Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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Mercer University sought immunity from liability for claims by the estate and family of Sally Stofer, who was fatally injured when she fell at a free concert hosted by the university at Washington Park in Macon, Georgia in July 2014. The park was owned by Macon-Bibb County, but Mercer had a permit to use the park for its concert series. The concert series was planned, promoted, and hosted by Mercer’s College Hill Alliance, a division of Mercer whose stated mission is to foster neighborhood revitalization for Macon’s College Hill Corridor. The trial court concluded, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that defendant was not entitled to summary judgment on its claim of immunity under Georgia’s Recreational Property Act, given evidence that Mercer hosted the concert and it might (at least indirectly) benefit financially from the event. In arriving at this conclusion, the Georgia Supreme Court surmised the Court of Appeals was led astray by language in the Supreme Court’s most recent relevant decision that was inconsistent with previous case law. After careful consideration of the statutory text and a thorough review of the case law, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that whether immunity was available under this provision requires a determination of the true scope and nature of the landowner’s invitation to use its property, and this determination properly is informed by two related considerations: (1) the nature of the activity that constitutes the use of the property in which people have been invited to engage, and (2) the nature of the property that people have been invited to use. Clarifying that considerations of evidence of Mercer’s subjective motivations in hosting the concert and some speculation of the indirect benefits Mercer might have received as a result of the concert were generally improper, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded the case with direction that the court revisit its analysis consistent with the standard that was clarified here. View "Mercer University v. Stofer" on Justia Law

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In 2013, a small business jet crashed into a Georgia Power Company transmission pole on Milliken & Company’s property near the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport in Thomson, Georgia. The two pilots were injured and the five passengers died. In the wake of the crash, the pilots and the families of the deceased passengers filed a total of seven lawsuits against multiple defendants, including Georgia Power and Milliken. The complaints in those seven suits alleged that a transmission pole located on Milliken’s property was negligently erected and maintained within the airport’s protected airspace. The record evidence showed Georgia Power constructed the transmission pole on Milliken’s property for the purpose of providing electricity to Milliken’s manufacturing-plant expansion, and that the pole was constructed pursuant to a 1989 Easement between Georgia Power and Milliken. In each of the seven suits, Milliken filed identical cross-claims against Georgia Power, alleging that Georgia Power was contractually obligated to indemnify Milliken “for all sums that Plaintiffs may recover from Milliken” under Paragraph 12 of the Easement. Georgia Power moved for summary judgment on the crossclaims, which were granted. The trial court reasoned Paragraph 12 of the Easement operated as a covenant not to sue, rather than as an indemnity agreement, because it “nowhere contains the word ‘indemnity’” and “it is not so comprehensive regarding protection from liability.” The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment to six cases. Rather than adopt the trial court’s reasoning, the appellate court held that the provision was an indemnity agreement and affirmed the trial court by applying Georgia’s anti-indemnity statute, OCGA 13-8-2 (b), to determine that Paragraph 12 of the Easement was “void as against public policy,” a theory argued before the trial court but argued or briefed before the Court of Appeals. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred in its construction and application of OCGA 13-8-2(b), vacated the judgment and remanded for the lower court to consider whether, in the first instance, the trial court’s rationale for granting Georgia Power’s motions for summary judgment and any other arguments properly before the Court of Appeals. View "Milliken & Co. v. Georgia Power Co." on Justia Law

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In 2014, Maria Matta-Troncoso and her husband, Mario Matta (“the Mattas”), sued Michael and Lakeisha Thornton, alleging that the Thorntons were liable under OCGA 51-2-71 for injuries that Matta-Troncoso sustained when the Thorntons’ dogs attacked her as she was walking her own dogs approximately two blocks away from the Thorntons’ rental house. The Mattas later amended their complaint by adding Gregory Tyner, the Thorntons’ landlord, alleging that he was liable under OCGA 44-7-142 for failing to keep the rental property in repair. Specifically, they alleged that Tyner failed to repair a broken gate latch that allowed the Thorntons’ dogs to escape the property and attack Matta-Troncoso. Tyner moved for summary judgment, and the trial court determined that although Tyner breached his duty to keep the premises in repair by failing to repair the broken gate latch, summary judgment was nevertheless warranted in his favor because the Mattas made no showing that the Thorntons’ dogs had ever displayed vicious propensities or that Tyner had knowledge of such tendencies. