Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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The federal United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia certified questions of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court regarding the scope of the “acceptance doctrine” in negligent construction tort cases. At issue was whether and how the acceptance doctrine applied as a defense against a claim brought by a subsequent purchaser of allegedly negligently constructed buildings. Thomaston Crossing, LLC (the “original owner”) entered into a construction contract with appellee Piedmont Construction Group, Inc. to build an apartment complex in Macon. Piedmont then retained two subcontractors – appellees Alan Frank Roofing Company and Triad Mechanical Company, Inc. – to construct the roof and the HVAC system, respectively. In 2014, the complex was completed, turned over to, and accepted by the original owner. In 2016, the original owner sold the apartment complex to appellant Thomaston Acquisition, LLC (“Thomaston”) pursuant to an “as is” agreement. Shortly after the sale, Thomaston allegedly discovered evidence that the roof and HVAC system had been negligently constructed. Thomaston filed suit against Piedmont, asserting a claim for negligent construction of the roof and HVAC system and a claim for breach of contract/implied warranty. Piedmont then filed a third-party complaint against Alan Frank Roofing and Triad Mechanical because both companies had allegedly agreed to indemnify Piedmont for loses arising out of their work. Each of the appellees later moved for summary judgment based in part on the defense that Thomaston’s negligent construction claim is barred by the acceptance doctrine. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the acceptance doctrine applied to Thomaston’s claim, and that “readily observable upon reasonable inspection” referred to the original owner’s inspection. “Without any real claim of privity, Thomaston nevertheless contends that it should be treated like the original owner because it is the current owner-occupier of the property. But doing so would undermine the acceptance doctrine’s foundational purpose of shielding contractors from liability for injuries occurring after the owner has accepted the completed work, thereby assuming responsibility for future injuries. There is no ‘current owner-occupier’ or ‘subsequent purchaser’ exception to the acceptance doctrine, and the facts of this case do not compel us to recognize one here.” View "Thomaston Acquisition, LLC v. Piedmont Construction Group, Inc." 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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This case stemmed from a dispute between homeowners James and Mary Hanham and Access Management Group L.P., the management agent for the St. Marlo Homeowner’s Association. In 2011, the Hanhams filed claims for trespass, nuisance, negligence, invasion of privacy and breach of contract against their neighbor Marie Berthe-Narchet (“Narchet”), her landscaper GreenMaster Landscaping Service, Inc., and Access Management in response to a landscaping project on Narchet’s property that resulted in flooding to the Hanhams’ property and restricted their view of the golf course. During a 2016 jury trial, Access Management moved for a directed verdict on the negligence and breach of contract claims; the trial court denied both motions. The jury subsequently found in favor of the Hanhams, and Access Management appealed to the Court of Appeals, alleging, among other things, that the trial court erred in denying its motion for a directed verdict as to the Hanhams’ breach of contract claim. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the jury’s judgment as to that claim. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the trial court’s denial of Access Management’s motion for a directed verdict as to the Hanhams’ breach of contract claim. The Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals’ decision was in error, and reversed the judgment as it pertained to the breach of contract claim. The Court vacated the final division of the Court of Appeals’ opinion, and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further consideration. View "Hanham v. Access Management Group, L.P." on Justia Law

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Morgan County, Georgia appealed a trial court’s order dismissing Christine May’s criminal citation for violating the County’s amended zoning ordinance by renting out her house near Lake Oconee for a week. The court concluded that the zoning ordinance in effect at the time May began renting her house for short periods was unconstitutionally vague as applied, meaning that her use of the house for such rentals was “grandfathered” and not subject to the amended ordinance’s explicit prohibition of short-term rentals for fewer than 30 days. May cross-appealed, but the Georgia Supreme Court did not address her claimed errors, because it affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of her citation. View "Morgan County v. May" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme COurt's review centered on whether the contract involved in this case between the City of Atlanta and a private business for