Articles Posted in Georgia Supreme Court

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Velicia Carter was injured in an automobile collision with Jeova Oliviera. It was alleged that Oliviera was under the influence of alcohol at the time. Oliviera had an auto liability insurance policy with GEICO General Insurance Company with a $30,000 per person liability limit. Carter was insured by Progressive Mountain Insurance Company, including uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) coverage of $25,000 per person. Carter sued Oliviera and served Progressive as her UM carrier, and entered into a settlement in which GEICO paid the $30,000 limit of Oliviera's policy, and Carter executed a limited liability release. It allocated $29,000 of GEICO's payment to punitive damages and $1,000 to compensatory damages. Progressive answered the suit as Carter's UM carrier and sought summary judgment on the UM claim, which the trial court granted, ruling that, by imposing the condition that $29,000 of the liability coverage limit be allocated to the payment of punitive damages, Carter failed to meet a prerequisite for recovery of the UM benefits. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that, by allocating a portion of the payment to punitive damages, rather than allocating all of the payment to compensatory damages, Carter failed to exhaust the limits of Oliviera's liability policy, and, therefore, forfeited the ability to make a claim on her UM policy. The Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals to determine if that Court properly applied the motor vehicle insurance limited liability release provision of OCGA 33-24-41.1. Finding that the Court of Appeals erred, the Supreme Court reversed that Court's judgment. View "Carter v. Progressive Mountain Ins." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court stemmed from litigation involving the dissolution of an anesthesiology practice. Plaintiffs Angel Cancel, M.D., Pravin Jain, M.D., Grace Duque-Dizon, M.D., and Monajna Sanjeev, M.D. were shareholders in the now-defunct Central Georgia Anesthesia Services, P.C. (CGAS), which was at one time the exclusive anesthesiology provider at a Macon hospital owned and operated by The Medical Center of Central Georgia, Inc. According to Plaintiffs' complaint, beginning in 2001, Plaintiffs Cancel and Jain discovered what they believed were billing irregularities within the practice, which they brought to the attention of their fellow shareholders and officials at The Medical Center over a period of time between 2001 and 2003. In 2003, The Medical Center announced its intention to restructure its anesthesiology department, after which CGAS shareholders voted to terminate CGAS' contract with The Medical Center. The Medical Center subsequently began recruitment of physicians for its restructured department and eventually selected several former CGAS physicians to join it. None of the four Plaintiffs were selected, and their affiliation with The Medical Center ended. The Medical Center had entered into an exclusive services contract with The Nexus Medical Group, LLC, which was comprised of the former CGAS physicians, and some non-CGAS physicians, who had been selected by The Medical Center for its restructured anesthesiology department. Alleging that the restructuring at The Medical Center and formation of Nexus were effectuated as part of a scheme to expel Plaintiffs from their practice in retaliation for bringing to light the billing issues, Plaintiffs filed suit seeking damages for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and other claims. Several years of discovery, and various motions for summary judgment were filed and hearings were held. In 2011, the trial court issued an order granting summary judgment to Defendants on all of Plaintiff Cancel's claims. Cancel appealed this order. Prior to the filing of Cancel's notice of appeal, the trial court issued a second order, denying Nexus' motion for summary judgment as to the remaining Plaintiffs. After the filing of the notice of appeal, the trial court issued the last of its summary judgment orders, denying the motions filed by the CGAS Defendants and The Medical Center Defendants as to the remaining Plaintiffs. Nexus and the CGAS Defendants filed a notice of cross-appeal, challenging the orders denying them summary judgment. A few days later, the Medical Center Defendants filed their own notice of cross-appeal. The Court of Appeals consolidated the appeal and cross-appeals and issued a single opinion in which it affirmed the grant of summary judgment against Cancel; reversed the denial of summary judgment against Nexus; and dismissed the cross-appeals of the CGAS Defendants and the Medical Center Defendants. Dismissal of the cross-appeals was premised on the Court of Appeals' conclusion that it had no jurisdiction to consider them because they sought to challenge orders issued after the filing of Cancel's notice of appeal. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the appellate court had jurisdiction, and erred in holding otherwise. Accordingly, the case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sewell v. Cancel" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented to the Georgia Supreme Court centered on a dispute over the legal ownership of mineral rights to land located in Bartow County. On cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court determined that appellee James Dellinger, Jr. held a legally enforceable interest in the mineral rights and granted summary judgment in his favor on claims filed by appellant Cartersville Ranch, LLC. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision in the main appeal and dismissed the cross-appeal as moot. View "Cartersville Ranch, LLC v. Dellinger" on Justia Law

