Justia Business Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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InComm Financial Services issued pre-paid debit and credit cards under the “Vanilla VISA” brand to cardholders who use the cards to buy goods and services. Global Payments, Inc. was a financial data payment processor. Thieves purchased Vanilla VISA pre-paid debit and credit cards and used them to buy goods and services. Then, using certain merchants that were not the merchants who originally sold the goods and services, the thieves initiated counterfeit electronic “reversal transactions” – basically requests for refunds on behalf of the cardholders. Upon receiving the reversal transaction data from the merchants, Global relayed the data to the VISA network. The VISA network then submitted the reversal transaction data to InComm. InComm received the data, posted the reversal transactions to the cardholder accounts, and then issued credits to the merchants who, in turn, passed the credits on to the thieves holding the Vanilla VISA cards. The thieves then converted those credits (in excess of $1.5 million made over 3,600 transactions) to their use. InComm did not allege that Global participated in creating the counterfeit reversal transactions. InComm asserted that Global was liable for the losses InComm suffered as a consequence of those transactions because Global negligently supplied to the VISA network the data created by the reversal merchants. In support of its claim, InComm asserted that Global, as a payment processor, “had a duty to exercise reasonable care in supplying the VISA Network and its participants with the transactions initiated by the Reversal Merchants.” The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's order dismissing InComm's negligent misrepresentation claim against Global. Global's petition for certiorari review was granted, and the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that because the allegations of the complaint showed that Global merely transmitted data concerning debit and credit card transactions without representing that the transactions were legitimate, the Court of Appeals erred, and the Supreme Court therefore reversed. View "Global Payments, Inc. v. InComm Financial Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia certified three questions to the Georgia Supreme Court regarding the scope of the Georgia Dealers in Agricultural Products Act, Ga. L. 1956, p. 617 (codified as amended at OCGA sections 2-9-1 to 2-9-16) (“the Act”). At issue was the effect of the Act’s provisions upon contracts entered into by an agricultural products dealer that failed to obtain a license from the Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture: in this case, a contract entered into between San Miguel Produce, Inc. (“San Miguel”), a California corporation, and L. G. Herndon Jr. Farms, Inc. (“Herndon Farms”), a Georgia corporation. The Supreme Court concluded: (1) an entity as described by the district court did qualify as a dealer in agricultural products under the Act and was not exempt under OCGA 2-9-15 (a) (1), with the limited exception of specific transactions “in the sale of agricultural products grown by [itself];” (2) the Act’s licensing requirements were part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme in the public interest and not merely a revenue measure; and (3) if a dealer has failed to obtain a license as required by OCGA 2-9-2, it may not recover under a contract to the extent that the contract relates to business coming within the terms of the Act. View "San Miguel Produce, Inc. v. L.G. Herndon, Jr. Farms, Inc." on Justia Law

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Travelers Property Casualty Company of America (“Travelers”) filed suit against SRM Group, Inc. (“SRM”), seeking to recover unpaid premiums due under a workers’ compensation insurance policy. In response, SRM asserted counterclaims against Travelers for breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, and attorney fees based on Travelers’ audit of SRM’s employee risk classifications and subsequent refusal to reclassify those employees, which resulted in a substantial retroactive increase in the premium. A jury awarded Travelers damages based on SRM's failure to pay some of the alleged increased premium due under the policy. However, the jury found that Travelers had also breached the contract and acted in bad faith in conducting the audit and failing to reclassify certain SRM employees. The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court's review centered on whether a counterclaimant asserting an independent compulsory counterclaim could seek attorney fees and litigation expenses under Georgia case law. The Supreme Court overruled Byers v. McGuire Properties, Inc, 679 SE2d 1 (2009), and Sponsler v. Sponsler, 699 SE2d 22 (2010). "Thus, a plaintiff-in-counterclaim asserting an independent claim may seek, along with that claim, attorney fees and litigation expenses under OCGA 13-6-11, regardless of whether the independent claim is permissive or compulsory." In this case, the Court reversed that part of the Court of Appeals' opinion that followed Byers. View "SRM Group, Inc. v. Travelers Property Cas. Co. of America" on Justia Law

