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Next Week at the Court

February 15, 2013

On Monday and Wednesday of next week, the Supreme Court of Georgia will hear argument in a number of cases, several of which are within the scope of our coverage. The Wednesday sitting will take place at the Georgia State University College of Law in Atlanta. Brief summaries of the cases are below.

Monday, February 18, 2013 10:00 am Sitting

S12G1110. WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., et al. v. JENKINS

This case began when a bank teller at Wells Fargo allegedly obtained confidential information about Jenkins and gave it to her husband, who then used the information to steal Jenkins’ identity. Jenkins sued the bank for negligence and other claims. The trial court granted judgment on the pleadings to Wells Fargo, finding that the facts pled in the complaint did not state a cause of action under Georgia law and Jenkins appealed.

The Court of Appeals (McFadden, Phipps, Andrews) unanimously affirmed in part and reversed in part. Judge McFadden explained that the federal Graham-Leach-Bliley Act imposed a duty on Wells Fargo to safeguard customer information. Even though the statute does not create a private right of action, it does create a duty for purposes of Georgia law. In addition, the complaint adequately pled breach and causation to allow the case to proceed. The Court of Appeals also upheld the grant of judgment on the pleadings to Wells Fargo regarding the breach of duty of confidentiality claim and the invasion f privacy claim.

On October 29, 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issue:

  1. Whether 15 USC § 6801 (a) [Graham-Leach-Bliley] gives rise to a cause of action for negligence under OCGA § 51-1-6.

The case will be heard on February 18, 2013.

S12G1842. CITY OF BALDWIN v. WOODARD & CURRAN, INC.

This appeal involves a jury award to a company that provided services to a city for its wastewater treatment plant.  In 2009, Woodward & Curran, Inc. (W&C) entered into a contract for engineering and design services for the water system of the City of Baldwin (which is located in two northeast Georgia counties, Banks and Habersham). The original agreement was for $5,000 to provide supporting documentation for the City’s application for stimulus funds to improve its wastewater treatment plant. W&C submitted an additional proposal later signed by the Mayor for a sum of no more than $210,000. The City paid W&C $5,000 and claimed the additional proposal was ultra vires and not binding on the City because it had not been approved by the city council. After a trial on W&C’s breach of contract claims, the jury awarded W&C $203,000. The City appealed.

The Court of Appeals (Andrews, Doyle, Boggs) unanimously affirmed the trial court’s decision. Judge Andrews explained that quantum meruit was a possible ground for recovery against a city because prior Supreme Court precedent finding it unavailable to plaintiffs challenging the actions of counties did not apply to cities. The prior decision of the Court of Appeals finding quantum meruit appropriate against cities (Stottler) has not been impliedly overruled and there was no error sending the issue to the jury. In addition, the trial court did not err in allowing the jury to consider a breach of contract theory regarding the original agreement because there was sufficient evidence to allow the issue to go to the jury.

On November 5, 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issues:

  1. Is quantum meruit an available remedy against a municipality when the municipality has entered into a contract that is ultra vires? See H.G. Brown Family, L.P. v. City of Villa Rica, 278 Ga. 819 (607 SE2d 883) (2005); City of St. Marys v. Stottler Stagg & Assoc., 163 Ga. App. 45 (292 SE2d 868) (1982).
  2. Did the Court of Appeals err in determining that the jury was properly allowed to consider the breach of contract claim concerning the May Agreement?

The case will be heard on February 18, 2013.

S12G1317. WOODCRAFT BY MACDONALD, INC., et al. v. GEORGIA CASUALTY AND SURETY COMPANY

This case began when an Atmos Energy underground gas pipeline broke and filled Coachcraft’s building with natural gas, resulting in an explosion and fire that destroyed the building and its contents. Coachcraft renovated the interiors of RVs and some of the items destroyed included customer RVs, along with tools and equipment of Coachcraft and their employees. Coachcraft’s insurer, Georgia Casualty, paid the customers and Coachcraft for damages up to the limits of the two policies Coachcraft maintained. Georgia Casualty then sued Atmos, seeking to recover its payments and Coachcraft also intervened in an attempt to recover damages beyond the policy limits. Atmos then settled with Georgia Casualty for $950,000 and with Coachcraft and its owner for $125,000.

Coachcraft and its owner then demanded that Georgia Casualty pay them enough to make them whole from the settlement proceeds received from Atmos, an amount totaling $179,130.59. When Georgia Casualty denied the demand, Coachcraft and its owner brought the present litigation. Georgia Casualty moved for summary judgment, stating it paid the policy limits and had no further duty under Georgia law to make Coachcraft whole. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment, finding that the “made whole” doctrine in Georgia applicable to property claims. The court also granted Georgia Casualty’s motion for summary judgment as to Coachcraft’s bad faith claim.

The Court of Appeals (Phipps, Andrews, McFadden) reversed trial court’s decision, finding Georgia Casualty was entitled to summary judgment that it could not be held liable based on pursuing its contractual subrogation rights. The Court of Appeals determined that Georgia Casualty’s exercise of its subrogation rights did not deprive Coachcraft of their priority under the “made whole” doctrine.

On October 15, 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following question:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in reversing the trial court’s denial of Georgia Casualty and Surety Company’s motion for summary judgment?

The case will be heard on February 18, 2013.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:00 am Special Sitting at Georgia State University College of Law

S12G1629. WELLSTAR HEALTH SYSTEMS, INC., et al. v. JORDAN

This case is a spinoff from Baker v. Wellstar Health Systems. In that case, decided in 2010, the Supreme Court allowed ex parte interviews of medical providers under a qualified protective order. Wellstar then conducted the ex parte interviews and had them recorded by a court reporter. Counsel for the plaintiff sought the transcripts of those interviews. The trial court granted the motion to compel production of the transcripts to plaintiffs and Wellstar appealed, claiming that the transcripts could reveal work product of their counsel.

The Court of Appeals denied the application for interlocutory appeal from the trial court order and Wellstar petitioned for a writ of certiorari.

On November 5, 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issue:

  1. Did the trial court err when it granted the motion of the plaintiff to compel the production of transcripts of physician interviews that were conducted ex parte by counsel for the defendants pursuant to a qualified protective order? See OCGA § 9 -11-26 (b) (3); Baker v. WellStar Health Sys., Inc., 288 Ga. 336 (703 SE2d 601) (2010).

The case will be heard on February 20, 2013.

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