Justia Georgia Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
SunTrust Bank v. Venable
The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review arose from a deficiency action brought by appellant SunTrust Bank (“SunTrust”) as the assignee under a motor vehicle conditional sales contract following its repossession and sale of a motor vehicle purchased by appellee Mattie Venable. Specifically, the issue was which statute of limitations applied here: the four-year statute of limitation set forth in OCGA 11-2-725 (1) applicable to actions on contracts for the sale of goods, or the six-year statute of limitation found in OCGA 9-3-24, generally applicable to actions on simple written contracts. After review, the Court concluded that this action was subject to the four-year statute of limitation found in 11-2-725 (1). View "SunTrust Bank v. Venable" on Justia Law
Bickerstaff v. SunTrust Bank
A mandatory arbitration clause is contained in each deposit agreement for customers of appellee SunTrust Bank. The clause permits an individual depositor to reject the agreement’s mandatory arbitration clause by giving written notice by a certain deadline. SunTrust claimed it drafted the arbitration clause in such a way that only an individual depositor may exercise this right to reject arbitration on his or her own behalf, thereby permitting that individual to file only an individual lawsuit against the bank. But SunTrust asserted that even if, as it has been determined here, the filing of a lawsuit prior to the expiration of the rejection of arbitration deadline operated to give notice of the individual plaintiff’s rejection of arbitration, the complaint could not be brought as a class action because the filing of a class action could not serve to reject the arbitration clause on behalf of class members who have not individually given notice. Jeff Bickerstaff, Jr., who was a SunTrust Bank depositor, filed a complaint against SunTrust on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated alleging the bank’s overdraft fee constitutes the charging of usurious interest. At the time Bickerstaff opened his account (thereby agreeing to the terms of SunTrust’s deposit agreement), that agreement included a mandatory arbitration provision. In response to the ruling of a federal court in an unrelated action finding the arbitration clause in SunTrust’s deposit agreement was unconscionable at Georgia law, and after Bickerstaff’s complaint had been filed, SunTrust amended the arbitration clause to permit a window of time in which a depositor could reject arbitration by sending SunTrust written notification that complied with certain requirements. SunTrust had not notified Bickerstaff or its other customers of this change in the arbitration clause of the deposit agreement at the time Bickerstaff filed his complaint, but the complaint, as well as the first amendment to the complaint, was filed prior to the amendment’s deadline for giving SunTrust written notice of an election to reject arbitration. It was only after Bickerstaff’s complaint was filed that SunTrust notified Bickerstaff and its other existing depositors, by language printed in monthly account statements distributed on August 24, 2010, that an updated version of the deposit agreement had been adopted, that a copy of the new agreement could be obtained at any branch office or on-line, and that all future transactions would be governed by the updated agreement. SunTrust appealed the order denying its motion to compel Bickerstaff to arbitrate his claim, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, finding that the information contained in the complaint filed by Bickerstaff’s attorney substantially satisfied the notice required to reject arbitration. Bickerstaff appealed the order denying his motion for class certification, and in the same opinion the Court of Appeals affirmed that decision, holding in essence, that the contractual language in this case requiring individual notification of the decision to reject arbitration did not permit Bickerstaff to reject the deposit agreement’s arbitration clause on behalf of other putative class members by virtue of the filing of his class action complaint. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed that decision, holding that the terms of the arbitration rejection provision of SunTrust’s deposit agreement did not prevent Bickerstaff’s class action complaint from tolling the contractual limitation for rejecting that provision on behalf of all putative class members until such time as the class may be certified and each member makes the election to opt out or remain in the class. Accordingly, the numerosity requirement of OCGA 9-11-23 (a) (1) for pursuing a class complaint was not defeated on this ground. View "Bickerstaff v. SunTrust Bank" on Justia Law
Mays v. Southern Resources Consultants, Inc.