the lease of retail concession space at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport created a taxable interest subject to ad valorem taxation by Clayton County. The City of Atlanta owned the Airport, which was partially in Clayton County outside the City’s boundaries. Appellee Aldeasa Atlanta Joint Venture entered into the written agreement with the City to lease space on two different concourses at the Airport for the non-exclusive rights to operate two duty free retail stores. Appellant Clayton County Board of Tax Assessors (“County”) issued real property tax assessments to Aldeasa for the 2011 and 2012 tax years on Aldeasa’s purported leasehold improvements on the two parcels involved in the Concessions Agreement and also on Aldeasa’s purported possessory interest in the two parcels. Aldeasa appealed the assessments and paid the tax pending the outcome of the appeal. The trial court found the Concessions Agreement created a usufruct interest in the property, and not an estate in real property; it rejected the County’s assertion that it was legally authorized to impose a property tax on usufructs located at the Airport; and it also rejected the County’s assertion that the Concessions Agreement created a taxable franchise. Accordingly, the trial court granted Aldeasa’s motion for summary judgement and denied the motion filed by the County. The County appealed, asserting four different taxable interests were created by the Concessions Agreement. The Supreme Court disagreed with the State's assertions and affirmed the trial court. View "Clayton County Bd. of Assessors v. Aldeasa Atlanta Joint Venture" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether a locked entry door to a homeowner’s residence provided sufficient notice to a would-be trespasser that he or she is forbidden from entering the premises. The Court of Appeals held that David Harper, a bail recovery agent, could not be found guilty of trespass under OCGA 16-7-21(b)(2) as a matter of law after he entered the residence of Tina McDaniel through a locked door from her backyard without McDaniel’s knowledge or permission to arrest Stephen Collier, a man whose criminal bond had been forfeited. Harper gained access to the residence by either reaching his hand through a doggy door attached to the larger locked door and unlocking it, or crawling through the doggy door to do so. Collier did not live at the house, and was there only to work on a vehicle. Harper was a stranger to McDaniel, as he had not been given any access to McDaniel’s home on any prior occasion and had no prior relationship with her. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because a finding of guilt under OCGA 16-7-21(b)(2) “requires proof that the accused entered [the premises in question] knowingly and without authority after having received express notice that the entry was forbidden,” and because “[t]he State failed to produce any evidence showing that Harper was given the required prior express notice not to enter McDaniel’s premises,” Harper could not be found guilty of criminal trespass under the statute. The Supreme Court concluded that the locked door to the residence provided reasonable and sufficiently explicit notice to Harper that entry into McDaniel’s residence was forbidden under the circumstances of this case, and as such, reversed. View "Georgia v. Harper" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether a locked entry door to a homeowner’s residence provided sufficient notice to a would-be trespasser that he or she is forbidden from entering the premises. The Court of Appeals held that David Harper, a bail recovery agent, could not be found guilty of trespass under OCGA 16-7-21(b)(2) as a matter of law after he entered the residence of Tina McDaniel through a locked door from her backyard without McDaniel’s knowledge or permission to arrest Stephen Collier, a man whose criminal bond had been forfeited. Harper gained access to the residence by either reaching his hand through a doggy door attached to the larger locked door and unlocking it, or crawling through the doggy door to do so. Collier did not live at the house, and was there only to work on a vehicle. Harper was a stranger to McDaniel, as he had not been given any access to McDaniel’s home on any prior occasion and had no prior relationship with her. The Court of Appeals concluded that, because a finding of guilt under OCGA 16-7-21(b)(2) “requires proof that the accused entered [the premises in question] knowingly and without authority after having received express notice that the entry was forbidden,” and because “[t]he State failed to produce any evidence showing that Harper was given the required prior express notice not to enter McDaniel’s premises,” Harper could not be found guilty of criminal trespass under the statute. The Supreme Court concluded that the locked door to the residence provided reasonable and sufficiently explicit notice to Harper that entry into McDaniel’s residence was forbidden under the circumstances of this case, and as such, reversed. View "Georgia v. Harper" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review centered on the proper statutory interpretation of the Recreational Property Act, OCGA 51-3-20 et seq. (RPA), which shields from potential liability