Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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Searless West was a former employee of the City of Albany who filed a complaint in federal court against the City and two individuals setting forth, among other things, a claim under the Georgia Whistleblower Act (“GWA”). With respect to West’s claims under the GWA, she sought economic and non-economic damages resulting from alleged retaliation for disclosing what she deemed to be certain financial irregularities in the City’s utility department. The City filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings with regard to the whistleblower claim, asserting it failed as a matter of law because West did not provide ante litem notice prior to filing the complaint. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, in an order finding no controlling precedent from the Georgia Supreme Court that addressed the legal issue raised by the City, certified a question of Georgia law to the Georgia Supreme Court: "is a plaintiff required to provide a municipal corporation with ante litem notice pursuant to OCGA 36-33-5 in order to pursue a claim against it for money damages under the [GWA]?" The Supreme Court answered this question in the negative. View "West v. City of Albany" on Justia Law

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Adrian Burdette was seriously injured when he fell while attempting a controlled descent from a cell-phone tower in contravention of instructions by his employer, Chandler Telecom, LLC (“Chandler”), that technicians must climb down from towers. This case presented the question of whether an employee could, in deliberate disobedience of his employer’s explicit prohibition, act in a knowingly dangerous fashion with disregard for the probable consequences of that act, and still recover workers’ compensation when injured by that disobedient act. The Supreme Court concluded that OCGA 34-9-17(a) could bar recovery in such cases. View "Chandler Telecom, LLC v. Burdette" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Brooks Keel, president of Georgia Southern University, terminated the employment contract of tenured professor Lorne Wolfe for violation of University policies, and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia denied Wolfe’s application for review of his termination. Wolfe then filed a complaint for breach of contract and mandamus against the Board and Keel seeking reinstatement and other relief. The superior court granted the Board’s motion for summary judgment, and Wolfe again appealed. The Supreme Court found that this appeal fell within the scope of OCGA 5-6-35 (a) (1), and an application to appeal was therefore required. Because Wolfe did not file a discretionary application, the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction to consider the merits of his case. Accordingly, the Court dismissed the appeal. View "Wolfe v. Regents of the University Sys. of Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellee Daniel Massey, Chatham County Superior Court Clerk, filed a writ of mandamus against Chatham County and its Board of Commissioners, seeking, among other things, an order declaring him to be entitled to cost-of-living adjustments (“COLAs”) to his salary as provided by general statute (“State COLAs”) as well as by special local legislation (“County COLAs”), and to longevity increases as provided by statute. Massey argued the County deprived him of some of the compensation increases to which he was entitled over his years of service by setting off the COLAs the County claimed it paid him by improperly decreasing, in a corresponding sum, the amount the County was paying to supplement his salary over the statutory minimum. In response, the County argued, among other things, that since it was paying Massey in excess of the statutory minimum, he was not entitled to County COLAs in addition to State COLAs and longevity increases. After reviewing the evidence and arguments presented, the trial court entered an order finding Massey was entitled not only to state-mandated longevity increases and State COLAs provided by general statute but also to County COLAs provided by local legislation. The County appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, but finding no reversible error, the Court affirmed. View "Chatham Cty. v. Massey" on Justia Law

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Appellee Daniel Massey, who was serving his third consecutive term as Chatham County Superior Court Clerk, filed a writ of mandamus against Chatham County and its Board of Commissioners, and later amended the petition to add a claim for declaratory judgment. The petition sought, among other things, an order declaring him to be entitled to cost-of-living adjustments (“COLAs”) to his salary as provided by general statute (“State COLAs”) as well as by special local legislation (“County COLAs”), and to longevity increases as provided by statute. Massey argued the County deprived him of some of the compensation increases to which he was entitled over his years of service by setting off the COLAs the County claims it paid to him by improperly decreasing, in a corresponding sum, the amount the County was paying to supplement his salary over the statutory minimum. In response, the County argued, among other things, that since it was paying Massey in excess of the statutory minimum, he was not entitled to County COLAs in addition to State COLAs and longevity increases. The County asserted in its counterclaim that Massey had, in fact, been overpaid. The parties agreed that the sole issue in dispute was a matter of statutory interpretation regarding Massey’s entitlement to County COLAs. After reviewing the evidence and arguments presented, the trial court entered an order finding Massey was entitled not only to state-mandated longevity increases and State COLAs provided by general statute but also to County COLAs provided by local legislation. The County appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Chatham County v. Massey" on Justia Law

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In 1993, Willie Barnes suffered an amputation of his left leg below the knee in an industrial accident at the Georgia-Pacific (GP) wood processing plant where he worked. GP, its insurer Georgia Conversion Primary Ins. Co. and its workers’ compensation servicing agent CCMSI, accepted the claim as catastrophic and began paying temporary total disability (TTD) benefits. Barnes was fitted with a prosthetic leg and returned to lighter duty work in January 1994. On January 30, 1994, GP stopped paying TTD benefits to Barnes, and the TTD benefits were replaced with permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits. The PPD benefits continued until May 1998. In 2006, the GP plant was sold to Roseburg Forest Products Company (Roseburg). Barnes continued working for Roseburg, but was laid off on September 11, 2009. On November 13, 2009, Barnes consulted a doctor regarding chronic knee pain. Two years later, he was fitted for a new prosthetic leg, which was paid for by CCMSI, the company that continued as the workers’ compensation servicing agent for Roseburg and Roseburg’s insurer, ACE American Insurance Co. (ACE American). On August 30, 2012, Barnes filed a claim to resume TTD benefits, asserting the date of his original workplace accident August 13, 1993 as the date of injury. On November 30, 2012, Barnes filed a separate notice of claim, alleging a fictional new injury based on the date that he was terminated from his employment, September 11, 2009. The Administrative Law Judge denied the claims as barred by the applicable statutes of limitation set out in OCGA 34-9-104 (b) and 34-9-82. The State Board of Workers’ Compensation (Board) affirmed, as did the trial court. However, the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that both of Barnes’ claims were not barred by the applicable statutes of limitation. The Supreme Court concluded the appellate court erred in its interpretation of the applicable statutes of limitations in these cases, and reversed. View "Roseburg Forest Products Co. v. Barnes" on Justia Law

