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Next Week at the Court

March 2, 2012

The Supreme Court of Georgia returns on Monday for two days of oral argument. The court will hear argument in a number of cases, four of which are within the scope of our coverage. Summaries of the cases to be argued are below, and remember you can watch arguments online from the Court’s website.

Monday, March 5, 2012 10:00 am Sitting

S11G1814. Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Savannah v. Batson-Cook Company et al.

This case originated with the construction of a parking garage in Savannah. During the construction process, a subcontractor of Batson-Cook believed it located “materially differing site conditions” upon the discovery of soft clay at the site. Batson-Cook requested an adjustment from the city based on the conditions and the city denied the claim, relying on its engineering firm’s determination that the soft clay had been in existence and discovered previous to the contract. The subcontractor then sued Batson-Cook and Batson-Cook filed a third-party complaint against the city, seeking to pass through the damages to the city if the conditions at the site were materially different.

After a trial, the jury awarded $2.77 million to the subcontractor from Batson-Cook and $15.16 million to Batson-Cook from the city, in addition to over $2 million in attorney fees and expenses. The city appealed.

The Court of Appeals (McFadden, Phipps, Andrews) unanimously affirmed the trial court decision, finding the affidavits in support of the city’s contention that the trial judge assigning himself a case where his nephew’s law firm was general counsel to Batson-Cook were insufficient to question the judge’s impartiality. The panel also found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in setting the order of parties presenting at trial or in ruling on the city’s motion for directed verdict.

On November 30, 2011, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issue:

  1. Whether the factual allegations presented on the motion to recuse were legally sufficient to require the motion to be presented to another judge for decision?

The case will be heard at oral argument on March 5, 2012.

Monday, March 5, 2012 2:00 pm Sitting

S12A0215 West Hamryka et al. v. City of Dawsonville et al.S12A0217 West Hamryka et al. v. City of Dawsonville et al.S12A0218 West Hamryka et al. v. City of Dawsonville et al.

These three cases all stem from the same litigation involving the development of a racing facility across the street from the Hamrykas’ property. The Hamrykas moved to their property in 1995 to operate a horse training business, across the road from 152 acres owned by Atlanta Motorsports Park, LLC. The Park requested an amendment to the zoning plan to develop the property for a motorsports park. After public hearings, the City of Dawsonville rezoned the property and the Hamrykas sued, alleging that the change from the original zoning plan was unconstitutional, among other counts. The trial court held a hearing and issued three orders granting summary judgment to Atlanta Motorsports Park and the City and the Hamrykas appealed.

The Court will hear oral argument on the case on March 5, 2012.

March 6, 2012 10:00 am Sitting

S12Q0625 Couch v. Red Roof Inns, Inc., et al.

This case began after Mr. Couch was robbed at gunpoint by a group of assailants while staying at a Red Roof Inn in Atlanta. He sued Red Roof Inns, alleging negligence and claiming the hotel had actual and constructive knowledge of the criminal activity on the premises. Red Roof Inns removed the case to federal court in the Northern District of Georgia and the case proceeded through discovery.

Both Couch and Red Roof Inns consented to the federal court certifying the following questions to the Georgia Supreme Court:

  1. In a premises liability case in which the jury determines a defendant property owner negligently failed to prevent a foreseeable criminal attack, is the jury allowed to consider the “fault” of the criminal assailant and apportion its award of damages among the property owner and the criminal assailant, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33?
  2. In a premises liability case in which the jury determines a defendant property owner negligently failed to prevent a foreseeable criminal attack, would jury instructions or a special verdict form requiring the jury to apportion its award of damages among the property owner and the criminal assailant, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33, result in a violation of the plaintiff’s constitutional rights to a jury trial, due process or equal protection?
The Court will hear oral argument on these issues on March 6, 2012.

March 6, 2012 2:00 pm Sitting

S12A0492 Northway, Mayor v. Allen et al.

This case involves a constitutional challenge to a provision of Springfield, Georgia’s charter. Northway was the mayor of Springfield beginning in 2010, but four of the six city council members brought an ethics complaint against him in October 2010. One month later, the four council members voted for Northway’s resignation according to the terms of Springfield’s charter, which requires the removal of the mayor by a vote of four council members if the mayor is “guilty of malpractice in office, willful neglect of duty, gross and willful abuse of the powers entrusted to them or for any reason become incompetent or unfit to fill such office.” When the mayor refused to step down, the council members asked the Superior Court to remove him from office. The Ethics Committee ultimately found no ethical violations had taken place.

After a three-day bench trial, the trial court entered an order removing the mayor from office and Northway appealed, alleging, among other things, that the ordinance allowing the removal of the mayor is unconstitutional.

The Court will hear oral argument on March 6, 2012.

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