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Next Week at the Court

February 4, 2011

The Supreme Court will hold oral argument on Monday and Tuesday of next week on a number of cases, including five civil cases.  A brief summary of the issues in each civil case is below.  As always, you can watch the Supreme Court arguments live on its website.

Monday, February 7, 2011 10:00 am Sitting

S10G1343S10G1345. DWIGHT BROWN et al. v. EDGAR “BO” POUNDS et al.

This case originated with challenges to the management structure of Cobb Electric Membership Corporation.  After litigation against the Board of Directors of Cobb EMC, the parties reached a proposed Settlement Agreement that included a provision regarding a meeting of shareholders with a vote.  After the Agreement was made a final judgment by the trial court, the Cobb EMC Board voted to change its bylaws and instituted proxy voting, among other changes.  The plaintiffs filed an emergency motion to enforce the settlement, and the trial court found that many of the amendments adopted by the Board were valid.  The plaintiffs appealed.

The Court of Appeals (Johnson, Barnes, Phipps) unanimously affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that the Settlement Agreement was a contract to be enforced.  The Court of Appeals panel found the amendment related to proxy voting was contrary to the terms of the Agreement, but also found that the other bylaw amendments relating to the business that could be conducted at member meetings were outside the bounds of the Agreement.  The panel further found that the distribution of Cobb EMC’s own proposed resolutions violated the Agreement.

Cobb EMC filed a petition for writ of certiorari, arguing that the Court of Appeals failed to defer to the trial court’s interpretation of the Settlement Agreement. Cobb EMC was joined by an amicus brief in support of its application from an Emory Law Professor.  Plaintiffs responded in opposition to the petition, arguing that there is no issue of great concern or gravity in the legal interpretation of the Agreement.  Cobb EMC filed a reply brief in support of its petition.

On November 1, 2010, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari (without Justices Hines and Nahmias) to consider the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that the amendment to Cobb EMC’s bylaws, allowing for voting by proxy, violated the settlement agreement previously entred into by the parties?

Cobb EMC filed their principal brief, and plaintiffs responded.  David McGinnis filed a principal brief, and appellees responded.  Cobb EMC filed a supplemental brief, to which the plaintiffs also responded.

The Court will hear oral argument on the case on February 7, 2011.

S10G0971. Rasnick, Admrx., et al. v. Krishna Hospitality Inc.

This wrongful death case originated when Sidney Rasnick died while a guest at Motel Jesup (operated by Krishna Hospitality).  The Rasnicks lived in Texas, and Sidney Rasnick stayed in Jesup while working at a job in Georgia.  A housekeeper discovered Mr. Rasnick on the floor of his room one morning, and he died shortly after being transported to a hospital.  Virginia Rasnick sued Krishna for wrongful death, claiming she called the hotel the night before he died, saying that her husband may be in need of medical aid and requesting the operators check on him.  The operators did not do so and Rasnick claimed this was a breach of duty to render aid.  Krishna moved for summary judgment on the basis that it had no duty to Rasnick, and the trial court granted the motion.

The Court of Appeals (Phipps, Smith, Bernes) unanimously affirmed the trial court, finding that Krishna had no duty to comply with the requests to assist Rasnick’s husband.  The court found that no “special relationship” exists between an innkeeper and a paying guest that would require the operators to act.

Rasnick petitioned for certiorari and Krishna responded.

On October 4, 2010, the Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari.  But after a motion for reconsideration and response, on November 1, 2010, the Supreme Court reconsidered its decision and granted the petition for certiorari in a 5-2 vote (Melton and Hines, dissenting) to consider the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in concluding as a matter of law that the defendant hotel had no duty to comply with the plaintiff’s requests to attempt a rescue of her husband from his medical peril?

Rasnick filed her principal brief, to which Krishna responded.  Rasnick also filed a reply brief.

The Court will hear oral argument on the case on February 7, 2011.

Monday, February 7, 2011 2:00 pm Sitting

S10G1374. Cook v. NC Two, L. P.

This case involves proper notice of a garnishment.  On March 30, 2009, NC Two L.P. filed a garnishment action, seeking to garnish funds from Cook’s account.  The sheriff served the the bank on April 9, 2009.  On April 21, 2009 (eight business days later), NC Two sent notice of the action to Cook by U.S. Mail.  Cook filed a traverse on May 1, 2009, claiming he had not been properly served with the action.  The trial court denied the traverse, finding that NC Two had substantially complied with the notice statute, and was prevented from doing so by the clerk’s office procedures.  The trial court granted a certificate of immediate review and Cook appealed.

The Court of Appeals (Andrews, Ellington, Doyle) unanimously affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding that although formal service must be made on a bank in a garnishment, only statutory notice is required to the judgment defendant.  The court found the eight-day delay minimal and for that reason, found that NC Two substantially complied with its statutory duty.

Cook petitioned for certiorari and NC Two responded.

On November 1, 2010, the Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in a 5-2 vote (Hines and Melton, dissenting) to consider the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that substantial compliance with the notice requirements set out in OCGA § 18-4-64 (a) is sufficient?

Cook filed his principal brief and NC Two responded.

The Court will hear oral argument on the case on February 7, 2011.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 10:00 am Sitting

S11A0354. City of Decatur et al. v. DeKalb County

This case involves a dispute between several cities and DeKalb County about the HOST (Homestead Option Sales Tax) and the intergovernmental agreement about that tax.  This is the third time this case will make an appearance before the Supreme Court, this time as an appeal of the trial court’s decision on whether the intergovernmental agreement at issue is a “contract pertaining to the provision of services under the Intergovernmental Contracts Clause” of the Georgia constitution.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the County and the cities appealed.  The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the constitutional question at issue in this case and granted the request for oral argument.

The cities argue that the trial court erred by holding that the intergovernmental agreement is not within the meaning of the Intergovernmental Contracts Clause because it is not a contract for the provision of services or for the joint or separate use of facilities.  DeKalb County responded by arguing that the trial court was correct in its finding that the intergovernmental agreement was not within the clause of the Georgia constitution.  The cities filed a supplemental brief reinforcing their arguments.

The Court will hear oral argument on the case on February 8, 2011.

S10G1471. BROWN INVESTMENT GROUP, LLC v. CITY OF SAVANNAH et al.

This case originated with the demolition of a building.  Brown Investment Group purchased a building at a tax sale, but the city subsequently determined the building was unsafe and demolished it prior to the expiration of the right of redemption.  Brown sued the City, claiming the value of the building, saying the building had been illegally demolished.  The trial court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment, stating that Brown did not have standing because it did not hold legal title to the property at the time of demolition.  Brown appealed.

The Court of Appeals (Andrews, Ellington, Doyle) unanimously affirmed the trial court, finding that Brown was not the legal owner because the tax deed did not convey legal title, but rather a defeasible title that could be redeemed within a year.

Brown filed a petition for writ of certiorari, arguing that the Court of Appeals decision has massive implications by finding a tax sale purchase does not have enough rights to protect its interest in property.  The City responded, arguing that the interest was subject to the right of redemption until 12 months after the sale, and that the petition for certiorari should be denied.

On November 1, 2010, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in a 5-2 vote (Hunstein and Benham dissenting) to consider the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err by finding that Brown Investment Group, LLC lacked standing to sue the City of Savannah for trespass?

Brown filed its principal brief (which appears to be the same as its petition for certiorari) and the City responded.  Brown then filed a supplemental brief.

The Court will hear oral argument on the case on February 8, 2011.

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