Articles Posted in Georgia Supreme Court

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The named plaintiffs in this class action owned real property in Mallard Pointe, a residential neighborhood in Effingham County. Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products, LP has operated the Savannah River Mill nearby since 1986. Plaintiffs argued that their real property was contaminated by hydrogen sulfide gas released from the decomposition of solid waste sludge released by the mill. As a result, they have been exposed to noxious odors, their use and enjoyment of their property has been impaired, and the value of their property has diminished. Plaintiffs sued Georgia-Pacific for nuisance, trespass, and negligence. The plaintiffs sought not only to recover monetary damages for themselves, but they proposed to seek relief for a class of other nearby property owners. Georgia-Pacific appealed the certification of the class, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Upon the petition of Georgia-Pacific, the Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals, and concluded after that review that the trial court abused its discretion when it certified the class. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals View "Georgia-Pacific Consumer Products, LP v. Ratner" on Justia Law

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Velicia Carter was injured in an automobile collision with Jeova Oliviera. It was alleged that Oliviera was under the influence of alcohol at the time. Oliviera had an auto liability insurance policy with GEICO General Insurance Company with a $30,000 per person liability limit. Carter was insured by Progressive Mountain Insurance Company, including uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) coverage of $25,000 per person. Carter sued Oliviera and served Progressive as her UM carrier, and entered into a settlement in which GEICO paid the $30,000 limit of Oliviera's policy, and Carter executed a limited liability release. It allocated $29,000 of GEICO's payment to punitive damages and $1,000 to compensatory damages. Progressive answered the suit as Carter's UM carrier and sought summary judgment on the UM claim, which the trial court granted, ruling that, by imposing the condition that $29,000 of the liability coverage limit be allocated to the payment of punitive damages, Carter failed to meet a prerequisite for recovery of the UM benefits. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that, by allocating a portion of the payment to punitive damages, rather than allocating all of the payment to compensatory damages, Carter failed to exhaust the limits of Oliviera's liability policy, and, therefore, forfeited the ability to make a claim on her UM policy. The Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals to determine if that Court properly applied the motor vehicle insurance limited liability release provision of OCGA 33-24-41.1. Finding that the Court of Appeals erred, the Supreme Court reversed that Court's judgment. View "Carter v. Progressive Mountain Ins." on Justia Law

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Before he committed suicide in September 2012, twenty-two-year old Christopher Landry had been under the care of appellant, psychiatrist Crit Cooksey. In August 2012, Dr. Cooksey prescribed both Seroquel and Cymbalta for Christopher, two drugs that contained "black box warnings" warning of an increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in young adults and recommended that medical professionals prescribing the drugs monitor patients for worsening or emergent suicidal thoughts and behavior. Following Christopher's death, his parents, appellees Lisa and Michael Landry, began investigating a potential medical malpractice, wrongful death, and survival action against Dr. Cooksey and made multiple requests for copies of Christopher's psychiatric records. Dr. Cooksey on each occasion refused to produce the records, claiming they were protected from disclosure by Georgia's psychiatrist-patient privilege. Appellees filed a complaint seeking a permanent injunction directing Dr. Cooksey to turn over all of Christopher's psychiatric records. The trial court, without reviewing Dr. Cooksey's files, concluded that equity supported appellees' position and issued an injunction directing Dr. Cooksey to produce to appellees "all records pertaining to the medical treatment and history of Christopher Landry." Dr. Cooksey appealed the trial court's order and filed a motion for an emergency stay which was granted. Upon further review, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred to the extent it exercised its equitable powers to order the production of information protected from disclosure by Georgia law. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the order of the trial court in part and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cooksey v. Landry" on Justia Law

