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Next Week at the Court

January 20, 2012

The Supreme Court returns on Monday for its last two days of oral argument this month. Brief summaries of the three civil cases being argued are below.

Monday, January 23, 2012 10:00 am Sitting

S11G1170. Greene County School District v. Circle Y Construction, Inc.

This case originates from a construction contract with the Greene County School District. In 2008, the district and Circle Y entered into a contract for improvements and additions to the school district’s facilities paid for through a local option sales tax. The contract provided for termination upon seven days’ notice, but did not provide a specific termination date. After 11 months, the district gave notice to Circle Y that it was terminating the contract. Circle Y sued for breach of contract, claiming the termination was without cause and the district failed to pay for work already performed under the contract. The school district filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, alleging the contract was void based on the prohibition on multi-year contracts contained in OCGA § 20-2-506 and that the claims for restitution were barred by sovereign immunity. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and the Court of Appeals granted the interlocutory application to review the ruling.

The Court of Appeals (Miller, Phipps, McFadden) unanimously affirmed the trial court decision denying the motion to dismiss the breach of contract claim. The Court of Appeals found that it was an issue of first impression whether a multi-year contract arising from the “proprietary functions” of the district is exempt from the other requirements of OCGA § 20-2-506. The Court of Appeals determined the statute intended flexibility when proprietary functions were at issue, and therefore the contract was not void. In addition, the voters of the county approved the projects through the local option sales tax, which also allowed the district to bypass the multi-year rule.

The school district filed a petition for writ of certiorari, arguing that the Court of Appeals’ decision effectively eliminated the limitations on multi-year contracts. Circle Y responded, arguing the Court of Appeals’ decision was correctly decided.

On September 6, 2011, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that a contract between a school district and a private company for services regarding the renovation and repair of school facilities qualifies as a contract covering a proprietary function within the meaning of OCGA § 20-2-506 (h) so as to eliminate the need for the contract to comply with the provisions of OCGA § 20-2-506 (b)?

The case will be heard at oral argument on January 23, 2012.

Monday, January 23, 2012 2:00 pm Sitting

S12A0114 East Georgia Land and Development Company, LLC. v. Newton County Georgia et al.

This is the second time the Supreme Court will hear this dispute over the construction of a landfill in Newton County. In 1997, a developer attempted to construct a landfill in the County and the county refused, citing a 1985 ordinance. After litigation and a Supreme Court ruling on the lost zoning ordinance (last case), the trial court found the landfill was not permitted based on the now-enforceable zoning ordinance and East Georgia appealed.

The case will be heard by the Supreme Court on January 23, 2012.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 10:00 am Sitting

S11G0557. Leibel et al. v. Johnson

This case involves a legal malpractice claim brought by a pediatric neurosurgeon against her former attorney, Steven Leibel. Mary Johnson, then represented by Leibel, filed suit against a hospital in 1996 for damages related to claims of age and gender discrimination. The hospital was granted summary judgment, and Leibel filed a motion for reconsideration after the deadline, and then filed an untimely appeal with the Eleventh Circuit, which was dismissed. Johnson then sued Leibel, claiming he failed to introduce evidence that would have created issues of fact and failed to file a timely notice of appeal. A jury awarded Johnson $2 million in damages (increased to $2.76 million) and Leibel filed a motion for JNOV and a motion for a new trial. The trial court granted the motion for a new trial, but denied the motion for JNOV.

The Court of Appeals (Doyle, Andrews, Ellington) unanimously found the trial court erred by granting the motion for new trial, and affirmed the denial of the motion for JNOV. As part of its decision, the Court of Appeals found the trial court correctly allowed the admission of expert testimony on the ultimate issue because the jury requires expert testimony on the issue of causation in a legal malpractice case, the same standard as medical malpractice cases.

Leibel petitioned for certiorari based on the trial court allowing expert testimony issue on the ultimate issue and based on alleged juror misconduct. Johnson responded, arguing the testimony was admissible and there was no issue of juror misconduct. Leibel also filed a reply.

On September 6, 2011, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to address the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err by concluding that expert testimony is “admissible to prove proximate cause in those legal malpractice cases in which a lay person could not competently determine whether or not the negligence of the attorney proximately caused the plaintiff’s damages, i.e., whether or not the plaintiff would have prevailed in the underlying action?”

The case will be heard at oral argument on January 24, 2012.

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