Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
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
King v. King
Appellant Elkin King sued Appellee Forrest King, Jr., his former stepfather, in federal district court, alleging that Forrest had concealed, misused, and converted the proceeds of a wrongful death settlement that had been placed in an account for Appellant’s benefit when Appellant was a minor, and Forrest was the custodian. Appellant further alleged that Forrest’s actions had allowed Appellant’s mother, Peggy Fulford, to spend the funds remaining in the account after Appellant turned 18 years old. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Forrest. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment on the misuse claim and held that Appellant had forfeited his conversion claim. But as to the concealment claim, the Eleventh Circuit certified three questions to the Georgia Supreme Court, seeking clarification of the parameters of Georgia’s duty to disclose in a confidential relationship. The Supreme Court responded to the Eleventh Circuit’s certified questions: when a confidential relationship is also a fiduciary relationship, the fiduciary’s fraudulent breach of the duty to disclose can give rise to a breach-of-fiduciary-duty tort claim if that breach violates a fiduciary’s duty to act with the utmost good faith. "But whether a fiduciary has failed to act with the utmost good faith in a particular circumstance is a question of fact, not law." Accordingly, the Supreme Court answered the Eleventh Circuit’s first question and declined to answer the other two questions. View "King v. King" on Justia Law
WS CE Resort Owner, LLC v. Holland, et al.
A resort community in North Georgia included a golf course next to a subdivision. The current owner of the resort wanted to redevelop the golf course into a residential property, and several homeowners in the subdivision sued to stop it. The trial court concluded that the homeowners had an easement in the golf course and granted a permanent injunction preventing the course from being put to any other use, and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari and vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded for further proceedings. Both courts below concluded that the homeowners acquired an easement in the golf course because their lots were bought with reference to a subdivision plat that designated a “golf course” next to the subdivision. The Supreme Court found that conclusion relied on a long line of decisions recognizing that easements in features like streets, parks, and lakes could be acquired on this basis, which amounted to an easement by express grant. But golf courses are different. Given the wide range of interests that an easement in a golf course could possibly include— interests in a view, access, use, or enjoyment, to name a few—merely designating a “golf course” on a subdivision plat and selling lots with reference to the plat "cannot give reasonable certainty as to the scope of a claimed easement." So, although subdivision owners might be able to acquire an easement in a given adjacent golf course, the intent to convey such an interest must be shown through evidence based in the relevant documents taken as a whole, rather than presumed based on the golf course’s mere designation on a plat. View "WS CE Resort Owner, LLC v. Holland, et al." on Justia Law
Hamon v. Connell, et al.
Diane Dickens Hamon filed a medical malpractice action against William Connell, M.D., and South Georgia Emergency Medicine Associates, P.C. (collectively “Appellees”), for the wrongful death of her father, James Dickens, Jr. Appellees moved for judgment on the pleadings asserting that, because Dickens had a surviving spouse, Hamon did not have the right to bring the claim. The trial court denied the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Hamon’s petition for certiorari to consider the issue of whether the trial court erred in determining that Hamon had the right, under equitable principles, to pursue a claim under the Wrongful Death Act, OCGA § 51-4-1 et seq. (the “Act”), when Dickens’s widow allegedly refused to do so. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court properly denied the motion for judgment on the pleadings, the appellate court was reversed. View "Hamon v. Connell, et al." on Justia Law