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling, concluding the trial court erred in its analysis of whether Tyner had knowledge of the dogs’ vicious propensities. Citing OCGA 51-2-7, the Court of Appeals reasoned that because there was evidence that the dogs were unleashed in violation of a local ordinance, the Mattas were not required to produce evidence that “Tyner [was] aware of the dogs’ vicious propensities.” Furthermore, the appellate court concluded Tyner could be liable under OCGA 44-7-14 because that statute did not limit a landlord’s liability to injuries occurring on a leased premises, and that there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Matta-Troncoso’s injuries “arose from” Tyner’s failure to repair the gate latch. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Tyner’s petition for certiorari to address a single question: Did the Court of Appeals err by reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Tyner? The Court answered that question in the affirmative, and therefore reversed the Court of Appeals. The Court determined there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Tyner’s failure to repair the gate latch caused Matta-Troncoso’s injuries; summary judgment in Tyner’s favor was appropriate. View "Tyner v. Matta-Tronscoso" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to review whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the grant of summary judgment to the insurer on the insured’s failure-to-settle claim. The Court also asked the parties to address whether an insurer’s duty to settle arises only when the injured party presents a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits or whether, even absent such an offer, a duty arises when the insurer knows or reasonably should know that settlement within the insured’s policy limits is possible. As to this threshold issue, the Court concluded an insurer’s duty to settle arises only when the injured party presents a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits. Applying the applicable rules of contract construction to correspondence from two injured parties in the instant case, the Court concluded the injured parties presented to the insurer a valid offer to settle within the insured’s policy limits but that the offer did not include any deadline for accepting the offer. Based on the undisputed evidence, as a matter of law, the insurer did not act unreasonably in failing to accept the offer before it was withdrawn by the injured parties. As the insurer was entitled to summary judgment, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "First Acceptance Insurance Company of Georgia, Inc. v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari review in this case to resolve whether the trial court applied Georgia's forum non conveniens statute to dismiss a lawsuit filed in Georgia by Michigan residents against a Georgia corporation, instead of the foreign county where the underlying incident occurred. While vacationing in the Dominican Republic in 2014, Appellant Francis La Fontaine was injured in a fall from a collapsed zip-line at a course operated by Cumayasa Sky Adventures (CSA). She and her husband, Appellant Roberto Melendez, were Michigan residents and filed a tort action in Douglas County, Georgia against Appellee Signature Research, Inc. Appellee was a Georgia corporation that inspected and certified the zip-line course operated by CSA. Appellee filed a motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens saying it would submit to jurisdiction in the Dominican Republic and it would agree to extend the applicable statute of limitations period. Pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1, the trial court granted Appellee’s motion because the balance of private and public factors weighed in favor of adjudicating this matter in the Dominican Republic. The Supreme Court found that strictly construed OCGA 9-10-31.1 did not provide for dismissals of actions unless the claim should be moved to one of the other 49 states. The judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the dismissal of Appellants’ action pursuant to OCGA 9-10-31.1 was reversed. View "La Fontaine v. Signature Research, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of certiorari in this case to reconsider Hines v. Georgia Ports Authority, 604 SE2d 189 (2004), and more specifically, its holding that the Georgia Ports Authority was not an “arm of the state” and therefore, had no sovereign immunity from a lawsuit in a state court to recover damages under federal maritime law for the tort of a Ports Authority employee. The Court overruled Hines and concluded the Ports Authority was indeed an “arm of the state” and had sovereign immunity from lawsuits to recover damages under federal maritime law for the torts of its employees. View "Georgia Ports Authority v. Lawyer" on Justia Law

