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This Week at the Court – Civil Cases – September 21, 2009

September 21, 2009

The Supreme Court finishes its oral argument schedule for the month of September with one day of argument today.  The argument will be broadcast live online (Windows Media Player required).

The 10:00 am sitting consists of two capital cases first, then one civil case (discussed below), concluding with a divorce case:

S09A1485. COLEMAN et al. v. RETINA CONSULTANTS, P.C. et al.

This case involves a dispute over a contractual agreement related to the marketing of software.  Branden Coleman is a computer engineer who created a software called Clinex, and then subsequently went to work for a surgery practice.  While employed by Retina Consultants, Coleman developed an additional module of Clinex for ophthalmologists, called Clinex RE.  Coleman signed an agreement with Retina Consultants, giving the practice the exclusive right to the software.  When Coleman later attempted to market Clinex to other ophthalmologists, Retina Consultants sued.

The trial court entered an injunction, finding that Coleman had used the trade secrets of the practice to compete with it in violation of the agreement.  Coleman argues that the trial court enforced an anti-competition clause, which are generally invalid in Georgia.   Coleman claims the eye center has no rights to the non-RE version of Clinex.  Retina Consultants argues that without its expertise, Coleman could not have created Clinex RE, and this is why the agreement prohibited him from marketing it to others in their same field of medical practice.

The 2:00 pm sitting consists of a series of habeas and criminal cases, concluding with:

S09A1588. SETLOCK V. SETLOCK

Although this case involves a family dispute over the ownership of a lake house, it turns on the application of the doctrine of res judicata to civil cases.  Both parties dispute the ownership of a lake house, with the son claiming his father refused to leave the house the son owns, and the father claiming the son had given him partial ownership in the house.

The parties litigated an eviction and counterclaim seeking co-ownership in Magistrate Court, with the court ruling in the son’s favor.  The father attempted to appeal to the Superior Court, but filed the claim too late.  The father then filed a new action in Superior Court, again claiming co-ownership among other claims.  The Superior Court dismissed most of the father’s claims, finding they were barred by the decision in Magistrate Court.  The question on appeal turns on whether the doctrine of res judicata applies to this situation, with the father claiming the Magistrate Court had no jurisdiction to rule on his claims of ownership, while the son claims that res judicata applies because a party must bring all claims at one time or lose them.

The Court returns for additional oral argument on Monday, October 5, 2009.  Currently, the Court has only set three days for oral argument in October.

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