Articles Posted in Georgia Supreme Court

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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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In late 2012, appellee Apple Inc. petitioned for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and an injunction under OCGA 34-1-7 against appellant Catherine Danforth, a former employee who had worked at an Apple store at in Atlanta. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Danforth had a history of mental illness, which included a prior suicide attempt and hospitalization in a mental health facility within the last five years and on other occasions; that Danforth was not taking medication; that she had exhibited behavior that caused Apple's employees to reasonably fear for their safety; that she had continued to contact Apple employees following her termination even after being told not to; that her reasons for contacting the Apple employees were work-related and the majority of her conduct towards them occurred during the course of their employment; that she posed an immediate threat of violence to the employees; and that her conduct established a pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior towards the Apple employees that constituted stalking. Danforth argued on appeal that the evidence presented to the trial court was insufficient to support an injunction under OCGA 34-1-7 and that the injunction that was issued was overbroad. The Supreme Court concluded the evidence was legally sufficient to support the issuance of an injunction under 34-1-7. However, Apple sought relief under 34-1-7 alone, and the injunction exceeded the scope authorized by that statute to some extent. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the injunction order in part and vacated it in part, and remanded the case to the trial court for the entry of an injunction fully consistent with 34-1-7. View "Danforth v. Apple, Inc." 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 consolidated cases, Maria Colon and Gwendolyn Warren filed separate lawsuits against their employer, Fulton County, pursuant to Georgia's whistleblower statute, OCGA 45-1-4. Colon and Warren alleged that they were retaliated against after they jointly disclosed to their supervisors and refused to cover up that County employees were violating laws, rules, and regulations, thereby wasting and abusing County funds and public money. The County moved to dismiss the actions based on sovereign immunity and moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the retaliation claims under the statute could not proceed against the County because the complaints did not relate to a "state program or operation." The trial court denied both motions. The Court of Appeals held that the cause of action set forth in OCGA 45-1-4 unambiguously expressed a specific waiver of sovereign immunity and the extent of such waiver, even though the statute does not expressly state that sovereign immunity is waived. Furthermore, the appellate court interpreted "state programs or operations" under the facts of this case and held that where an employer qualifies as a "public employer" under the statute only because it received funds from the state, the statute provides protection from retaliation only if the employee's complaints related to a "state-funded program or operation under the jurisdiction of the public employer." In Case No. S12G1905, Colon and Warren argued that the Court of Appeals erred in construing OCGA 45-1-4 such that employees of governmental entities may maintain an action under subsection (d) of the statute only if their complaints relate to "programs or operations" that are "funded at least in part by the state." In Case Nos. S12G1911 and S12G1912, Fulton County contended that the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that OCGA 45-1-4 expressed a specific waiver of the County's sovereign immunity. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's decisions in Case Nos. S12G1911 and S12G1912, but reversed in Case No. S12G1905. View "Colon v. Fulton County" on Justia Law

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Michael Holton appealed the grant of an interlocutory injunction prohibiting him from working in an executive capacity for a particular competitor of his former employer for one year. He also challenged the trial court's ruling that he would inevitably disclose his former employer's trade secrets and confidential information in violation of the trade secrets act and his confidentiality covenant if he went to work for the competing business. Because a stand-alone claim for the inevitable disclosure doctrine of trade secrets is not cognizable in Georgia, the Supreme Court reversed the part of the order enjoining Holton from the inevitable disclosure and use of trade secrets. On the remaining issues, the Court dismissed as moot his challenge to the order enjoining him from working for the competitor until October 2012 and affirmed the part of the order enforcing the confidentiality covenant. View "Holton v. Physician Oncology Services, LP" on Justia Law

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Defendants Pike County, its county manager, and members of its board of commissioners (collectively, "County") appealed a superior court's grant of summary judgment to plaintiff Marcia Callaway-Ingram, who was appointed Chief Magistrate of Pike County. Callaway-Ingram filed suit seeking, inter alia, a writ of mandamus and a permanent injunction in this dispute involving her salary and the funding and operation of the magistrate court. Finding no error in the superior court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pike County v. Callaway-Ingram" on Justia Law

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Margaret Hunt, a teacher, sued her former employer, the Richmond County Board of Education for breach of her employment contract. The parties stipulated to the amount of damages, and after a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment in the stipulated amount plus prejudgment interest. The Board cut two checks, one reflecting the interest and fees, and another intended to reflect the damages award. The award was treated as wage income, with various sums withheld to comply with state and federal tax laws. Hunt objected to that treatment of the damages award, contending that the second check prepared by the Board should have been for the full amount of the damages, and that the payment should be reported for tax purposes using an IRS Form 1099. The parties could not agree on the tax treatment of the damages award. As a result, the Board filed suit seeking an injunction against Hunt in the event she resorted to certain collection methods (such as garnishment of the Board's assets). The superior court grated a temporary restraining order. Hunt appealed to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court reversed: "the mere apprehension of injury does not support the grant of an injunction." View "Hunt v. Richmond County Bd. of Education" on Justia Law

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A group of firefighters brought a class action lawsuit against the City of Atlanta alleging that the city breached its employment contracts with the firefighters as well as its statutory obligation to provide a fair and impartial promotional process by failing to prevent cheating on a fire lieutenant promotional exam. The trial court issued an interlocutory injunction prohibiting the city from making any permanent promotions based on the results of the challenged exam and providing that all appointments would be temporary pending a final decision on the merits of the case. After the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the trial court crafted a permanent injunction that contained mandatory instructions regarding how the city must re-test. Appellants, all of whom are firefighters who scored 90 or higher on the first exam, appealed the permanent injunction to challenge provisions of the injunction that treated them as "probable cheaters." Appellees (named plaintiffs in the class action), moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that appellants lacked standing to challenge the trial court’s judgment because they were not parties to the original action and because the judgment was not entered against them. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court found appellants had standing to appeal the judgment in this case. Further, the Court held that the trial court abused its discretion in fashioning injunctive relief specific to appellants and erred in entering judgment against them. Accordingly, the Court vacated those portions of the permanent injunction that required the city to treat appellants differently from class members. View "Barham v. City of Atlanta" on Justia Law

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In March 2006, appellant Michael Everett was employed as an engineer for appellee Norfolk Southern Railway Company and was tasked with using his locomotive to push a six-car train into an auto plant in Georgia. One of the employees working with appellant misinformed him that the train derailment device was in the "off" position when in fact it was in the "on" position. Acting at the direction of his supervisor, appellant moved the train forward, and, due to the position of the derailment device, three of the six cars derailed and two of the derailed cars crashed into the auto plant. Appellant’s locomotive did not derail and he suffered no physical injury from the accident, however, soon after the accident, appellant was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and he has not been able to return to work. Appellant brought a suit against appellee to recover damages for emotional distress. The issue before the Supreme Court on appeal was whether a jury could decide whether a plaintiff in a case brought pursuant to the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) was within the "zone of danger" in order to recover for emotional distress injuries stemming from a work-related accident. Because the Court answered that question in the negative, it reversed and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "Everett v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co. " 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