Articles Posted in Georgia Supreme Court

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This appeal stemmed from a dispute over equipment owned by Tri-State Concrete Contracting, an unincorporated sole proprietorship. Abel Ramirez worked at Tri-State, and when its proprietor, DuWayne Juhnke, died. Ramirez entered an agreement with Juhnke's wife to continue operating Tri-State and to make payments to purchase Tri-State and its equipment. After making some payments, Ramirez stopped, opened Abel & Sons Concrete, LLC, and started doing Tri-State's jobs with Tri-State's equipment without paying for the use of that equipment. In response, Mrs. Juhnke and the administrator of Mr. Juhnke's estate ("Appellees") sued Ramirez and Abel & Sons ("Appellants") along with Dollar Concrete Construction Company, the company that was storing the equipment and allegedly letting Appellants use it without Appellees' permission. Appellees and Dollar filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court denied both motions for summary judgment, explaining that it was undisputed that Dollar did not own the equipment and that Appellees did not have access to it, but there was a genuine factual dispute as to the ownership of the equipment and whether Dollar had refused Appellees' demand for its return. The trial court's order that although Appellees and Dollar had asked at a hearing for time to resolve how Dollar would relinquish the equipment, they had not presented a consent order, so the court sua sponte required Dollar to place the equipment outside its locked storage yard within 30 days and after giving seven days' notice to Appellants and Appellees to allow them to "arrange to retrieve and store same pending determination as to ownership." The order further directed Appellants and Appellees not to "transfer, damage, or use the property pending determination as to ownership" and to equally share the costs of moving and storage. The Supreme Court concluded that those portions of the order comprised, in substance, an interlocutory injunction, and Appellants filed this appeal to challenge the injunction against them on the ground that they were not given notice before the court imposed it. Because Appellants did not have proper notice of the interlocutory injunction, the trial court abused its discretion in imposing it against them, and the portion of the court's order issuing equitable relief binding Appellants was vacated. View "Abel & Sons Concrete, LLC v. Juhnke" on Justia Law

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Robert Haege died in 2006. Three months earlier, Haege made a will, in which he left his “personal assets” to his brother and sister, and in which he left his “business interests, both tangible and intangible, real or personal, connected to the business known as Traditional Fine Art, Ltd.” to his brother, sister, and two longtime employees. After Haege died, questions arose about the disposition of property associated with Traditional Fine Art, Ltd., insofar as Traditional Fine Art was a sole proprietorship and, therefore, had no legal existence separate and apart from Haege himself. The will was admitted to probate, and Sharon Haege England (sister) was appointed executrix of his estate. England failed to distribute any property to James Simmons and Elery Stinson, the two employees. The employees filed suit against England, seeking a declaratory judgment as to the meaning of the will with respect to the property associated with Traditional Fine Art. The trial court ruled in favor of England, concluding that, because Traditional Fine Art was only a sole proprietorship, the property associated with the business was merely the personal property of Haege. Simmons and Stinson appealed, and in a split decision, the Court of Appeals reversed. To the Supreme Court, England did not dispute the fundamental premise of the decision of the Court of Appeals, that a sole proprietor could separately dispose in his will of personal property connected with his sole proprietorship and his other personal property. Instead, England argued that Haege did not actually intend to separately dispose of any property associated with his sole proprietorship. Taking the will as a whole, the Supreme Court concluded that the most natural and reasonable understanding of the provisions of the will was that Haege left his personal property that amounted to "business interests . . . connected to the business known as Traditional Fine Art, Ltd." specifically including, but not limited to, membership certificates that he owned, to Simmons, Stinson, and his brother and sister, and he left all of his other personal property to his brother and sister alone. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "England v. Simmons" on Justia Law

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Premier Petroleum, Inc. appealed the confirmation of the sale of a gas station held in receivership, entered after the superior court determined that a restrictive covenant Premier signed with a third party to encumber the property was unenforceable. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "CML-GA Smyrna, LLC v. Atlanta Real Estate Investments, LLC" on Justia Law

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Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, Inc. instituted a "Quick Start Program" run in conjunction with the Technical College System of Georgia. Krystal Coleman, Sabrina Robinson Bolston, Tim Durden, and Darrell Strawbridge each submitted a request to the Technical College System pursuant to the Open Records Act, seeking to inspect certain records concerning Kia's hiring practices. The College System refused on several grounds to make the requested records available for inspection, and Coleman, Bolston, Durden, and Strawbridge filed suit to compel their production. In 2012, while the lawsuit was pending, the General Assembly amended the Open Records Act, and among other revisions, it added an exemption for certain records concerning the Quick Start program from public inspection. The Technical College System and Kia then moved to dismiss the lawsuit, asserting that exemption from the revised Act. Without deciding the extent to which paragraph of the revised Act applied to the requested records, the trial court denied the motions to dismiss, concluding that it would be unconstitutional in any event to apply the revision in a pending lawsuit. The Technical College System and Kia appealed, and after review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court concluded in this case the applicable revised parts of the Act applied and that its application was constitutional. The trial court's decision was reversed, and on remand, the trial court was mandated to determine which of the pertinent records were subject to the revised Act. View "Deal v. Coleman" on Justia Law

