics, P.C. for access to its business records. The lower court granted Kennesaw Pediatrics summary judgment, which Premier appealed. Under state law, Premier had 30 days to file the hearing transcript as part of the appeal record, which it failed to do. Months later, Kennesaw Pediatrics moved to dismiss the appeal citing Premier's inexcusable and unreasonable delay in filing the transcript. Premier countered by filing the transcript and explaining that it had mistakenly believed the transcript was filed shortly after the notice of appeal. The trial court found the delay not inexcusable and denied Kennesaw Pediatrics' motion to dismiss. However, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's order and dismissed the appeal. The Supreme Court of Georgia granted review to clarify the standard for appellate review of a trial court’s decision whether to dismiss an appeal under state law and to assess whether the Court of Appeals correctly applied the statute.The Supreme Court of Georgia vacated in part and reversed in part the Court of Appeals’ decision. The court held that the Court of Appeals correctly noted that the trial court’s order was subject to review for abuse of discretion. However, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Kennesaw Pediatrics’s motion to dismiss the appeal. The Supreme Court also clarified that an appellate court may not dismiss an appeal based on the failure to timely file a transcript. Instead, the statute gives the trial court discretion to decide whether to dismiss an appeal. View "PREMIER PEDIATRIC PROVIDERS, LLC v. KENNESAW PEDIATRICS, P.C." on Justia Law

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In Georgia, plaintiffs Kristen Lovell, Lori Tullos, and Virginia McFaddin filed complaints against Brad Raffensperger (in his official capacity as the Secretary of State of Georgia), the Columbia County Board of Elections, the Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration, and various individuals associated with these entities, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The superior courts dismissed the actions, reasoning that they were barred by sovereign immunity as they failed to name the proper defendants as required by the Georgia Constitution.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the lower courts' dismissal of the actions. The court ruled that under the Georgia Constitution's Paragraph V, which provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for actions seeking declaratory relief from acts of the state, actions must be brought exclusively against the state and in the name of the State of Georgia or against the relevant local government entities. The court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to comply with this requirement as they named as defendants the Secretary of State (not the State of Georgia) and their local boards of election and their board members (not the relevant counties). Due to this failure to comply, the trial courts were correct to dismiss the actions. View "LOVELL v. RAFFENSPERGER" on Justia Law

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In January 2018, Dorothy Warren passed away after Dr. Nirandr Inthachak allegedly misinterpreted her CT scan. Angela Wilson, Warren’s daughter, filed a lawsuit against Dr. Inthachak. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Dr. Inthachak on two grounds. First, Wilson failed to provide clear and convincing evidence of gross negligence required under OCGA § 51-1-29.5 for healthcare liability claims arising from emergency medical care. Second, Wilson couldn’t prove that the outcome would have been different if Dr. Inthachak had correctly interpreted the CT scan.Wilson appealed, and all 14 judges of the Court of Appeals agreed that the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was improper. However, they were evenly divided on why summary judgment was incorrect under OCGA § 51-1-29.5. The Court of Appeals transferred the case to the Supreme Court of Georgia due to the equal division, invoking the Court's equal-division jurisdiction.The Supreme Court of Georgia concluded that it did not have jurisdiction over the case because the Court of Appeals was not equally divided on the disposition of the judgment that was appealed. The Court of Appeals had unanimously agreed that the grant of summary judgment could not stand, and their disagreement was only regarding the reasons for why one of the two grounds was faulty. The Supreme Court of Georgia held that such a disagreement did not invoke its equal-division jurisdiction. Therefore, the Court returned the case to the Court of Appeals. View "WILSON v. INTHACHAK" on Justia Law

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In this case, property owners and residents of the Statham Lakefront Subdivision in Sumter County, Georgia, sought to require the county to repair roads in their subdivision. The county had not expressly accepted the roads as public roads, but the residents argued that the county had an obligation to maintain the roads because they had been open to the public since their creation. The trial court ruled that the county had no obligation to maintain the roads. The Court of Appeals vacated this decision, and remanded the case back to the trial court to determine whether there was evidence of "recognition of the streets as public streets or acceptance of the dedication by the public."The Supreme Court of Georgia granted Sumter County's petition for certiorari. The court held that a county is not obligated to repair and maintain a road if county authorities have not accepted the land owner’s offer to dedicate the road to public use. Therefore, the Court of Appeals erred in directing the trial court to consider whether the public accepted the road as a public road. However, the Supreme Court of Georgia found ambiguity in the Court of Appeals's decision and remanded the case back to the Court of Appeals to clarify whether it was directing the trial court to consider if the county authorities or the general public recognized the roads as public. View "SUMTER COUNTY v. MORRIS" on Justia Law

