Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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In the Fall of 2016, Lakenin Morris was driving his older cousin Keith Stroud’s car when he collided with a car driven by 18-year-old Alonzo Reid, sending Reid to the hospital. Morris had been drinking with Stroud, and Stroud asked Morris to drive his car and gave him the keys even though Morris was obviously drunk and Stroud knew that Morris was drunk, did not have a valid driver’s license, and had a habit of recklessness. Morris later pled guilty to driving under the influence (DUI). Reid sued Morris for negligence and Stroud for negligent entrustment, and both were found liable for Reid’s injuries (Morris by default and Stroud by summary judgment). In a bench trial, the court awarded Reid more than $23,000 in compensatory damages, which the court apportioned equally between the two defendants, pursuant to the then-current version of the Georgia apportionment statute. The trial court also found that Morris and Stroud acted while under the influence of alcohol and further found, by clear and convincing evidence, that they acted in a manner that showed willful misconduct, malice, wantonness, and that “entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” Reid challenged the amount of punitive damages he received. The Georgia Supreme Court found OCGA 51-12-5.1(f) did not categorically bar an award of punitive damages against Stroud, because the term “active tort-feasor,” as used in the statute, was not necessarily limited to drunk drivers. The trial court therefore erred in finding that it was categorically prohibited from considering whether Stroud was an “active tort-feasor” for purposes of analyzing the appropriateness of punitive damages under the facts of this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated in part the trial court’s judgment, and remanded the case for the trial court: (1) to determine whether Stroud was intoxicated to the degree that his judgment was substantially impaired and whether he was an “active tort-feasor” within the meaning of OCGA 51-12-5.1(f); and (2) if so, to set the amount of punitive damages to be awarded against Stroud. View "Reid v. Morris et al." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed a superior court decision to certify a class action lawsuit against The Medical Center, Inc. ("TMC"). Class representatives were uninsured patients who received medical treatment from TMC and who claimed that TMC charged them unreasonable rates for their medical care, which rates TMC then used as a basis for filing hospital liens against any potential tort recovery by the patients. The Court of Appeals also ruled on the causes of action raised by the plaintiffs. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to answer three questions: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in its determination that class certification was proper; (2) whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the denial of summary judgment for TMC on common law claims of fraud and negligent misrepresentation; and (3) whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the denial of summary judgment to TMC on claims brought under the Georgia RICO Act. The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred with regard to the first two questions, but not the third. Therefore, judgment was reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bowden v. The Medical Center" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from an October 2016 incident at the Atlanta airport during which law enforcement officers seized $46,820 in cash from Shara Cumins, James Crowder’s daughter. In the ensuing in rem forfeiture proceeding, the trial court awarded Crowder the property. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review to address : (1) in an in rem forfeiture, whether the forfeiture complaint could be served by publication in the first instance when an interest holder resides out of state; and (2) whether a trial court had to rule on a pending motion for a more definite statement before striking a claimant's answer as insufficient. As to the first question, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals properly interpreted OCGA 9-16-12 (b) (3) as permitting service by publication in an in rem forfeiture proceeding if the owner of the subject property resided outside of Georgia, and properly rejected Crowder’s claims that personal service was required and that the State’s complaint should have been dismissed based on its failure to personally serve him. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court held the Court of Appeals had to remand the case to the trial court for it to address Crowder’s claim that the State’s service by publication did not satisfy due process. As for the second question, the Supreme Court concluded OCGA 9-16-12 (c) (2) required a trial court to first rule on a motion for a more definite statement before dismissing a claimant’s answer. Because the Court of Appeals implicitly answered this question in the negative, that portion of the Court of Appeals’s judgment was reversed. View "Crowder v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Rochelle Frett was injured when she slipped and fell at her place of employment during a scheduled lunch break. She filed a claim for benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act, but the State Board of Workers’ Compensation denied her claim. Frett appealed, and the superior court upheld the denial of her claim. Frett then appealed the decision of the superior court, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Relying on Ocean Acc. & Guar. Corp. v. Farr, 178 SE 728 (1935), the Court of Appeals held that Frett suffered no injury compensable under the Act because she sustained her injury during a scheduled break, and her injury, therefore, did not arise out of her employment. The Georgia Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to reconsider Farr and reviewed the decision of the Court of Appeals in this case. The Supreme Court overruled Farr, and reversed the decision below. View "Frett v. State Farm Employee Workers Compensation" on Justia Law