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Appellee Ursula MacDowell was referred by another dentist to both Dr. Steven Gallant, a general practitioner with a specialty in prosthetics, and Mollie Ann Winston, D.D.S., an oral surgeon, for them jointly to provide professional services necessary for a full mouth prosthodontic reconstruction. The dentists maintained separate practices and engage in different professional specialties, sometimes worked together as a team to perform reconstructive dental services for appellee. Based upon a treatment plan devised by Dr. Gallant, Dr. Winston was to extract certain teeth and place implants into MacDowell's jaw which Dr. Gallant would utilize in the installation of dental prostheses. Shortly after the first of several implant procedures, in August of 2006, Dr. Gallant determined that the implants had been improperly placed in such a manner as to make the installation of prostheses difficult. In fact, he consulted with another dentist, Dr. Hal Arnold, who confirmed Dr. Gallant's opinion. Dr. Gallant admitted he did not inform MacDowell of his opinion or discuss the options for treatment with her. Instead, he exercised his own judgment that it would be best to work around the difficulties created by the implants and go forward with installing the prostheses, so as not to put the patient through the process of removing and replacing the implants, because she had been through "enough." When appellee sued for malpractice, Dr. Gallant moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment to Dr. Gallant and the professional corporation through which he practiced. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment. The issue before the Supreme Court on appeal of that reversal was whether the Court of Appeals erred when it held that the statutory period [of limitation] was tolled even after the plaintiff consulted with a second dentist. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court's decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the outcome. View "Gallant v. MacDowell" on Justia Law

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In the spring of 2009, Haley Maxwell was a student at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. Maxwell reported that she had been beaten and brutally sexually assaulted in her dorm room during the early morning hours of April 13 by a University of Tennessee graduate student named Amanda Hartley. Maxwell also told the officers that on April 27 (two weeks after the alleged attack in her dorm room) she went alone to Hartley's apartment in Knoxville, where Hartley beat her again. A reasonable investigation would have revealed that Maxwell's accusations against Hartley were demonstrably false. Instead, on April 30, without investigating the truth or falsity of Maxwell's story, officers obtained warrants for Hartley's arrest on charges of aggravated sexual battery, battery, and sexual battery. He then contacted the Knoxville Police Department to cause Hartley's arrest and extradition to Georgia. Hartley was arrested and detained in Tennessee on May 6, extradited to Georgia on May 17, and not released on bond until May 28. In December, the district attorney dismissed all charges against Hartley after a reasonable investigation uncovered evidence showing that she was not in Georgia at the time of the alleged assault in Maxwell's dorm room. In April, 2011, Hartley filed a tort lawsuit against Agnes Scott College and three of its campus police officers, alleging that the three officers were acting within the scope of their employment by the college at the relevant times. The complaint sought compensatory and punitive damages based on claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The officer defendants answered and filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that they were entitled to immunity. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, but the Court of Appeals reversed. After considering the Georgia Tort Claims Act (GTCA) as a whole, rather than only its definitions section, the Supreme Court disagreed with a three-judge panel of the Court of appeals that concluded the officers were entitled to immunity. "[I]t was clear from the trial court record that the Agnes Scott officers were not acting for any state government entity when they committed the alleged torts." The Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals' plurality opinion. View "Hartley v. Agnes Scott College" on Justia Law

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Donna Austin sued to recover for personal injuries she allegedly sustained when she fell on a sidewalk as she was leaving a graduation ceremony at Peach County High School. She filed the suit against Susan Clark, the Superintendent of Peach County Schools; C.B. Mathis, the Assistant Superintendent of Facilities of Peach County Schools; Bruce Mackey, the Principal of Peach County High School; and Chad Sanders, the Director of Maintenance of Peach County Schools. Austin alleged that the individual defendants negligently performed the ministerial duties of inspecting, maintaining and repairing the sidewalk and road where she fell. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, asserting that the claims against them were barred by the doctrine of official immunity. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. After its review, however, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in granting defendants immunity from suit. The Supreme Court found that discovery in this case had been extremely limited, and it could not be said that the allegations of the complaint disclosed with certainty that Austin would not be entitled to relief under any state of provable facts asserted in support. According to the Court, it did not matter that "'Austin has pointed to no specific and clear procedures or methods for dealing with the purported hazard created by the drainage opening on the curb.' This is factual evidence which may or may not be developed during discovery and can be considered on a subsequent motion for summary judgment." View "Austin v. Clark" on Justia Law