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In this case, Arlene James filed a premises liability lawsuit against Brixmor New Chastain Corners SC, LLC, after she tripped on a parking bumper in a parking lot owned by Brixmor and sustained injuries. The parking bumper was not in its usual location but was instead laid out to separate the parking space from a motorcycle parking area. After the incident, Brixmor painted the parking bumper yellow. The trial court denied Brixmor's motion for summary judgment due to disputed facts about whether the structure James tripped on was a hazard and whether she had previously encountered it. The trial court also granted James's motion for sanctions for spoliation of evidence, barring Brixmor from arguing that the parking bumper was not a potential hazard. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of summary judgment but vacated the order imposing spoliation sanctions, remanding the matter to the trial court to apply the correct legal standard.The Supreme Court of Georgia granted Brixmor's petition for a writ of certiorari but chose to address a different issue: the Court of Appeals' determination that Brixmor failed to demonstrate an abuse of discretion by the trial court in considering the subsequent remedial measures rule in its analysis of the spoliation issue. The Supreme Court of Georgia held that once the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court applied the incorrect standard on spoliation, consideration of the remedial measure rule was unnecessary and thus dicta. The Supreme Court of Georgia vacated Division 3 of the opinion to the extent that it purports to make a legal determination on the subsequent remedial measures rule and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "BRIXMOR NEW CHASTAIN CORNERS SC, LLC v. JAMES" on Justia Law

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Latoya Bray filed an action against sheriff’s lieutenant Stormie Watkins, in her official and individual capacities, for damages allegedly caused by her failure to activate a tornado warning system while working in a county emergency center. The trial court granted summary judgment to Watkins, concluding in part that the public duty doctrine negated any duty owed to Bray. In a split decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed: the majority opinion, the specially concurring opinion, and the dissenting opinion disagreed about whether the trial court erred by not considering whether sovereign immunity barred the official-capacity claim and whether the official capacity claim needed to be remanded for the trial court to resolve the sovereign immunity issue in the first instance. In her petition for certiorari to the Georgia Supreme Court, Bray contended: (1) the Court of Appeals erred by concluding that the public duty doctrine foreclosed her lawsuit; and (2) the court’s discussion concerning sovereign immunity was “misplaced.” Because the applicability of the public duty doctrine was a merits question, the Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s ruling on the official-capacity claims on the ground that the public duty doctrine barred all of Bray’s claims without considering the threshold jurisdictional question of whether sovereign immunity barred Bray’s claims against Watkins in her official capacity. The Court therefore granted the petition for writ of certiorari, vacated the Court of Appeals’ opinion, and remanded this case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Bray, et al. v. Watkins" on Justia Law

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The lawsuit giving rise to this appeal challenged the Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act (“LIFE Act”), which regulated abortion procedures in Georgia. Although Appellees claimed at trial that the LIFE Act violated the due-process, equal-protection, and inherent-rights provisions of the Georgia Constitution, those claims were not ruled on below and were not part of this appeal because the trial court concluded that Appellees were entitled to relief on a different ground. Specifically, the trial court concluded that certain provisions of the LIFE Act were void ab initio because, when the LIFE Act was enacted in 2019, those provisions violated the United States Constitution as interpreted by then-controlling-but-since-overruled decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Here, the issue presented for the Georgia Supreme Court came from that ruling, and the Court concluded the trial court erred. "The holdings of United States Supreme Court cases interpreting the United States Constitution that have since been overruled cannot establish that a law was unconstitutional when enacted and therefore cannot render a law void ab initio." The judgment was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court to consider in the first instance Appellees’ other challenges to the LIFE Act. View "Georgia v. Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice, et al." on Justia Law