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Joshua and Taylor Patterson became ill after eating food at a wedding rehearsal dinner prepared, catered, and served by Big Kev’s Barbeque. The Pattersons brought this action for negligence, violation of the Georgia Food Act (OCGA 26-2-20 et seq.), and products liability, alleging that the food at the dinner was defective, pathogen-contaminated, undercooked, and negligently prepared. After limited discovery, Big Kev’s moved for summary judgment, asserting that the Pattersons “are unable to show that their alleged food poisoning was proximately caused by Defendant.” The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether summary judgment for the defendant was properly granted. The Court of Appeals was “sharply” divided, yet granted summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause. The Supreme Court found that the standard that has developed over the years in the Court of Appeals has conflated cases at both the trial and summary judgment stages, thus creating the mistaken impression that food poisoning cases “are a unique species of negligence cases” imposing a heavier burden upon the plaintiff to show proximate cause than that generally required of nonmovants on summary judgment. “The appropriate legal standard on summary judgment, correctly applied to the facts of this case, shows that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the issue of proximate cause.” View "Patterson v. Kevon, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellees Sherinna McMann and Childrona Holton were passengers in a car traveling on the interstate in Bibb County, Georgia when allegedly an unknown driver swerved into their car's path, causing the driver to slam on the brakes. Appellant Eric Carpenter was allegedly driving too closely behind them and rear-ended the vehicle. Doe fled the scene and was never identified. Appellees sued Doe and Carpenter for negligence in Bibb County under the Georgia uninsured motorist statute in Bibb County pursuant to OCGA 33-7-11 (d)(1), which provided that “the residence of such ‘John Doe’ defendant shall be presumed to be in the county in which the accident causing injury or damages occurred, or in the county of residence of the plaintiff, at the election of the plaintiff in the action.” Carpenter moved to transfer venue to Crawford County where he resided, but the trial court denied his motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Carpenter’s petition for certiorari, posing a single question: Does the venue provision of the uninsured motorist statute apply in a suit related to an automobile collision brought against a known Georgia resident and an unknown defendant under a joint tortfeasor theory? The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative, and therefore affirmed. View "Carpenter v. McMann" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals in Thomas v. Tenet HealthSystem GB, 796 SE2d 301 (2017), to consider whether that court properly held that a claim of imputed simple negligence against a hospital, which was asserted in a second amended complaint, related back to the original complaint pursuant to OCGA 9-11-15 (c). Finding that the Court of Appeals was correct, the Supreme Court affirmed that court’s judgment. View "Tenet HealthSystem GA, Inc. v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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In a wrongful death lawsuit involving Georgia law, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court. In September 1992, Delia Bibbs was involved in a car accident in which she sustained a head injury that left her in a coma. A few months after the accident, she filed, through her husband, a personal injury lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corporation and Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. The case was tried by a jury, but before it returned a verdict, Bibbs and Toyota entered into a “high-low” settlement agreement, which guaranteed some recovery for Bibbs in the event of a verdict for Toyota, but limited Toyota’s exposure in the event of a verdict for Bibbs. The jury returned a verdict for Bibbs, awarding substantial damages, including more than $400,000 for past medical expenses, $6 million for future life care expenses, and $30 million for past and future pain and suffering. Within the next month, Toyota paid the amount required under the settlement agreement, and Bibbs executed a written release that incorporated the settlement agreement. Expressly excluded from the release was “any claim for Delia Bibbs’ wrongful death, inasmuch as Delia Bibbs has not died and no such claim was made or could have been made in the [personal injury lawsuit].” Also in connection with the settlement, Bibbs dismissed her personal injury lawsuit with prejudice. More than 20 years later, Bibbs died, Together with her surviving children, Bibbs’s husband filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Toyota, seeking damages for the full value of her life. The case was removed to federal district court, and Toyota filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Under Georgia law, the federal court asked whether the damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death action brought by survivors of a decedent limited by a settlement entered into by the decedent’s guardian in a previous personal injury suit settling all claims that were or could have been asserted in that suit. If the answer was yes, what components of wrongful death damages were barred? The Georgia Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative, and in response to the second question, explained that damages recovered or recoverable in an earlier personal injury lawsuit could not be recovered again in a wrongful death suit. View "Bibbs v. Toyota Motor Corporation, Inc." on Justia Law