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Shane Berryhill fainted and fell out of an 18-foot deer stand while hunting five days after undergoing major heart surgery. Plaintiffs Berryhill and his wife sued his surgeon, Dr. Dale Daly, and Savannah Cardiology (collectively “defendants”), claiming Daly’s negligent prescribing caused him to faint. The trial court instructed the jury on assumption of risk, and the jury returned a defense verdict. The Court of Appeals reversed and held that the instruction should not have been given. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari and found there was at least slight evidence presented at trial to warrant the instruction: Berryhill knew he had just had major surgery for serious cardiac problems, and evidence (although contradicted) existed to show that he had been instructed not to engage in strenuous activity and not to lift more than ten pounds, bend, or stoop over for at least seven days after his procedure. Even though Berryhill was not informed of the specific risk of fainting, violating such explicit medical instructions immediately after major heart surgery "poses an obvious cardiovascular risk to which competent adults cannot blind themselves," and constituted the slight evidence needed here to warrant a jury instruction. Judgment was reversed. View "Daly v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia certified three questions to the Georgia Supreme Court regarding the scope of the Georgia Dealers in Agricultural Products Act, Ga. L. 1956, p. 617 (codified as amended at OCGA sections 2-9-1 to 2-9-16) (“the Act”). At issue was the effect of the Act’s provisions upon contracts entered into by an agricultural products dealer that failed to obtain a license from the Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture: in this case, a contract entered into between San Miguel Produce, Inc. (“San Miguel”), a California corporation, and L. G. Herndon Jr. Farms, Inc. (“Herndon Farms”), a Georgia corporation. The Supreme Court concluded: (1) an entity as described by the district court did qualify as a dealer in agricultural products under the Act and was not exempt under OCGA 2-9-15 (a) (1), with the limited exception of specific transactions “in the sale of agricultural products grown by [itself];” (2) the Act’s licensing requirements were part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme in the public interest and not merely a revenue measure; and (3) if a dealer has failed to obtain a license as required by OCGA 2-9-2, it may not recover under a contract to the extent that the contract relates to business coming within the terms of the Act. View "San Miguel Produce, Inc. v. L.G. Herndon, Jr. Farms, Inc." on Justia Law

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In June 2018, Appellants Mary Jackson and her non-profit organization, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, Inc. (“ROSE”), filed a complaint against the Secretary of State challenging the constitutionality of the Georgia Lactation Consultant Practice Act (the “Act”), which prohibited the practice of “lactation care and services” for compensation without a license from the Secretary of State. Specifically, Appellants alleged that, under the Act, they were ineligible for a license because they lacked a privately issued credential that the Act required for licensure, even though they had other private credentials that made them equally competent to provide lactation care and services and pose no risk of harm to the public. Accordingly, they argue that the Act violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the Georgia Constitution. The trial court granted the Secretary’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Specifically, the trial court ruled that Appellants failed to state a claim that the Act violated due process, because the Georgia Constitution did not recognize a right to work in one’s chosen profession, and that Appellants failed to state a claim that the Act violated equal protection, because the complaint did not sufficiently allege that Appellants were similarly situated to those who are able to obtain a license. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed with Appellants that the trial court erred in both rulings. "We have long interpreted the Georgia Constitution as protecting a right to work in one’s chosen profession free from unreasonable government interference. And the trial court erred in concluding that the Appellants are not similarly situated to lactation consultants who can be licensed because, according to the allegations in the complaint, they do the same work." Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded with direction to the trial court to reconsider the motion to dismiss. View "Jackson v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law

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After approximately ten years of litigation, the Georgia Supreme Court granted a second petition for certiorari in a dispute over the refund of millions of dollars in Georgia sales and use taxes that allegedly violated a federal statute. In 2010, New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC and three other AT&T Mobility subsidiaries (collectively, “AT&T”) filed refund claims with the Georgia Department of Revenue seeking the return of the sales and use taxes that AT&T had collected from its customers and turned over to the Department. In 2015, the Department denied the claims, and AT&T filed a complaint in DeKalb County Superior Court to compel the refunds. In 2016, the trial court dismissed the complaint on grounds: (1) a Georgia regulation required “dealers” like AT&T to return the sums collected from their customers before applying to the Department for a refund of the illegal taxes; (2) AT&T lacked standing to seek refunds of taxes for periods prior to May 5, 2009, the effective date of the General Assembly’s amendment to the refund statutes to allow dealers to seek refunds