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Released Opinion

July 6, 2010

The Supreme Court of Georgia released the one civil opinion in this round of opinions yesterday morning.  A description of the case, along with a summary of the opinion, is below.

S09G0510. GRAMMENS v. DOLLAR et al.

This case involves the distinction between a ministerial act and a discretionary act, based on a NASA-designed rocket experiment.  David Dollar was injured when a metal pin from a rocket-launching experiment conducted by his teacher flew into his eye.  The school system had a policy which required eye protection anytime students were participating in a potentially explosive project.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the teacher, finding that the teacher’s decision regarding the protective eyewear policy was within her discretion, and therefore her actions were protected by official immunity.  The Court of Appeals (Phipps, Barnes, Johnson), unanimously reversed as to the teacher, finding that the decision to wear eye protection was a ministerial duty (no discretion was vested in the teacher), and the teacher could be personally liable for negligent performance of that duty because it involves no discretion on her part.  The Supreme Court granted certiorari in a 4-3 vote to consider the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in finding that appellant’s alleged failure to follow written policy was a ministerial act?

Oral argument was held on January 11, 2010, and we briefly recapped the argument in the case.

On July 5, 2010, the Supreme Court reversed in a 4-3 opinion authored by Justice Benham (Hunstein, Carley, and Thompson dissented).  The majority cited a number of situations where written policies were found to be ministerial acts.  But then the majority found that the policy in this case required the exercise of discretion for the use of eye-protection equipment, depending on whether caustic or explosive materials were being used.  The majority found that, because the policy required discretion on the part of an official for implementation, it did not require the performance of a ministerial duty.  Thus, the teacher was entitled to official immunity.

The dissent did not believe the term “explosive materials” in the policy was ambiguous, and thus found the policy was a ministerial act.


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