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New Grants of Petitions for Certiorari in Civil Cases

September 13, 2013

Since its return from August recess, the Supreme Court of Georgia granted two new petitions for certiorari in cases within the scope of our coverage. The Court also granted a petition prior to its August recess that we had not previously covered. The cases are discussed below.

S13G0900. HOSPITAL AUTHORITY OF CLARKE COUNTY et al. v. GEICO GENERAL INSURANCE CO.

This case involves when a statute of limitations begins to run for a hospital lien after a settlement is reached. In March 2010, Justyna Kunz was involved in a wreck with three Geico customers, the Kalishes. Kunz was treated at Athens Regional Medical Center and the hospital filed liens of nearly $67,000 for her care. In September 2010, Kunz and the Kalishes reached a settlement for the policy limits. The settlement documents were signed on October 8, 2010. Kunz never satisfied the hospital liens out of the settlement funds. The hospital attempted to collect the funds from Geico and later sued Geico on October 6, 2011. Geico moved for summary judgment, claiming that the action was barred by the one-year statute of limitations in OCGA § 44-14-473(a) because it was filed more than a year after the settlement was agreed to. The hospital claimed it was not, because it was filed less than a year after the documents were signed. The trial court denied the motion and Geico filed an interlocutory appeal.

The Court of Appeals (Doyle; Andrews; Boggs, concurring fully and specially) unanimously reversed the trial court ruling, finding that, under the statute, the one-year period begins to run on the date liability is determined by “(1) a settlement; (2) a release; (3) a covenant not to file suit; or (4) a judgment.” Because the settlement agreement occurred in September 2010, the action filed by the hospital to enforce its lien was barred by the statute.

On June 17, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issue:

  1. Whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the hospitals’ action to enforce their liens was time-barred under OCGA § 44-14-473 (a).

The case will be heard on October 7, 2013.

S13G1127. COOK et al. v. GLOVER

This case involves the proper interpretation of federal law regarding individuals who purchase annuities while applying for Medicaid coverage of their nursing home costs. Glover lives in a nursing home and applied for Medicaid to cover his care. When he applied for Medicaid benefits, Glover had purchased an irrevocable annuity, which provides monthly benefits. The state asked for documentation that Glover had named the State of Georgia as the remainder beneficiary, as required by the state Medicaid Manual. Glover claimed that the requirement was not applicable and in violation of federal law. The state approved his application, but imposed a multi-month penalty precluding benefit payments during the asset transfer penalty period. Glover sought review before a state administrative hearing and the OSAH judge recommended reversing the penalty, finding the annuity did not fall within the definition of an asset for purposes of the penalty. The Department of Community Health reinstated its earlier decision imposing the penalty and Glove sought review. After the superior court affirmed the agency’s decision, Glover applied for discretionary review.

The Court of Appeals (Branch, Miller, Ray) unanimously reversed the trial court decision, finding that, although annuities are generally included under the asset transfer penalties if the state is not named as a remainder beneficiary, purchasing certain types of annuities (including those purchased by the applicant for Medicaid) is not considered a transfer of assets for purposes of the penalty. The state Medicaid Manual fails to exempt annuities that were purchased by the applicant and thus violates federal law.

On September 9, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following issue:

  1. Whether the Court of Appeals properly interpreted 42 U. S. C. 1396p concerning a Medicaid applicant’s purchase of an annuity?

The case has been assigned to the January 2014 oral argument calendar.

S13G1152. HARTLEY v. AGNES SCOTT COLLEGE et al.

This case began when Hartley was arrested on a variety of charges as a result of arrest warrants sought by Agnes Scott College police officers based on a student’s complaint. The District Attorney later dropped all the charges and Hartley sued the college and the police officers for false arrest and other claims, alleging they failed to make a reasonable investigation. Hartley asserts that a reasonable investigation would have demonstrated she was not even in the state at the time of the alleged assault. Agnes Scott College and the officers moved to dismiss, claiming that the officers were law enforcement officers acting within the scope of their official duty and thus entitled to official immunity as state officers or employees. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, finding that the campus police were not state officers or state employees who would be entitled to official immunity.

The Court of Appeals granted the application for interlocutory appeal and reversed the trial court ruling in a 4-3 decision (Ray, Andrews, Branch, concurring; Boggs, concurring in judgment only; Miller, Phipps, Doyle, dissenting). The majority found that the Campus Policemen Act makes officers employed by private colleges who meet the requirements “law enforcement officers” for purposes of official immunity. The officers in this case were acting to enforce the laws of the state and thus were state officers for purposes of official immunity. The minority would have found the statutory language excludes employees of private entities from the definition of state employees or officers entitled to official immunity.

On September 9, 2013, the Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in a 4-3 vote (Thompson, Hines, and Melton dissenting) to consider the following issue:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals err in ruling that the campus police officers in this case qualify as State officers or employees within the meaning of OCGA § 51-21-22 (7)?

The case has been assigned to the January 2014 oral argument calendar.

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