landowners who “either directly or indirectly invite[] or permit[] without charge any person to use the[ir] property for recreational purposes.” Willie and Kristy Harris, along with their six-year-old daughter, Riley, attended a youth football game in 2012 at the Garden City Stadium, a facility owned and maintained by the City of Garden City. Willie and Kristy each paid the required $2 admission fee for spectators over the age of six. However, because Riley was only six years old, the Harrises were not required to pay an entrance fee for her, and Riley was admitted to the event free of charge. At one point during the game, while Riley was walking across the bleachers to return to her seat after visiting the concession stand, she slipped and fell between the bench seats and suffered serious injuries after falling to the ground nearly thirty feet below. The Harrises sued the City to recover for Riley’s injuries, and the City moved for summary judgment, relying on the immunity provided by the RPA. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that a landowner would not be shielded from potential liability by the RPA where that landowner charged a fee to some people who used the landowner’s property for recreational purposes, but did not charge any fee to the injured party who used the property for such purposes. The Court determined that because the plain language of the RPA shielded a landowner from potential liability under the circumstances presented here, the Court of Appeals erred in concluding otherwise. View "Mayor & Alderman of Garden City v. Harris" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review centered on the proper statutory interpretation of the Recreational Property Act, OCGA 51-3-20 et seq. (RPA), which shields from potential liability landowners who “either directly or indirectly invite[] or permit[] without charge any person to use the[ir] property for recreational purposes.” Willie and Kristy Harris, along with their six-year-old daughter, Riley, attended a youth football game in 2012 at the Garden City Stadium, a facility owned and maintained by the City of Garden City. Willie and Kristy each paid the required $2 admission fee for spectators over the age of six. However, because Riley was only six years old, the Harrises were not required to pay an entrance fee for her, and Riley was admitted to the event free of charge. At one point during the game, while Riley was walking across the bleachers to return to her seat after visiting the concession stand, she slipped and fell between the bench seats and suffered serious injuries after falling to the ground nearly thirty feet below. The Harrises sued the City to recover for Riley’s injuries, and the City moved for summary judgment, relying on the immunity provided by the RPA. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that a landowner would not be shielded from potential liability by the RPA where that landowner charged a fee to some people who used the landowner’s property for recreational purposes, but did not charge any fee to the injured party who used the property for such purposes. The Court determined that because the plain language of the RPA shielded a landowner from potential liability under the circumstances presented here, the Court of Appeals erred in concluding otherwise. View "Mayor & Alderman of Garden City v. Harris" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Georgia Trust Bank secured a judgment against Virgil Lovell for $1.2 million. The next year, Georgia Trust failed, and its assets went into receivership with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which later sold the judgment to Community & Southern Bank. When CSB was unable to collect the full amount of the judgment, it discovered a number of recent transactions in which Lovell and his companies had conveyed their respective interests in properties that, CSB believed, otherwise would have been available to satisfy the judgment. In 2015, CSB filed a lawsuit against Lovell, his wife, and several of his companies, asserting claims under the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act (UFTA) to set aside those conveyances as fraudulent transfers. The trial court dismissed some of those claims on the ground that they did not state claims upon which relief might properly be granted. After reviewing the transfers, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part. The Court found that trial court erred when it dismissed a claim under the UFTA against Lovell, his wife, and Ankony Land, LLC, relating to property in Habersham County: the trial court rested its dismissal of the claim upon the time bar of former OCGA 18-2-79 (1), and did not consider the other grounds asserted by Lovell, his wife, and Ankony Land for dismissing the claim. The trial court reasoned that former Section 18-2-79 (1) was a statute of repose, not a statute of limitation, and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) did not, it concluded, preempt statutes of repose. CSB contended that this conclusion was in error, and with that contention, the Supreme Court agreed. The Court reversed the trial court on this point, affirmed in all other respects, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Community & Southern Bank v. Lovell" on Justia Law