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In January 2018, Bianca Bouie was returning from her lunch break to her workplace, Prodigies Child Care Management, LLC, also known as University Childcare Center (“University Childcare”), when she looked away from the road to scroll through the contacts in her cell phone so that she could call her manager to report that she was running late. While Bouie was distracted, her car crossed the median and caused an accident with a truck that was driven by Andrea Cotton. Cotton filed a personal injury lawsuit against Bouie and later added University Childcare as a defendant, alleging, among other things, that Bouie was acting in furtherance of University Childcare’s business and within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident and that University Childcare was therefore liable under the legal theory of respondeat superior. University Childcare moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion, concluding, in pertinent part, that Bouie was not acting in furtherance of University Childcare’s business and within the scope of her employment when the accident occurred. Cotton appealed, and a divided Court of Appeals panel reversed, holding that under the “special circumstances exception” to the general rule that employees do not act in furtherance of an employer’s business and within the scope of employment when they are commuting to and from work or when they are on a lunch break, and under two of its cases applying that “exception,” there was sufficient evidence to raise a jury question as to the issue of liability under respondeat superior. The Georgia Supreme Court rejected the Court of Appeals’ “special circumstances exception,” as well as the multi-factor test the court developed for applying that “exception.” The Supreme Court also concluded that the two cases on which the Court of Appeals relied in applying the “special circumstances exception” used imprecise language regarding the respondeat-superior test, and the Supreme Court disapproved such language. In light of these conclusions, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’s opinion and remanded the case to that court so that it could apply the proper respondeat-superior test in the first instance. View "Prodigies Child Care Management, LLC v. Cotton" on Justia Law

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The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court regarding OCGA § 51-1-11(c). Although product-liability claims were generally subject to a ten-year statute of repose in Georgia, the statute of repose did not apply to negligence claims “arising out of conduct which manifests a willful, reckless, or wanton disregard for life or property.” The federal district court asked: (1) whether, under OCGA § 51-1-11(c), “reckless” conduct was a standalone exception to OCGA § 51-1-11(b)(2)’s ten-year statute of repose; and (2) if so, how “reckless” conduct was defined. The Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative: under OCGA § 51-1-11(c), reckless disregard for life or property was a standalone exception to OCGA § 51-1-11(b)(2)’s ten-year statute of repose. Thus, OCGA § 51-1-11(b)(2)’s statute of repose does not apply to a product-liability claim sounding in negligence that “aris[es] out of conduct which manifests . . . reckless . . . disregard for life or property.” The Court answered the second question that “reckless . . . disregard for life or property,” under OCGA § 51-1-11(c), carries a meaning that closely resembles the Restatement (First) of Torts’ definition of “Reckless Disregard of Safety.” Specifically, an actor’s “conduct . . . manifests a . . . reckless . . . disregard for life or property,” under OCGA § 51-1-11(c), if the actor “intentionally does an act or fails to do an act which it is his duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which would lead a reasonable [person] to realize that the actor’s conduct not only creates an unreasonable risk of [harm to another’s life or property] but also involves a high degree of probability that substantial harm will result to [the other’s life or property].” View "Ford Motor Co. v. Cosper" on Justia Law

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The petitioners here—two motorcycle dealerships who sought to enforce restrictive covenants against a former employee under Florida law— asked the Georgia Supreme Court to reconsider the application of a public-policy exception, citing recent changes in Georgia law that required a more flexible and permissive approach to enforcing restrictive covenants. When contracting parties choose the law of a jurisdiction other than Georgia to govern their contractual relations, Georgia courts generally honored that choice unless applying the foreign law would violate Georgia's public policy. Having taken a fresh look, the Supreme Court concluded that Georgia law remained "the touchstone for determining whether a given restrictive covenant is enforceable in our courts, even where the contract says another state’s law applies." After a careful review of Georgia decisional law and statutory history in this space, the Court found the Georgia legislature has codified this view, including with the recent enactment of the Georgia Restrictive Covenants Act. In this case, the trial court accepted the parties’ choice of Florida law to govern the employment contracts at issue without first determining whether the restrictive covenants in the contracts complied with the GRCA. The Court of Appeals reversed, and in doing so, correctly identified application of the GRCA as the first step in the analysis of whether the public-policy exception overrides the parties’ choice of foreign law. But because the Supreme Court set out a clear framework for that analysis in this opinion, it left it for the trial court to apply that framework in the first instance. The Court therefore vacated the decisions below for further review by the trial court. View "Motorsports of Conyers, LLC, et al. v. Burbach" on Justia Law