Southern Resources Consultants, Inc. (“SRC”) was a Residential Service Provider (“RSP”), contracting with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (“DBHDD”) and the Georgia Department of Community Health (“DCH”) to operate group homes and provide care and oversight for Medicaid-funded individuals with developmental disabilities. Linda Mays (“Mays”) contracted with SRC to be a Host Home Provider (“HHP”) for one such woman, S.F., from approximately 2006 to 2014. S.F. became dissatisfied with SRC, and requested that her case manager, who was the Guardianship Case Manager for the Division of Aging Services of Georgia’s Department of Human Services (“DHS”) and S.F.’s legal guardian, change S.F.’s RSP. At the time of the request, DBHDD policy prohibited a HHP from terminating its contract with a RSP, such as SRC, and then continuing to serve the individual who had been in the care of the HHP. Consequently, at S.F.’s behest and believing it to be in S.F.’s best interests, the case manager requested a waiver of such policy from DBHDD so that S.F. could remain in Mays’s host home despite the termination of Mays’s relationship with SRC. DBHDD granted the waiver. S.F. then began to receive services from a new RSP, Southern International Living (“SIL”). SRC subsequently filed suit against Mays for breach of purported confidentiality3 and non-compete provisions in a “Work for Hire Agreement/ Contract/ Subcontract Agreement” (“Contract”), and for violation of the Georgia Trade Secrets Act of 1990 (“GTSA”), and subsequent unjust enrichment. This case reached the Georgia Supreme Court by way of an appeal of the superior court’s grant of an interlocutory injunction and for interlocutory and permanent injunctive relief, damages, attorney fees, and costs. The parties conceded that Mays had returned certain SRC confidential information at issue in the interlocutory injunction. The Supreme Court reversed the superior court as a nullity. Because the second and third provisions of the injunction were inextricably entwined and based upon a non-compete agreement that has since expired, these provisions were moot. Accordingly, the injunction was reversed in part, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Mays v. Southern Resources Consultants, Inc." on Justia Law
Georgia Dept. of Labor v. RTT Associates, Inc.
This case involved a written contract between a vendor and a state agency that contained form language stipulating that amendments had to be in writing and executed by the agency and the contractor. Appellant Georgia Department of Labor (DOL) entered into the contract in question with appellee RTT Associates, Inc. (RTT) to have some computer software developed for the agency. RTT asserted that the contract was extended by course of conduct as well as by certain internal writings created by the agency. By the terms of Georgia’s constitution, the state waived its sovereign immunity for breach of contract when it enters into a written contract. At issue was whether an agency’s waiver of immunity from a breach of contract claim as a result of entering into a written contract remained intact in the event the contract was extended without a written document signed by both parties expressly amending the contract, as required by its terms. The trial court concluded sovereign immunity was not waived beyond the required completion date of the contract, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding RTT failed to complete its contractual obligations before the contract expired. "Even if the parties’ conduct after the expiration of the contract could be found to demonstrate an agreement between the parties to continue to perform under the original contract, as a matter of law neither that conduct nor the internal documents created by DOL after the contract expired establishes a written contract to do so. Without a written contract, the state’s sovereign immunity from a contract action is not waived." View "Georgia Dept. of Labor v. RTT Associates, Inc." on Justia Law
Dodson v. Dodson
The Supreme Court granted an application of interlocutory appeal to determine whether the trial court erred when it denied enforcement of a prenuptial agreement. After a hearing, the trial court analyzed the agreement under the standard set forth in "Scherer v. Scherer;" the wife argued that the husband failed to establish eh made a full and fair disclosure of his financial condition. The trial court indeed found that though the agreement satisfied most of the Scherer test, the agreement was unenforceable due to the nondisclosure of certain material facts. Finding no error with this analysis, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's findings. View "Dodson v. Dodson" on Justia Law
Bagel v. Trammel
Following a bench trial arising out of a joint venture contract between appellant Thomas Bagwell and appellees Bobby and Oretta Trammel, the trial court denied Bagwell's claim for specific performance of the contract but granted his claims for an equitable partition of real property jointly owned by the parties and dissolution of the joint venture. Bagwell challenged the trial court's final order on several grounds, but the Supreme Court found none sufficient to disturb the trial court's judgment. View "Bagel v. Trammel" on Justia Law
Vinings Bank v. Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC
In "Vinings Bank v. Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC," (759 SE2d 886 (2014)), the Court of Appeals affirmed, among other rulings, the trial court’s determination that Vinings Bank was not entitled to summary judgment with regard to a counterclaim for conversion brought against the Bank by Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC ("B&G"). This case stemmed from a defaulted $1.4 million business loan. The bank made the loan to Wagner Enterprises, Inc., which used as collateral, a security interest in all of its accounts and accounts receivable, including Wagner's contract to provide drywall services for general contractor B&G. Wagner defaulted on the loan, and the Bank filed suit against B&G seeking to collect on Wagner's accounts receivable. B&G counterclaimed for conversion, and the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The bank appealed the denial of its motion. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. In affirming the trial court's judgment, the Court of Appeals did not consider whether B&G had any right to assert a counterclaim against the bank for conversion of funds due to Wagner's subcontractors. The Supreme Court found that B&G had no direct relationship with the Bank, B&G was not, itself, a subcontractor of Wagner entitled to any of Wagner's funds, B&G did not have direct contractual relationships with any of Wagner's subcontractors, and B&G had no fiduciary relationship with any of Wagner's subcontractors. Furthermore, there was no evidence that Wagner or Wagner's affected subcontractors assigned B&G any of their rights. "Therefore, even if we assume without deciding that funds in [Wagner's] account were held in a constructive trust for the benefit of [Wagner's] subcontractors, B&G is not the party to assert those rights and had no standing to do so." View "Vinings Bank v. Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC" on Justia Law
Tafel v. Lion Antique Cars & Investments, Inc.