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Spectera is a vision care insurer that provides eye care benefits coverage to Georgia residents. Appellee Steven M. Wilson is a licensed optometrist who provides eye care services in Lowndes County as Wilson Eye Center ("WEC"). Appellees Cynthia McMurray, Jodie E. Summers, and David Price are also licensed optometrists that work for WEC. Prior to 2010, Spectera had entered provider contracts ("Patriot contracts") with Wilson and McMurray and they became members of Spectera's panel of eye care providers. In 2010, Spectera decided to terminate its Patriot contracts and replace them with independent participating provider (IPP) agreements. Under the new agreement "[appellees] would no longer receive the reimbursement for materials from Spectera and would no longer be entitled to retain the materials co[-]pays from Spectera insureds." Appellees sued Spectera contending that Spectera's proposed IPP agreement violated various subsections of Georgia's Patient Access to Eye Care Act. While the case was pending, the trial court issued a temporary injunction prohibiting Spectera from forcing its panel of independent participating providers in Georgia to abide by the IPP agreement. After the trial court temporarily enjoined Spectera from enforcing its IPP agreement, Spectera sought to remove appellees Wilson, Summers, and McMurray from its approved panel of providers altogether; but the trial court enjoined Spectera from taking such action. Although appellee Price was not on Spectera's provider panel, he alleged Spectera violated the Act by denying him membership on its panel because of his refusal to sign the IPP agreement. The trial court granted the appellees' motions for summary judgment, denied Spectera's motion for summary judgment and issued a permanent injunction precluding Spectera from enforcing the restrictions contained in the IPP agreement as to "any other licensed eye care provider on [Spectera's] provider panel" or those who had applied to be on the panel. Spectera appealed the trial court's decision to the Court of Appeals which affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Court of Appeals found that the covered materials requirement in the IPP agreement violated subsections (c)(2) and (c)(5) of the Act in regard to independent optometrists. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the Court of Appeals correctly construed OCGA 33-24-59.12 (c) of the Act. Because the IPP agreement did not create the type of impermissible discrimination between classes of licensed eye care providers contemplated by subsection (c)(5), the Court of Appeals was incorrect in its conclusion that the IPP agreement violated that subsection of the Act. Accordingly, the Court reversed that portion of the Court of Appeals' decision. The Act does not preclude insurers from terminating contracts with its existing eye care providers. "While Spectera's terminating its contracts with appellees Wilson, McMurray, and Summers may be an unpopular or ill-advised course of action, it cannot be said such action violates the Act." Therefore, that portion of the permanent injunction against Spectera was vacated. View "Spectera, Inc. v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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U. S. Bank, N. A. and Vatacs Group, Inc. both claimed title to certain residential real property in Fulton County, and U. S. Bank filed a petition to quiet title to the property. The trial court appointed a special master, and after an evidentiary hearing, the special master found that U. S. Bank had good title to the property, that Vatacs had no interest in the property, and that, even if Vatacs had some interest in the property, the doctrine of equitable subrogation rendered the interest of U. S. Bank superior to any interest of Vatacs. The trial court adopted the findings of the special master and entered judgment vesting fee title to the property in U. S. Bank. Vatacs appealed, contending that the case should have been tried by a jury and that the findings of the special master were erroneous. Upon review, the Supreme Court found no merit in these claims of error, and affirmed. View "Vatacs Group, Inc. v. U.S. Bank, NA" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this appeal to consider whether OCGA section 34-9-207 required an employee who files a claim under the Georgia Workers' Compensation Act (OCGA 34-9-1 et seq.), to authorize her treating physician to engage in ex parte communications with her employer or an employer representative in exchange for receiving benefits for a compensable injury. Because the Court of Appeals erroneously held an employee is not required to authorize such communications, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Arby's Restaurant Group, Inc. v. McRae" on Justia Law

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In 2002 and 2003, appellee American Home Services, Inc. (AHS), a siding, window, and gutter installation company, contracted with Sunbelt Communications, Inc. (Sunbelt), for Sunbelt to send a total of 318,000 unsolicited advertisements to various facsimile machines operating in metropolitan Atlanta. In October 2003, appellant A Fast Sign Company, Inc. d/b/a Fastsigns (Fastsigns), one of the recipients of these unsolicited advertisements, brought a class-action lawsuit against AHS, asserting violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) (47 U.S.C. sec. 227). At the conclusion of a bench trial, the trial court found that AHS violated the TCPA because it admitted in judicio that it had sent 306,000 unsolicited facsimile advertisements. Finding that violation of the TCPA was wilful and knowing, the trial court awarded the class $459 million in damages, or the amount of $1,500 for each fax sent. The trial court declined to award punitive damages and attorney's fees. AHS appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals vacated the trial court's judgment and remanded the case, finding that the trial court erroneously applied the TCPA by basing liability and damages on the number of unsolicited advertisements sent rather than the number of unsolicited advertisements received by class members. The issue before the Supreme court was whether the Court of Appeals erred when it determined that only the receipt of an unsolicited fax created an actionable violation of the TCPA. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "A Fast Sign Company, Inc. v. American Home Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether the appellate court correctly construed the standing requirement for a motor vehicle dealership to sue under OCGA 10-1-664 (the anti-encroachment provision of the Georgia Motor Vehicle Franchise Practices Act). "While the anti-encroachment provision could have been drafted more clearly, we believe that the Act as a whole, and particularly its definitions provision, OCGA 10-1-622, elucidate[s] the proper application of the anti-encroachment provision to the facts of this case." Though the Court disagreed with the rationale of the majority of the appellate panel, it concluded the panel reached the right result, and therefore affirmed the court of appeals' judgment. View "WMW, Inc v. American Honda Motor Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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SPI Club, Inc. operates two nightclubs in Atlanta, and in July 2010, the City issued an alcohol license for each club. Daniel Corporation contended that SPI Club failed to open either club for business within nine months of the issue of these licenses, and in April 2011, Daniel sued City officials, seeking a writ of mandamus to compel these officials to recognize an automatic forfeiture of the licenses. The trial court found that SPI Club had, in fact, opened the clubs for business within the required time, and it denied the petition for a writ of mandamus. Daniel appealed, and after review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Daniel Corp. v. Reed" on Justia Law