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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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Appellee AGCO Corporation (AGCO) manufactured and sold a self-propelled, agricultural spray applicator called the "RoGator." In 2005, AGCO began offering an Extended Protection Plan (EPP) to its RoGator customers. Appellant Lloyd’s Syndicate No. 5820 d/b/a Cassidy Davis provided the master policy of insurance for the EPP program, which covered AGCO for certain liability to customers who purchased the RoGator EPP. Glynn General Corporation administered the plans. Between 2005 and 2008, AGCO enrolled about 2,050 RoGator machines in the EPP program. In 2008, a number of customers presented claims under the EPP based on the failure of wheel motors on the RoGator. After it paid about 25 claims related to this failure, Cassidy Davis invoked the "Epidemic Failure Clause" of the master insurance policy and refused to pay for any more claims. AGCO then sued Cassidy Davis asserting various claims, namely claims for breach of contract and bad faith denial of insurance coverage. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to AGCO and denied partial summary judgment to Cassidy Davis on a breach of contract issue, holding that the EPP covered failures caused by design and engineering defects in the RoGators. The trial court also denied Cassidy Davis’s motion for summary judgment on the bad faith claim, rejecting the insurer’s argument that it was not obligated to indemnify AGCO until a court entered a judgment establishing AGCO’s legal liability to its customers. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court on both issues. Cassidy Davis appealed, arguing: (1) that the Court of Appeals erred in its interpretation of the coverage provision of the extended protection plan; and (2) the Court of Appeals erred in its interpretation of the indemnity provision of the master policy of liability insurance. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals misinterpreted the relevant language of both contracts. Therefore the Court reversed on both issues. View "Lloyd's Syndicate No. 5820 v. AGCO Corporation" on Justia Law

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The Public School Employees Retirement System of Georgia (PSERS) filed suit against Appellant Leroy Ayers to recover three months of benefit payments to his mother that PSERS mistakenly made after Mrs. Ayers had died. A jury ultimately returned a $5,000 verdict in favor of Appellant. PSERS appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court erred in denying PSERS' motion for a directed verdict. The Supreme Court found that the statutes that established Mrs. Ayers' contract for retirement benefits did not authorize the payment of monthly retirement benefits beyond her life and her designated joint annuitant who predeceased her. Accordingly, no benefits were payable to Appellant after his mother's death. The Court of Appeals correctly concluded that the trial court erred in denying PSERS' motion for a directed verdict, but did so based on analysis of retirement forms Mrs. Ayers filled out and correspondence she exchanged with PSERS instead of analysis of the statutory scheme. View "Ayers v. Public School Employees Retirement System of Georgia" on Justia Law

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Appellee Steven Wilson is a licensed optometrist, providing eye care services in Lowndes County as Wilson Eye Center (“WEC”). Appellees Cynthia McMurray, Jodie E. Summers, and David Price are also licensed optometrists employed by WEC. Prior to 2010, Spectera, Inc. had entered provider contracts ("Patriot contracts") with Wilson and McMurray and they became members of Spectera's panel of eye care providers. Summers was already on Spectera's panel of eye care providers. Under the Patriot contract, Spectera would reimburse appellees for the materials Spectera insureds used from WEC's inventory by paying appellees a fee for their materials' costs and by having Spectera insureds remit a materials copayment to appellees. Spectera decided to terminate its Patriot contracts and replace them with independent participating provider (IPP) agreements. 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. The trial court enjoined Spectera from taking such action. Although Price was not on Spectera's provider panel, he alleged Spectera violated Georgia law by denying him membership on its panel because of his refusal to sign the IPP agreement. Upon considering the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted 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 for admittance to the panel. Spectera appealed the trial court's decision to the Court of Appeals which affirmed in part and reversed in part. Upon review of Spectera's appeal, the Supreme Court concluded a portion of the IPP agreement violated Georgia law, and therefore sustained the Court of Appeals in one respect. However, because the IPP agreement did create the type of impermissible discrimination between classes of licensed eye care providers contemplated by the applicable law, the Court of Appeals was incorrect in concluding that the IPP agreement violated that particular subsection of the applicable law. Furthermore, the termination of any outstanding contracts with appellees Wilson, McMurray, and Summers should have been based on the lawful terms stated in the contracts and not based on a permanent court injunction. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Spectera, Inc. v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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Stephen and Elizabeth Schultz contracted with Benchmark Builders, Inc. for the construction of a home. The Schultzes refused to close because they claimed the home was not built in conformance with the contract and Benchmark sued for specific performance or, in the alternative, for money damages for breach of contract. The Schultzes answered and filed a counterclaim for breach of contract seeking money damages for the return of earnest money they had paid and also for the value of certain fixtures they purchased and that had been installed in the home. They also sought attorney fees resulting from the alleged breach. The jury returned a verdict form that found for the Schultzes both as to Benchmark's claim and the Schultzes' counterclaim. The jury awarded the Schultzes zero dollars on the claim for light fixtures, zero dollars for return of the earnest money, and $16,555 on the claim for attorney fees. The Court of Appeals held the Schultzes were entitled, as the “prevailing party” to the award of attorney fees pursuant to the parties' contract and thus affirmed the award. The issue before the Supreme Court on appeal was whether the Court of Appeals erred in finding that the parties' contract allowed for an award of attorney fees to a party that recovered no money damages or other relief that it sought. Under the terms of the contract, the fact that the jury did not award actual damages did not mean the Schultzes could not be deemed the prevailing party to the lawsuit. The Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's decision. View "Benchmark Builders, Inc. v. Schultz" 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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In a commercial general liability policy (GCL) coverage case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court: (1) whether, for an "occurrence" to exist under a standard CGL policy, Georgia law requires there to be damage to "other property;" and (2) if "no" to the first question, whether for an "occurrence" to exist under a standard CGL policy, Georgia law requires that the claims being defended not be for breach of contract, fraud, or breach of warranty from the failure to disclose material information. The Supreme Court answered the first question in the negative, and the second in the affirmative to fraud, but negative as to breach of warranty. View "Taylor Morrison Services, Inc. v. HDI-Gerling America Insurance Co. " on Justia Law