This appeal and cross-appeal involved a longstanding financial dispute between appellant and cross-appellee Jim Tafel, and appellee and cross-appellant Lion Antique Cars & Investments, Inc., involving two Ferrari race cars. In the main appeal, Tafel argued, among other things, that the trial court erred in declining to exercise its equitable powers to mark satisfied a judgment that Lion Antique had obtained against him. In the cross-appeal, Lion Antique argued the trial court erred in valuing the race cars for purposes of offsetting a part of the judgment that it had obtained against Tafel. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Tafel v. Lion Antique Cars & Investments, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Contracts
Estate of Cason Callaway, Jr. v. Garner
Appellees Larry Garner, Sr. and Larry Garner, Jr. were minority shareholders in the Callaway Blue Springs Water Company (CBSW), a closely held corporation. The majority shareholder was Cason Callaway, Jr. In 2007, the Garners sued Callaway and his son and attorney-in-fact, Kenneth Callaway, for specific performance of an oral stock purchase agreement, alleging that the Callaways had reneged on an oral contract under which Cason Callaway, Jr. had agreed to purchase the Garners' 7,500 shares of CBSW stock. Following a bench trial, the trial court entered a detailed final order directing Callaway's estate to perform under the agreement by purchasing the stock at the agreed price of $160 per share, for a total purchase price of $1.2 million. The trial court also awarded prejudgment interest pursuant to OCGA 13-6-13 on the $1.2 million purchase price, running from the date of breach through the date of judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether OCGA 13-6-13 authorized the award of prejudgment interest on a judgment granting relief only in the form of specific performance. After review, the Court answer the question in the negative. Though the Court reversed the trial court to the extent it awarded prejudgment interest under OCGA 13-6-13, the Court remanded for a determination as to whether prejudgment interest may nonetheless be awarded in this case under OCGA 7-4-15. View "Estate of Cason Callaway, Jr. v. Garner" on Justia Law
FCCI Insurance Co. v. McLendon Enterprises, Inc.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Georgia Supreme Court. The certified question arose out of a declaratory judgment action related to underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage under a commercial auto insurance policy issued by FCCI Insurance Co. (“FCCI”). The litigation was the result of a 2011 collision between a McLendon Enterprises, Inc. truck driven by McLendon employee Brooks Mitchell, with passengers Elijah Profit, III and Bobby Mitchell (“Bobby”), and an Evans County school bus driven by John Haartje. Profit, Bobby, and Mitchell claimed injuries as a result of the collision. In May 2013, Mitchell filed suit in state court against Haartje and the Evans County Board of Education to recover for his alleged damages. Mitchell served FCCI as McLendon's uninsured motorist (UM) carrier. At the time of the collision, the School District had an insurance policy with GSBA Risk Management Services, under whose policy, paid out the $1,000,000 liability limits for damages related to the collision. It settled with Profit and Bobby for $350,000 combined and agreed to pay Mitchell the remaining $650,000 in exchange for a limited liability release, thereby exhausting its $1,000,000 liability limits. Mitchell filed for UM benefits from FCCI. FCCI denied liability on the basis of the at-fault driver's statutory immunity. The question certified centered on whether an insured party could recover under an uninsured-motorist insurance policy providing that the insurer will pay sums “the insured is legally entitled to recover as compensatory damages from the owner or driver of an uninsured motor vehicle” despite the partial sovereign immunity of the tortfeasor. The Georgia Supreme Court answered the question in the affirmative. View "FCCI Insurance Co. v. McLendon Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law