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Welcome Back – Next Week at the Court

September 6, 2013

Welcome back from the Supreme Court of Georgia’s August recess for the start of the September 2013 term of court. The Court returns on Monday morning for two days of oral argument in several significant cases. Summaries of the cases being argued are below.

Monday, September 9, 2013 10:00 am Sitting

S13G0590. STANFIELD et al. v. ALIZOTA

This case involves the termination of parental rights and which court had jurisdiction over a child. After SK’s mother was arrested for driving under the influence while SK (who was six months old) was in the car, the Juvenile Court found SK was deprived as to her mother. Alizota was the putative father and petitioned to legitimate the child. He eventually consented to nonreunification and long-term custody was given to the Stanfields by the Juvenile Court in June 2010, granting custody to them until SK reached 18 years old. Alizota had supervised and unsupervised visits with SK in accordance with the order over the next several months. In December 2010, the Stanfields filed in Superior Court to adopt SK. Alizota answered, challenging the contentions that SK was deprived as to him. The Superior Court granted the petition for adoption and Alizota appealed.

The Court of Appeals (Doyle, Andrews, and Boggs (concurring specially and in the judgment only)) reversed the superior court ruling, finding that the superior court lacked jurisdiction to terminate Alizota’s parental rights because the juvenile court already exercised jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals found that when there is an issue of concurrent jurisdiction, the first court taking jurisdiction will retain it. Judge Boggs wrote separately on the issue of priority jurisdiction between juvenile and superior courts and its increasing prevalence in litigation.

On May 6, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following question:

  1. Whether the Court of Appeals properly applied the principle of priority jurisdiction? See Ertter v. Dunbar, 292 Ga. 103, 734 S.E.2d 403 (2012).

The case will be heard on September 9, 2013.

S13G0614. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION v. MCMEANS

This case involves a condemnation proceeding but turns on questions of whether a property owner can bring a claim for business loss. The Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) brought a condemnation action against property owned by McMeans. McMeans operates a leasing business on the property of which he is the sole owner. After multiple filings, the trial court struck McMeans’ “First Amendment to Answer,” saying it improperly added a business loss claim when the only business loss was from the leasing company, not McMeans personally. McMeans appealed.

The Court of Appeals (Doyle, Andrews, Boggs) unanimously reversed the decision, finding that McMeans was able to amend his pleadings to assert a business loss claim (to the extent it was not already asserted) and that McMeans was able to plead a business loss from a business he owns and operates on the condemned property. The Court of Appeals emphasized that the decision was only at the pleading stage and that McMeans may not be able to establish his claim at summary judgment or trial.

On May 20, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that, in a condemnation proceeding, an individual can plead a business loss for a business operated on condemned property by a corporation that is solely owned by that individual?

The case will be heard on September 9, 2013.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 10:00 am Sitting

S13A1395 Bibb County v. Monroe County et al.S13A1396 Kemp, Secretary of State v. Monroe County

Bibb County and Monroe County have disputed part of the boundary line between the two counties for years. Under a statutory process, the Governor appointed a surveyor who filed his survey and plat with the Secretary of State in 2009. Bibb County challenged the survey and, after review, the Secretary of State rejected it, leaving the boundary unresolved. Monroe County then brought a mandamus action to compel the Secretary of State to adopt the survey and set the boundary line, which the trial court granted. Bibb County was not notified of the action and filed a motion to intervene the next day, which was denied. Both Bibb County and the Secretary of State appealed to the Supreme Court.

The case will be heard on September 10, 2013.

S13G0657. ABDUL-SAMED et al. v. DAILEY et al.

This case is a medical malpractice action, alleging that a delay from emergency room staff referring a patient to a hand surgeon led to a partial amputation of a finger. Late on December 10, 2005, Dailey accidentally shot paint thinner into his left-middle finger while cleaning a paint sprayer and went to the emergency room at Spalding Regional Hospital around midnight. During the next several hours, the staff at Spalding Regional, including Dr. Abdul-Samed, determined that Dailey needed to see a hand surgeon immediately. But after contacts with several hospitals, it was not until around 8:30 the next morning that Dailey was transported to Piedmont Hospital for surgery. During that surgery, a portion of Dailey’s finger was amputated. The Daileys sued, claiming the doctor and others breached their duty of care in not transferring Dailey to a hand surgeon in a timely manner. The trial court granted summary judgment to the doctor and hospital and the Daileys appealed.

The Court of Appeals (Miller, Ray (concurring specially), Branch (concurring in the judgment only)) reversed the decision, finding that issues of fact remained regarding whether the emergency room liability provisions of the Georgia Code applied. Specifically, Judge Miller found a question of fact existed as to whether the actions in delaying treatment constituted emergency care. Judge Ray, concurring specially, wrote that there instead existed a question of fact regarding whether the actions constituted gross negligence.

On June 3, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to review the following issues:

  1. Whether the Court of Appeals erred by reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

The case will be heard on September 10, 2013.

S13G0582. LLOYD’S SYNDICATE NO. 5820, d/b/a CASSIDY DAVIS v. AGCO CORP.

This case is primarily a coverage dispute over extended warranties. AGCO manufactures and sells a variety of agricultural equipment, including the RoGator, a large agricultural sprayer. In 2005, AGCO began offering “extended protection plans” (EPPs) for the RoGators its customers bought, purchasing the EPPs from Warranty Specialists. Warranty Specialists administered the EPPs and Glenn General Purchasing Group (GGPG) obtained liability insurance from Cassidy Davis for AGCO’s liability on the EPPs. If a RoGator had a mechanical breakdown, the customer took it to an AGCO dealer, which determined if it was a covered repair. If the repair was covered, the dealer fixed the machine and sent a claim to Warranty Specialists, which then paid or denied the claim. Cassidy Davis then paid Warranty Specialists for the valid claims. In 2008, Warranty Specialists stopped paying claims, telling AGCO that it would not repair any more wheel motor claims until AGCO assisted in paying the claims or paid higher premiums. Warranty Specialists also informed AGCO that Cassidy Davis had invoked the “Epidemic Failure Clause” (EFC), which stopped payment of claims if more than 10% of the units had a common component failure. AGCO sued, seeking a declaratory judgment that they had coverage under the policy and seeking reimbursement for unpaid warranty claims. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to AGCO on several fronts and denying partial summary judgment motions of AGCO and the various insurers.

The Court of Appeals (Phipps, Ellington, Dillard) unanimously affirmed the decision, finding the trial court properly found the language of the EPP covered design and manufacturing defects that led to claims. The Court of Appeals also found the trial court properly denied Cassidy Davis’ motion for summary judgment on the question of the reasonableness of its defense to coverage and that the indemnity duty of Cassidy Davis did not first require a judgment before it was obligated to reimburse AGCO. On a variety of other issues, the Court of Appeals also found that the trial court properly denied various other claims of AGCO and the insurers, determining that the insurers were not estopped from asserting other grounds for denying coverage, that the insurers are not precluded from relying on the EFC, and that some factual disputes remained.

On May 6, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issues:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in its interpretation of the coverage provision of the extended protection plan?
  2. Did the Court of Appeals err in its interpretation of the indemnity provision of the master policy of liability insurance?

The case will be heard on September 10, 2013.

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