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The Atlanta Botanical Garden, Inc. (the “Garden”) leased land from the City of Atlanta. The Garden wished to enforce a policy precluding the possession of firearms by visitors to, and guests of, the Garden, like Phillip Evans. Evans held a valid weapons carry license under Georgia law and asserted that he was authorized to carry a firearm at the garden under the authority of OCGA 16-11-127 (c). The Garden contended it could enforce its policy based on an exception to the general rule found in the same statutory paragraph. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether OCGA 16-11-127 (c) permitted a private organization that leased property owned by a municipality to prohibit the carrying of firearms on the leased premises. The Court of Appeals determined that it did and affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Garden on the petition for declaratory and injunctive relief filed by GeorgiaCarry.Org, Inc. The Georgia Supreme Court determined this case turned on whether the Garden was indeed private property. Because no lease was entered into the trial court record, judgment was reversed for further proceedings at the trial court. View "GeorgiaCarry.org, Inc. et al. v. Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case’s previous appearance before the Georgia Supreme Court, the primary issue involved taxation of alcoholic beverages at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Clayton County appealed the trial court’s partial grant of summary judgment to the City of College Park on claims the City was not receiving its statutorily mandated share of taxes collected on alcoholic beverages. When the parties could not resolve their dispute, the City filed a complaint naming as defendants the County and two businesses that operated within the Airport, Mack II, Inc. and General Wholesale Company (the “taxpayer defendants”). The complaint sought an interlocutory and permanent injunction against the County (as well as the taxpayer defendants), and a declaratory judgment as to the City’s and County’s division and collection of alcoholic beverage taxes, as well as the taxpayer defendants’ payment of those taxes. The complaint also asserted claims against the County for an accounting, unjust enrichment, attorney fees, and damages. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the County’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding that sovereign immunity does not apply to the City’s claims or the taxpayer defendants’ cross-claims for indemnity and contribution. The court granted the City’s motion for partial summary judgment on the declaratory judgment counts, finding that the Alcoholic Beverage Code, OCGA 3-3-1 et seq., permitted the City to impose alcoholic beverage tax only within its municipal limits and the County to impose such a tax only in the unincorporated areas of the County, that neither could impose and collect alcoholic beverage taxes within the other’s taxing jurisdiction, and that the taxpayer defendants had to submit tax monies only to the entity authorized to collect the funds. Ultimately, the Supreme Court vacated this judgment and remanded the case for consideration of the “threshold question of whether sovereign immunity applies at all in suits between political subdivisions of the same sovereign (like the City and the County).” The Supreme Court disagreed sovereign immunity did not apply to multiple issues raised by this case. The case was remanded for reconsideration. View "City of College Park v. Clayton County et al." on Justia Law

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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 the early stages of the underlying lawsuit, the trial court struck fifteen paragraphs from plaintiff's complaint pursuant to OCGA 9-11-12 (f), but the Court of Appeals reversed most of that order. The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to address how a trial court should evaluate a party’s section 9-11-12 (f) motion to strike matter from a pleading on the ground that it is “scandalous.” Because the trial court in this case did not properly evaluate the defendants’ motion to strike, and because that court should have the opportunity to properly exercise its discretion regarding the motion, the Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals' judgment in part and remanded with direction to vacate the trial court order and remand the case to the trial court for further analysis. View "Chappius v. Ortho Sport & Spine Physicians Savannah, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Anthem Companies, Inc. and Richard Andrews appeal the grant of spoliation sanctions issued against them, arguing that the trial court erred in finding spoliation in the first instance and in sanctioning them with an adverse jury instruction. The underlying suit arose when an Anthem employee allegedly found a bug in her lunch bought from a cafeteria vendor. The employee took pictures, sending copies via email to a building superintendent, and having the images printed at a local drug store. The vendor had been removed as a company cafeteria vendor. This news was posted by someone to Facebook, and the story grew virally. The manager for the vendor, Cheryl Willis, considered the statements in the emails from the superintendent to the company were libelous, asking her attorney to demand the company retract its statements. Wills claimed that, as a result of the wide distribution of the email, the business closed, she and her then-husband filed for bankruptcy, and they lost their home, cars, and savings. Between the time of the original email and the time of trial in 2017, the printed versions of the images were lost. Wills asserted she did not know that the lost drug store prints existed until depositions were scheduled in early 2017. The Georgia Supreme Court determined that under the circumstances of this case, the trial court abused its discretion in awarding spoliation sanctions, and reversed the spoliation sanction. View "The Anthem Companies, Inc. v. Willis" on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted writs of certiorari in two cases involving the liquidation of an insurance company to review the Court of Appeals’ decision in State of Georgia v. International Indemnity Company, 809 SE2d 64 (2017). The dispositive issue presented was whether the official immunity provision in OCGA 33-37-8.1 applied to claims for a “surcharge” and attorney fees against the State Insurance Commissioner and two other state employees, all in their official capacities as the liquidator and his deputies, and against a private company involved in the liquidation. The Court determined the Court of Appeals incorrectly concluded that section 33-37-8.1 would be applicable to these parties, and reversed that part of the Court of Appeals’ judgment allowing the claims to proceed against the state officer and employees in their official capacities. The Court affirmed in all other respects, meaning the case could proceed against the private company. View "Georgia v. International Indemnity Co." on Justia Law

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Appellant Maxim Cabaret, Inc. d/b/a Maxim Cabaret was a strip club in Sandy Springs, Georgia, and appellant Theo Lambros was the club’s operator, sole shareholder, and president (collectively “Maxim”). Maxim appealed the superior court's order granting summary judgment to the City of Sandy Springs on Maxim’s legal challenges to city ordinances. The Georgia Supreme Court held that Maxim’s challenges to prior versions of the City’s ordinances that have since been replaced or amended were moot; current adult business ordinances prohibiting the sale of alcohol at businesses that offer live nude entertainment constitutionally regulate negative secondary effects of strip clubs without unduly inhibiting free speech or expression; and because the City may constitutionally prohibit Maxim from obtaining a license to sell liquor on its premises under the City’s adult business licensing ordinances, Maxim lacked standing to challenge the City’s alcohol licensing regulations. View "Maxim Cabaret v. City of Sandy Springs" on Justia Law