Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
GEICO Indemnity Co. v. Whiteside
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit certified to three questions of law to the Georgia Supreme Court relating to a lawsuit brought in federal district court by Fife Whiteside, the trustee of the bankruptcy estate of Bonnie Winslett. Whiteside sued GEICO to recover the value of Winslett’s failure-to-settle tort claim against GEICO so that the bankruptcy estate could pay creditor Terry Guthrie, who was injured in an accident caused by Winslett. The certified questions certified asked the Supreme Court to analyze how Georgia law applied to an unusual set of circumstances that implicated both Winslett’s duty to give GEICO notice of suit and GEICO’s duty to settle the claim brought against Winslett. The Supreme Court was unable to give unqualified “yes” or “no” answers to two of the certified questions as they were posed; rather, the Court answered the questions only in the context of the circumstances of this particular case. "Winslett remains liable to Guthrie, even if her bankruptcy trustee succeeds on the failure-to-settle claim against GEICO; therefore, if the bankruptcy estate does not recover enough from GEICO to satisfy Guthrie’s judgment, the estate would not be fully compensated for Winslett’s damages, and GEICO would escape responsibility for breaching its settlement duty to Winslett. Such an outcome would deny Winslett the full measure of compensatory damages allowed under Georgia law." View "GEICO Indemnity Co. v. Whiteside" on Justia Law
Massey et al. v. Duke Builders, Inc.
Property owners and the contractors they hired to build a house had a dispute. The Georgia Supreme Court granted the owners' request for review to consider: (1) whether anticipated profits could be included in a materialmen’s lien; and (2) if so, whether the improper inclusion of such profits rendered the entire lien void. Because the Court of Appeals correctly held that anticipated profits could not be included in a lien and that their inclusion does not invalidate the entire lien, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Massey et al. v. Duke Builders, Inc." on Justia Law
Innovative Images, LLC v. Summerville et al.
Innovative Images, LLC sued its former attorney James Summerville, Summerville Moore, P.C., and The Summerville Firm, LLC (collectively, the “Summerville Defendants”) for legal malpractice. In response, the Summerville Defendants moved to dismiss the suit and to compel arbitration in accordance with the parties’ engagement agreement, which included a clause mandating arbitration for any dispute arising under the agreement. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that the arbitration clause was “unconscionable” and thus unenforceable because it had been entered into in violation of Rule 1.4 (b) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (“GRPC”) for attorneys found in Georgia Bar Rule 4-102 (d). The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the arbitration clause was not void as against public policy or unconscionable. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded after review that regardless of whether the Summerville Defendants violated GRPC Rule 1.4 (b) by entering into the mandatory arbitration clause in the engagement agreement without first apprising Innovative of the advantages and disadvantages of arbitration, the clause was not void as against public policy because Innovative did not argue, and no court has held, that such an arbitration clause could never lawfully be included in an attorney-client contract. For similar reasons, the Supreme Court held the arbitration clause was not substantively unconscionable, and on the limited record before it, Innovative did not show the clause was procedurally unconscionable. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the appellate court's judgment. View "Innovative Images, LLC v. Summerville et al." on Justia Law
San Miguel Produce, Inc. v. L.G. Herndon, Jr. Farms, Inc.
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
SRM Group, Inc. v. Travelers Property Cas. Co. of America
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
Coen v. Aptean, Inc. et al.
The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review centered on a claim of abusive litigation that Timothy Coen filed based on a previous contract lawsuit against his former employer that was resolved in his favor. In his abusive litigation case, Coen sought punitive damages. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling that punitive damages were not available for a statutory abusive litigation claim, relying on its prior decisions that in turn relied on dicta in footnote 3 of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Yost v. Torok, 344 SE2d 414 (1986), which was decided three years before the current abusive litigation statutes, OCGA sections 51-7-80 to 51-7-85, were enacted in 1989. The Supreme Court granted Coen’s petition for certiorari to decide whether that statute authorized the recovery of punitive damages. The Court concluded punitive damages generally may be recovered in an abusive litigation lawsuit (as long as the lawsuit is not solely to recover damages for injury to peace, happiness, or feelings), because the text of OCGA 51-7-83 (a) indicated that punitive damages were included, the statute did not change the common law generally allowing punitive damages in abusive litigation cases, and punitive damages in abusive litigation cases did not always constitute an impermissible double recovery. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Coen v. Aptean, Inc. et al." on Justia Law
Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC
In Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC, 813 SE2d 441 (2018), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of MP Spring Lake (“Spring Lake”) on two premises-liability tort claims brought by Pamela Langley. While a lawful tenant of Spring Lake Apartments in Morrow, Georgia, Langley fell in a common area of the complex when her foot got caught and slid on a crumbling portion of curb. She later made claims of negligence and negligence per se due to Spring Lake’s alleged failure to repair the curb despite being aware of its disrepair. Spring Lake asserted, as one of its defenses, that Langley’s claims were barred by a contractual limitation period contained within her lease. Spring Lake then moved for summary judgment on this basis, arguing that, because Langley’s lease contained a one-year limitation period for legal actions and she filed her complaint two years after the injury occurred, her claim was time-barred. Langley petitioned for certiorari, raising: (1) Does the “Limitations on Actions” provision of Langley’s lease contract apply to her premises-liability tort action against MP Spring Lake, LLC?; and (2) If so, is that provision enforceable? The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the provision was not applicable to Langley’s premises-liability tort action against Spring Lake. It therefore reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal s and remanded for further proceedings. View "Langley v. MP Spring Lake, LLC" on Justia Law
Thomaston Acquisition, LLC v. Piedmont Construction Group, Inc.