on behalf of their customers; and (3) AT&T’s claims amounted to a class action barred by the refund statutes. In its first certiorari review, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed that ruling, holding that the regulation, as properly construed, did not require dealers to return the sums collected before applying for a refund. On remand, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling that AT&T lacked standing to seek refunds for periods prior to the effective date of the 2009 amendments to the refund statutes allowing dealers to seek refunds on behalf of their customers. The issue presented in the second petition for certiorari review was whether plaintiffs lacked standing to file the refund claims. The Supreme Court determined AT&T was statutorily granted representational standing to recover wrongfully paid sums on behalf of and for the benefit of its customers. To the extent, therefore, that the Court of Appeals held that AT&T lacked standing to file a claim on behalf of its customers for any taxes for periods before May 5, 2009, the Court of Appeals’ judgment was erroneous and had to be reversed. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC v. Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Joshua Brumbelow petitioned the Superior Court of Habersham County to legitimate his biological son, E.M. The superior court denied the petition, concluding that, under In re Eason, 358 SE2d 459 (1987), Brumbelow had abandoned his opportunity interest to pursue a relationship with his son. Brumbelow appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals, alleging that the trial court erred in finding that he had abandoned his opportunity interest. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the trial court. The Court of Appeals further remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether Brumbelow’s legitimation petition should be granted based on Brumbelow being a fit parent for E.M., instead of being evaluated under the best interests of the child standard. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide: (1) whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the superior court’s decision that Brumbelow had abandoned his opportunity interest to pursue a relationship with his son; and (2) if not, whether the Court of Appeals properly concluded that Brumbelow’s legitimation petition should have been assessed on remand under the parental fitness standard rather than the best interests of the child standard. The Supreme Court determined that, because evidence supported the superior court’s finding that Brumbelow abandoned his opportunity interest, the superior court did not abuse its discretion in denying the legitimation petition. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals erred in its decision on that issue, and the Supreme Court reversed that portion of the Court of Appeals’ judgment. With respect to the second question, the Supreme Court concluded that the portion of the Court of Appeals’ opinion relating to the standard that had to be applied to assess a biological father’s right to custody of his child in a legitimation action should be viewed as dicta only. View "Mathenia v. Brumbelow" on Justia Law

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These cases involved challenges to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s decision to cancel the election originally scheduled for May 19, 2020, for the office of Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia held by Justice Keith Blackwell. Justice Blackwell’s current term was set to end on December 31, 2020, and the next standard six-year term for his office would begin on January 1, 2021. However, on February 26, Justice Blackwell submitted a letter to Governor Brian P. Kemp resigning from his office effective November 18, 2020. The Governor accepted Justice Blackwell’s resignation and announced that he would appoint a successor to the office. The Secretary canceled the May 19 election for the next term of Justice Blackwell’s office on the ground that his resignation, once it was accepted, created a vacancy that the Governor could fill by appointment, and thus no election was legally required. The appellants in these cases, John Barrow and Elizabeth Beskin, each then tried to qualify for that election but were turned away by the Secretary’s office. They each then filed a petition for mandamus seeking to compel the Secretary to allow qualifying for, and ultimately to hold, the May 19 election for the next term of Justice Blackwell’s office. Beskin also asserted that the Secretary’s decision violated her federal constitutional rights. The trial court denied the mandamus petitions and rejected Beskin’s federal claims, agreeing with the Secretary that a current vacancy was created in Justice Blackwell’s office when his resignation was accepted by the Governor, which gave rise to the Governor's power to appoint a successor. Barrow and Beskin appealed the trial court's orders, both arguing the trial court should have granted their petitions because there was no current vacancy in Justice Blackwell’s office that the Governor could fill by appointment before the May 19 election and because the Secretary had no discretion to cancel a statutorily required election. Beskin also argued she was entitled to relief based on her federal claims. After review, the Georgia Supreme Court held that while the trial court’s reasoning was mistaken, its conclusion that the Secretary of State could not be compelled by mandamus to hold the May 19 election for Justice Blackwell’s office was correct. "Under the Georgia Constitution and this Court’s precedent, a vacancy in a public office must exist before the Governor can fill that office by appointment, and a vacancy exists only when the office is unoccupied by an incumbent. Because Justice Blackwell continues to occupy his office, the trial court erred in concluding that his office is presently vacant; accordingly, the Governor’s appointment power has not yet arisen." View "Barrow v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law