Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
Bray, et al. v. Watkins
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
Georgia v. Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice, et al.
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
Prodigies Child Care Management, LLC v. Cotton
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
Ford Motor Co. v. Cosper
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
Motorsports of Conyers, LLC, et al. v. Burbach
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
Miller, et al. v. Golden Peanut Company, LLC, et al.
This appeal arises from a fatal collision between a tractor-trailer driven by Lloy White and a car driven by Kristie Miller. The issue it presented for the Georgia Supreme Court's review centered on whether the well-established test governing the admissibility of expert testimony applied with equal force to investigating law enforcement officers. To this, the Court held that when an investigating law enforcement officer provides expert testimony, the officer is subject to the same inquiry as all witnesses who offer expert opinion testimony and, therefore, the trial court abused its discretion in failing to conduct a full, three-prong analysis under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and its progeny. View "Miller, et al. v. Golden Peanut Company, LLC, et al." on Justia Law
In re: December 6, 2022 General Election Ballot
Appellants Sarah Thompson, Kevin Muldowney, and Edward Metz filed three, virtually identical complaints in their respective counties on December 6, 2022, alleging that the voting system used that day in the runoff election for a United States Senate seat did not comply with Georgia law. The trial courts entered orders either dismissing the complaints or denying relief. Because the complaints did not name any defendant and because Appellants failed to serve any defendant, the trial courts correctly determined that they had no authority to grant the relief sought. Accordingly, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed in all three cases. View "In re: December 6, 2022 General Election Ballot" on Justia Law
Efficiency Lodge, Inc. v. Neason, et al.
The three plaintiffs in this case had each rented rooms at an extended-stay motel for some time. They fell behind on their rent and were threatened with immediate eviction. They sued to stop that from happening, claiming that they were in a landlord-tenant relationship with the motel and could not be evicted without dispossessory proceedings in court. The motel argued that it had signed agreements with the plaintiffs that foreclosed their claims because, among other things, the agreement stated that their relationship was one of “Innkeeper and Guest,” and “not . . . Landlord and Tenant.” The trial court agreed with plaintiffs, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. After its review, the Georgia Supreme Court vacated the appellate court's opinion and remanded with direction for the trial court to determine the parties' relationship under the proper legal framework. View "Efficiency Lodge, Inc. v. Neason, et al." on Justia Law
Southern States Chemical, Inc. et al. v. Tampa Tank & Welding, Inc.
In 2012, Southern States Chemical, Inc. and Southern States Phosphate and Fertilizer Company (collectively, “Southern States”) sued Tampa Tank & Welding, Inc. (“Tampa Tank”) and Corrosion Control, Inc. (“CCI”), claiming damages from a faulty, leaky storage tank that Tampa Tank had installed in 2002. After a decade of litigation and multiple appeals, the trial court dismissed Southern States’s claims with prejudice, concluding that the claims were barred by the applicable statute of repose. Southern States appealed, but finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Southern States Chemical, Inc. et al. v. Tampa Tank & Welding, Inc." on Justia Law
Raffensperger v. Jackson, et al.
In 2018, Mary Jackson and a nonprofit organization, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, Inc. (“ROSE”), filed a complaint against the Georgia Secretary of State challenging the constitutionality of the Georgia Lactation Consultant Practice Act (“the Act”), OCGA §§ 43-22A-1 to 43-22A-13. Under the Act, the Secretary issues licenses authorizing lactation care providers to provide lactation care and services for compensation. Only lactation care providers who obtain a privately issued certification as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (“IBCLC”) were eligible to obtain a license. Jackson and ROSE (collectively “Plaintiffs”) alleged their work included the provision of lactation care and services and that the Act was irrational and lacked any real and substantial connection to the public health, safety, or welfare because there was no evidence that non-IBCLC providers of lactation care and services ever harmed the public. They also contended the Act would require them to cease practicing their chosen profession, thus violating their rights to due process and equal protection under the Georgia Constitution. In the first round of this litigation, the trial court granted the Secretary’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, but the Georgia Supreme Court reversed and remanded with direction. Following remand, the Secretary withdrew his motion to dismiss, and the parties engaged in discovery and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. On the due process claim, the trial court granted the Secretary’s motion for summary judgment, and on the equal protection claim, the trial court granted Plaintiffs’ motion. The Secretary appealed, and Plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal. The Supreme Court concluded in the cross-appeal that the Act was unconstitutional on due process grounds and that the trial court therefore erred in granting summary judgment to the Secretary and denying it to Plaintiffs. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court on the due process claim and did not reach the equal protection claim raised in the main appeal. View "Raffensperger v. Jackson, et al." on Justia Law