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Released Opinions

March 20, 2013

The Supreme Court released decisions in 16 cases on Monday, only two of which were within the scope of our coverage and are summarized below. We extend our apologies for the delay in posting.  The good news of a new child joining the author’s family intruded on the normal posting schedule.

The Court will not be hearing oral argument again until Monday, April 1, 2013.

S12G0484. VILLANUEVA et al. v. FIRST AMERICAN TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY

This case began with major problems during the closing of a mortgage refinance, but now focuses on legal malpractice claims. In 2007, Villanueva was the closing attorney for a refinancing transaction involving two previous mortgages totaling nearly $1.2 million. After the closing, an employee of the law firm failed to pay off the earlier mortgages and absconded with a large portion of the funds. First American was the title insurer and paid off the previous mortgages, then sued the lawyers and others involved in the closing. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to First American and found First American was the proper party in interest. Villaneuva appealed.

The Court of Appeals (McFadden, Phipps concurring in judgment only, Andrews concurring in the judgment and divisions 1, 2, and 3 only) affirmed in part and reversed in part, determining that no enforceable contract existed between Homecomings and Villaneuva, reversing the trial court for failing to grant summary judgment to Villaneuva on the breach of contract claim. But the Court of Appeals also found as a matter of first impression that legal malpractice claims are assignable, because they generally involve right to property rather than personal injury, affirming the trial court’s decision on that ground.

On June 18, 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to review the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in finding that legal malpractice claims can be assignable?

The case was heard on October 1, 2012.

On Monday, March 18, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, finding that legal malpractice claims are not per se unassignable. Writing for the Court, Justice Benham explained that the legislature chose to allow assignments of actions arising out of contract or involving a right of property, but not rights of action for personal torts or fraud, and that the language supported assignment of malpractice claims. After reviewing cases from other states that do not prohibit assignment of malpractice claims, the Court found that the rationale from the other minority jurisdictions supported their ruling.

This decision has already led to predictions of increases in malpractice insurance for law firms (subscriber link) and the Court’s decision is contrary to the position taken by two briefs filed by the State Bar of Georgia, arguing for a prohibition on the assignment of malpractice claims. Others believe the decision is “almost limited to its facts” and would not “expand into a secondary market of legal malpractice law claims.”

S12A1485 Wang v. Liu

This direct appeal involves whether a Georgia court or a Chinese court should resolve a dispute over ownership of shares in Jiangsu Sinorgchem Chemical Technology Company, Limited, a Chinese company. Wang and Liu both claim they own shares in the company worth $50 million, and Liu sued Wang for conversion in Fulton County. A case is pending regarding ownership of the shares in the Jiangsu Provincial Superior People’s Court in China. Wang’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss under forum non conveniens, arguing the case should be considered in China, not Georgia. The trial court denied Wang’s motion and entered a permanent injunction preventing Wang from selling or otherwise disposing of any assets he owns, pending the determination by the Chinese court. Wang appealed to the Supreme Court.

The case was heard at oral argument on September 17, 2012.

On Monday, March 18, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed in part and reversed in part, affirming the denial of the motion to dismiss but reversing the permanent injunction. Writing for the Court, Justice Blackwell explained that typically a trial court finding on each of the factors outlined in O.C.G.A. 9-10-31.1 is helpful, but that a specific finding of fact on each is not required in every case. While the record in this case was lacking sufficient detail to review the trial court’s decision, the order that lacked that detail was prepared by Liu’s counsel and approved by counsel for Wang. As a result, “Wang acquiesced in the failure of the trial court to make a record of its thinking about the motion to dismiss.” Wang is therefore unable to complain that the record had no explanation and cannot carry his burden to show there was an abuse of discretion. The Court also reversed the entry of the permanent injunction because there was no notice of a hearing, leaving the preliminary injunction in place.

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2 Comments
  1. March 20, 2013 3:54 pm

    Good news indeed. Good luck on keeping up with your schedule in coming months as well!

  2. Amy.Gellins@athensclarkecounty.com permalink
    March 20, 2013 3:57 pm

    The good news of a new child joining the author’s family intruded on the
    normal posting schedule.

    Congratulations! That sounds like a really good reason to be a bit late
    in posting.

    Amy Gellins

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    From: SCOG Blog – The Supreme Court of Georgia Blog

    To: amy.gellins@athensclarkecounty.com,
    Date: 03/20/2013 03:50 PM
    Subject: [New post] Released Opinions

    Bryan Tyson posted: “The Supreme Court released decisions in 16 cases on
    Monday, only two of which were within the scope of our coverage and are
    summarized below. We extend our apologies for the delay in posting. The
    good news of a new child joining the author’s family intru”

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