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In December 2007, appellees Jordan and Renee Conley filed a product liability suit against appellant Ford Motor Company based on a single-vehicle rollover accident that occurred in 2006. The case went to trial in 2009. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Ford, and the Conleys did not file an appeal. Based on information about Ford's insurers that came to light more than a year later, the Conleys filed a motion for new trial in 2011. In early 2012, the trial court granted that motion. Ford filed an application for interlocutory appeal, which the Court of Appeals granted. The Court of Appeals judges were divided evenly, so the case was transferred to the Supreme Court for decision. After careful consideration of the record and the contentions of the parties, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court: "we reiterate the high hurdles that must be surmounted before an untimely, 'extraordinary' motion for new trial may be granted, but we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that the Conleys met that burden under the particular circumstances of this case." View "Ford Motor Co. v. Conley" on Justia Law

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In a medical malpractice action, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether it was wrong for the appellate court to reverse the trial court's denial of defendant's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs in this case accused an emergency room surgeon of having negligently delayed surgery that ultimately lead to the injured person losing a finger. Upon review of the facts of the case, the Supreme Court concluded there remained questions of fact that should have been presented to the jury, and the trial court erred in granting summary judgment. As such, the Court affirmed the appellate court's decision to reverse the trial court. View "Abdel-Samed v. Dailey" on Justia Law

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In March 2010, Justyna Kunz was involved in a car accident with GEICO's insureds, Crystal, Joseph, and Elizabeth Kalish. Kunz received medical treatment at Athens Regional Medical Center; the Hospital Authority of Clarke County and Athens Regional Medical Center (collectively, "the Hospitals") filed three hospital liens. Kunz subsequently filed suit against the Kalishes. Kunz's attorney wrote a letter to the Kalishes' attorney accepting their $100,000 policy limit settlement offer. The settlement documents, signed in Fall 2010, expressly required Kunz to satisfy the hospital liens out of the settlement fund and constituted a "general[ ] release ... from all legal and equitable claims of every kind and nature." The liens were never satisfied. The Court of Appeals held that, under OCGA 44–14–473 (a), the Hospitals were barred by a one-year statute of limitations from filing suit against GEICO to collect on the hospital liens. The Hospitals appealed the appellate court's decision. Finding that the appellate court erred in arriving at its conclusion, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Hospital Authority of Clarke County v. GEICO General Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in this case to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in its determination that the public duty doctrine insulated the City of Doraville from liability arising from the response of a Doraville Police Department ("DPD") officer to a vehicle emergency on an interstate highway which culminated in a multi-vehicle accident injuring Kenyatta Stevenson. Stevenson sued the City and a DPD Officer, asserting that the officer was negligent in failing to redirect traffic away from Stevenson's disabled car and in causing traffic to move in Stevenson's direction by engaging his vehicle's blue emergency lights while stopped near the outer lane of the highway behind and to the right of Stevenson. The trial court granted summary judgment to both defendants, finding official immunity shielded the officer from liability and that the public duty doctrine precluded Stevenson's claims against the City. Stevenson appealed, arguing that the public duty doctrine did not apply to his case because he alleged affirmative acts of negligence and that, even if the doctrine did apply, he fell within the special relationship exception identified in "City of Rome v. Jordan," (426 SE2d 861) (1993)). The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding Stevenson's arguments lacked merit. Although it appeared that the appellate court based its rejection of Stevenson's first argument on a finding that "there [was] nothing in the record . . . showing any active negligence on the part of the officer," the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court, but wrote to clarify the public duty doctrine. The doctrine "does not apply to limit liability where a claim of active negligence (misfeasance), rather than a mere failure to act (nonfeasance) is alleged." View "Stevenson v. City of Doraville" on Justia Law