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Southern Resources Consultants, Inc. (“SRC”) was a Residential Service Provider (“RSP”), contracting with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (“DBHDD”) and the Georgia Department of Community Health (“DCH”) to operate group homes and provide care and oversight for Medicaid-funded individuals with developmental disabilities. Linda Mays (“Mays”) contracted with SRC to be a Host Home Provider (“HHP”) for one such woman, S.F., from approximately 2006 to 2014. S.F. became dissatisfied with SRC, and requested that her case manager, who was the Guardianship Case Manager for the Division of Aging Services of Georgia’s Department of Human Services (“DHS”) and S.F.’s legal guardian, change S.F.’s RSP. At the time of the request, DBHDD policy prohibited a HHP from terminating its contract with a RSP, such as SRC, and then continuing to serve the individual who had been in the care of the HHP. Consequently, at S.F.’s behest and believing it to be in S.F.’s best interests, the case manager requested a waiver of such policy from DBHDD so that S.F. could remain in Mays’s host home despite the termination of Mays’s relationship with SRC. DBHDD granted the waiver. S.F. then began to receive services from a new RSP, Southern International Living (“SIL”). SRC subsequently filed suit against Mays for breach of purported confidentiality3 and non-compete provisions in a “Work for Hire Agreement/ Contract/ Subcontract Agreement” (“Contract”), and for violation of the Georgia Trade Secrets Act of 1990 (“GTSA”), and subsequent unjust enrichment. This case reached the Georgia Supreme Court by way of an appeal of the superior court’s grant of an interlocutory injunction and for interlocutory and permanent injunctive relief, damages, attorney fees, and costs. The parties conceded that Mays had returned certain SRC confidential information at issue in the interlocutory injunction. The Supreme Court reversed the superior court as a nullity. Because the second and third provisions of the injunction were inextricably entwined and based upon a non-compete agreement that has since expired, these provisions were moot. Accordingly, the injunction was reversed in part, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Mays v. Southern Resources Consultants, Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellee Merita Thomas was employed as a school bus driver with the Fulton County Board of Education (“County”) since 2008. Thomas’ employment with the County required her to drive County school buses during the nine-month school year but not during the school district’s summer vacation; Thomas’ salary, however, was paid out over a twelve-month period. During the district’s summer vacation in 2011, Thomas supplemented her income by working for Quality Drive Away (“QDA”), driving newly manufactured school buses from the Atlanta area to other parts of the country. Thomas’ summer employment with QDA ended on July 30, 2011, and she returned to her duties with the County when school resumed. On October 19, 2011, Thomas was injured while on the job with the County. She thereafter filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The County has never disputed the compensability of Thomas’ injury; the contested issue was the correct calculation of Thomas’ “average weekly wage,” the basis upon which her benefits are to be computed. The Court of Appeals held that the wages earned from the second employer during the 13-week period should, under the “concurrent similar employment” doctrine, be included in calculating the claimant’s average weekly wage. Finding no error in the appellate court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Fulton Cty Bd. of Edu. v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Alfred Fuciarelli was a tenured faculty member at Valdosta State University (“VSU”). Fuciarelli was at one time also assistant vice president for research and a dean of the graduate school. After he complained about VSU’s “noncompliance with laws, rules and regulations,” VSU terminated Fuciarelli’s contract to serve as an assistant vice president and dean. Although Fuciarelli remained as a member of the faculty, his salary and benefits were reduced. Fuciarelli appealed his termination to the Board of Regents which affirmed VSU’s decision. Thereafter, Fuciarelli filed suit against the Board of Regents, William McKinney, individually and in his official capacity as president of VSU, and Karla Hull, individually and in her official capacity as a former acting vice president of VSU, seeking damages under both the Public Employee Whistleblower Retaliation Act, and the Taxpayer Protection Against False Claims Act (“TPAFCA”). The trial court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss the public employee whistleblower retaliation claim, but granted defendants’ motion to dismiss the taxpayer retaliation claim on the ground that Fuciarelli failed to obtain the approval of the Attorney General before filing suit. The Georgia Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals to determine whether it correctly held that the TPAFCA did not require the Attorney General to approve taxpayer retaliation claims brought under subsection (l) of the Act. Because the plain language of the statute required the Attorney General to approve a taxpayer retaliation claim prior to filing suit, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals' holding to the contrary. View "McKinney v. Fuciarelli" on Justia Law

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In 2013, former employees of two in-home personal care companies sued their former employers, asserting that they had not been paid the minimum wage to which they were entitled under the Georgia Minimum Wage Law (GMWL). The employers removed the case to a federal district court, which certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court: (1) whether, under Georgia law, an employee that falls under an FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] exemption is effectively “covered” by the FLSA for purposes of OCGA 34-4-3 (c) analysis, thereby prohibiting said employee from receiving minimum wage compensation under the GMWL; and (2) whether an individual whose employment consisted of providing in-home personal support services was prohibited from receiving minimum wage compensation under the GMWL pursuant to the “domestic employees” exception in OCGA 34-4-3 (b)(3). After review, the Georgia Supreme Court answered both questions "no." View "Anderson v. Southern Care Home Services, Inc." on Justia Law