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
Ruth v. Cherokee Funding, LLC
In Cherokee Funding v. Ruth, 802 SE2d 865 (2017), the Georgia Court of Appeals decided that neither the Industrial Loan Act, nor the Payday Lending Act, applied to certain transactions in which a financing company provides funds to a plaintiff in a pending personal-injury lawsuit, the plaintiff is obligated to repay the funds with interest only if his lawsuit is successful, and his obligation to repay is limited to the extent of the damages that he recovers in the lawsuit. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the decision in Cherokee Funding. Ronald Ruth and Kimberly Oglesby sustained injuries in automobile accidents, and they retained attorney Michael Hostilo to represent them in connection with lawsuits to recover damages for their injuries. While their lawsuits were pending, Ruth and Oglesby obtained funds from Cherokee Funding pursuant to financing agreements that Hostilo signed on their behalf. Cherokee Funding would provide funds to Ruth and Oglesby for personal expenses, and for the most part, their obligation to repay those funds was contingent upon the success of their lawsuits. If they recovered nothing, they would have no obligation to repay. If they recovered damages, however, they would be required to repay the amounts that Cherokee Funding had provided, as well as interest at a rate of 4.99 percent per month and various other “fees,” up to the amount of their recovery. In no event would they be required to pay Cherokee Funding any amounts in excess of their lawsuit recovery. In fact, Ruth and Oglesby would not have been in default under the financing agreements if they dismissed their underlying lawsuits and kept the money they received from Cherokee Funding. Cherokee Funding provided $5,550 to Ruth in several small installments between April 2012 and June 2013. Ruth settled his case for an unspecified amount; Cherokee Funding sought to recover more than $84,000 from Ruth pursuant to the terms of his agreement. Similarly, Oglesby settled her lawsuit for an unspecified amount, and money was deducted from her settlement proceeds to repay Cherokee Funding. The two then sued Cherokee Funding seeking relief for themselves and a putative class of similarly situated people to whom Cherokee Funding provided funds under agreements facilitated by Hostilo. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s determination that the Payday Lending Act nor the Industrial Loan act applied in this case. View "Ruth v. Cherokee Funding, LLC" on Justia Law
Colonial Oil Industries, Inc. v. Lynchar, Inc.
In Lynchar, Inc. v. Colonial Oil Industries, Inc., 801 SE2d 576 (2017), the Court of Appeals found that certain individual guaranties of Lynchar, Inc.’s debt to Colonial Oil Industries, Inc. were unenforceable under Georgia’s Statute of Frauds. Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that the guaranties were unenforceable because they did not reference the legal name of the corporate debtor (“Lynchar, Inc. d/b/a T & W Oil Company”), but instead referenced only the corporate debtor’s trade name (“T&W Oil, Inc.”). The Georgia Supreme Court granted a petition for certiorari filed by Colonial Oil and posed two questions: (1) To what extent did a misnomer or other defect in the identification of the principal debtor render a contract of suretyship or guaranty unenforceable; and (2) Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that the guaranties sought to be enforced against appellees are unenforceable? The Supreme Court held: (1) to the extent that any misnomer or clerical defect created any ambiguity or Lynchar contended that it was not a party to the guaranty, parol evidence would be admissible to identify the parties to the guaranty; and (2) the Court of Appeals erred by holding the guaranty was unenforceable. View "Colonial Oil Industries, Inc. v. Lynchar, Inc." on Justia Law