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Forthcoming Opinions

November 22, 2013

On Monday, November 25, 2013, the Supreme Court of Georgia will issue opinions in 11 cases, five of which are within the scope of our coverage. Summaries of the cases are below and we will update on Monday morning with links to and summaries of the opinions.

S13Q0981 DeKalb County School District et al. v. Georgia State Board of Education et al.

This case began when the State Board of Education recommended the Governor suspend six members of the DeKalb County Board of Education after the district was placed on probation by its accrediting agency. Several of the members slated for removal filed a federal court action seeking to stop the Governor from suspending them and, after conducting a hearing, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia refused to enter an injunction stopping the Governor from suspending the members.

In its ruling denying the preliminary injunction, the federal court found the plaintiffs had not shown a likelihood of success on their federal claims and then certified the following questions regarding the constitutionality of the statute to the Supreme Court of Georgia:

  1. Does O.C.G.A. § 20-2-73, or any portion thereof, violate the Georgia Constitution, either generally or by virtue of an affirmative answer to either of the following specific questions:
    1. Does O.C.G.A. § 20-2-73 violate the Georgia constitutional doctrine that each school system shall be under the management and control of a Board of Education, the members of which shall be elected as provided by law? or
    2. Does the potential removal of school board members, as provided for by O.C.G.A. § 20-2-73, exceed the General Assembly’s authority to enact general laws regarding local boards of education under Article VIII, Section V?

The case was argued on June 3, 2013.

S12G1316. STEVENSON v. CITY OF DORAVILLE et al.

This case began when Stevenson’s car began having mechanical problems on I-285 in Atlanta. Stevenson tried to pull over on the shoulder, but his car stalled before he could get out of the road. A Doraville police officer saw the vehicle, activated his flashing lights, and called dispatch for additional assistance because he could not reach the vehicle due to traffic and road conditions. Stevenson saw the lights, but eventually got out of his vehicle and was struck by another car on the interstate. Stevenson sued the City, claiming the officer was negligent in failing to redirect traffic. The City moved for summary judgment based on the public duty doctrine and the trial court granted the motion.

The Court of Appeals (Miller, Ellington, Doyle) unanimously affirmed the trial court decision. The Court of Appeals found that the public duty doctrine applied, because the case involved an alleged failure to protect the general public. When faced with the disabled vehicle, the officer owed a duty to the general public not to Stevenson specifically, and there was no special relationship between Stevenson and the city. Stevenson petitioned for a writ of certiorari.

On January 7, 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 the public duty doctrine applies in this case?

The case was heard on April 2, 2013.

S13G0577. HERRINGTON v. GAULDEN et al.

This case is a medical malpractice action involving allegedly negligent treatment of a patient in an emergency room. After becoming dizzy in church, Gaulden was transported to Liberty Regional Medical Center for treatment. She reported “chest tightness” and was received in the emergency room at 1:47 pm. She did not receive any aspirin until 2:45 pm and did not have an EKG performed until 2:58 pm. At 3:19 pm, she went into cardiac and respiratory arrest and, despite the efforts of emergency staff, was pronounced dead at 6:05 pm. Her estate filed a wrongful death and survival action against a variety of defendants. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Bobby Herrington, the Medical Director of the hospital, on the professional and ordinary negligence claims, finding that no duty was owed in the professional negligence claim and that all the negligence alleged was professional in nature.

The Court of Appeals (Barnes, Adams, McFadden) unanimously affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that the trial court erred because, under the unique circumstances of Herrington’s contract and his testimony, he owed a duty that could result in professional liability. Even though Herrington was not present, he owed a duty to train the staff about the policies in place in the emergency room (including a policy on chest pain) and to properly supervise the staff. The Court of Appeals affirmed the portion of the trial court decision that granted summary judgment to Herrington on the ordinary negligence claims.

On April 29, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the petition for certiorari to consider the following question:

  1. Did the emergency department’s medical director owe a duty to emergency room patients based on the director’s contractual responsibilities to supervise the training of the department’s medical staff?

The case was heard on September 23, 2013.

S13A0908 Rigby et al. v. Boatright et al.

This case involves who an individual’s attempt to run for the Board of Directors of the Satilla Rural Electric Membership Corporation. In 2012, Boatright submitted a petition for nomination to serve on the board of the Satilla Rural EMC. After questions were raised about his eligibility due to ownership of Pike Electric stock, Boatright liquidated his holdings. The Credentials and Elections Committee then determined that Boatright was disqualified due to his financial interest in Pike, because it is a business which Satilla contracts with. Boatright moved for reconsideration and the committee denied the request. Boatright then sued in Superior Court, requesting a mandamus to require Satilla to put his name on the ballot. The trial court granted the request, finding the Committee’s decision arbitrary and capricious and the Board appealed.

The case was heard on July 1, 2013.

S13A1073 Rai v. Reid, Admr., et al.

This case comes to the Supreme Court as a result of an equally divided Court of Appeals and involves a wrongful death action. In 2000, Sparkle Reid-Rai was murdered in her apartment while her husband was at work and her five-month old daughter was with her but left unharmed. The investigation eventually led investigators to discover that her husband’s father, Chiman Rai, hired two men to kill Reid-Rai because he did not agree with his son’s marriage to an African-American woman. In 2008, Rai was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. After the conviction, Reid-Rai’s father filed a wrongful death action on behalf of his daughter’s estate and his granddaughter against Rai, resulting in a $2.5 million judgment on the wrongful death claim for the granddaughter and $100,000 to Reid-Rai’s estate for pain and suffering. Rai appealed.

The Court of Appeals evenly divided on the appeal. The key question is whether the statute of limitations applies to the pain and suffering portion of the damages. Six judges (Ellington, Barnes, Phipps, Doyle, Miller, and McFadden) would have found the statute was tolled by the minority status of the granddaughter and also tolled by the fraudulent concealment as to Reid-Rai, affirming the entire award. Six judges (Andrews, Dillard, Boggs, Ray, Branch, and McMillian) would have found the judgment tolled as to the granddaughter, but not as to Reid-Rai, affirming the $2.5 million but not the $100,000 for pain and suffering.

Because of the even division of the Court of Appeals, the case was immediately transferred to the Supreme Court of Georgia under the Georgia Constitution.

The case was heard on July 2, 2013.

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