On June 6, 2016, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued 17 opinions, of which four are within the scope of our coverage. Summaries of the cases and decisions are set forth below.
S15G1184 Barking Hound Village, LLC v. Monyak, et al.
In a unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Thompson, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that the measure of damages for the negligent killing of a pet dog includes both the animal’s fair market value at the time of loss plus interest and any medical or other expenses reasonably incurred in treating the animal. The Court reversed the portion of the Georgia Court of Appeals’ decision that limited the recoverable damages to the reasonable expenses incurred where the dog’s actual market value was minimal or non-existent.
One of the Monyak’s dogs was a mixed-breed rescue Dachshund. They boarded her and another of their dogs, a 13 year old mixed-breed Labrador retriever, at Barking Hound Village, where the Labrador’s medicine was erroneously administered to the Dachshund, which developed renal failure and died after months of treatment that included dialysis. In ruling on Barking Hound’s summary judgment motion, the trial court held that the dog’s actual value would include the reasonable medical and other expenses and non-economic considerations reflecting the dog’s intrinsic value. The Court of Appeals found that, as a rescue dog, the Dachshund had little or no value other than sentimental, so nothing relating to the dog’s intrinsic value could be recovered.
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals in part. It “f[ound] the Court of Appeals erred in deciding that an application of actual value to owner standard was the appropriate measure of recoverable damages, but additionally find that a cap on all damages based on application of the fair market value standard as urged by [Barking Hound] is likewise incorrect.” The court noted that, more than 120 years ago, it had held that the measure of damages included “not only the full market value of the animal at the time of loss plus interest, but also expenses incurred by the owner in an effort to cure the animal.”
The Supreme Court rejected Barking Hound’s contention that the expenses of care were just part of the aggregate, which was limited to the animal’s value. It pointed to its prior decisions which establish that there is no cap on the allowable expenses of care.
The Supreme Court went on to agree with the Court of Appeals in rejecting the notion that the owner of a negligently or intentionally killed animal can recover for the animal’s sentimental value. Even so, it allowed that “opinion evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, of an animal’s particular attributes — e.g., breed, age, training, temperament, and use” should be just as admissible as similar evidence relating to other types of personal property. In the end, that evidence must relate to “the value of the dog in a fair market, not the value of the dog solely to its owner.”
S15G1804 Toyo Tire America Manufacturing, Inc. v. Davis, et al.
In a unanimous opinion by Justice Nahmias, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that a nuisance plaintiff can recover both past damages for discomfort and annoyance and prospective damages for the diminution in the value of their property attributable to future disruption and annoyance. The Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
In 2005, Toyo Tire constructed a manufacturing and distribution facility across the road from the home the Davises had and have been living in. After three expansions, the plant employed about 1,000 people and produced about 13,500 tires per year. A planned fourth expansion will increase both of those figures. The plant operates around the clock, with two 12-hour shifts a day. The Davises complain that the plant constitutes a nuisance, burdening them with light, noise, black dust, traffic, and unsightliness. They were unsuccessful in persuading Toyo Tire to buy their home, as it had done for two of their neighbors. So, they filed suit alleging nuisance and trespass and seeking damages.
The trial court denied Toyo Tire’s motion for summary judgment, which argued, among other things, that the Davises could not recover both for the diminution of their property’s value and for the discomfort and annoyance caused by the nuisance. Toyo Tire also attacked the sufficiency of the Davises’ evidence of causation. On interlocutory review, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling in a divided seven-judge opinion.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. With respect to the testimony of the Davises’ expert witness, the court concluded that it was sufficient to support an inference of causation. It did not decide whether the expert’s opinion was sufficiently grounded to be admissible, leaving that to the trial court on remand, if that issue were raised. The court stated, “Viewed in its full context and with the charity required in the summary judgment setting,” the testimony of the Davises and their expert was sufficient.
With respect to the allowable damages, while Georgia law does not allow a double recovery for a single injury, the damages claimed were not duplicative. Recovery for disruption and annoyance compensates for the past aspects of an injury attributable to a nuisance, and the diminution in value reflects the future effects of the nuisance’s operation. The court “adhere[d] to the long line of Georgia precedent holding that recovery for both the backward-looking personal injury to the occupant and the forward-looking injury to the owner’s property is available in a continuing nuisance case.” Because language in the Court of Appeals’ decision in Stanfield v. Waste Management of Georgia, 287 Ga. App. 810, 812, 652 S.E. 2d 815 (2007), was to the contrary, the Supreme Court overruled Stanfield, deeming it “a mistaken step off a long and firm path of Georgia law.”
S15G1808, S15G1811 Roseburg Forest Products Company, et al. v. Barnes
In a unanimous opinion by Justice Melton, the Supreme Court held that a workers’ compensation plaintiff’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations and were not revived when Barnes sought untimely medical treatment for his injury. He lost the lower part of his left leg in an industrial accident in 1993. Barnes was fitted with a prosthetic leg and returned to light duty, going from temporary total disability status to permanent partial disability until 1998. The site changed hands in 2006, and Barnes continued working there until he was laid off in September 2009. After complaining of chronic knee pain in 2009, he received a new prosthesis in November 2011. In August 2012, Barnes submitted an application to go back on temporary total disability, and in November 2012 filed a separate claim asserting a new “fictional” new injury that would, statutorily, relate to a worsening of his original injury.
The Administrative Law Judge found the 2012 claims barred by the statute of limitations, and the State Workers Compensation Board and the trial court affirmed. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed, holding that the claims were timely.
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. Barnes’ claim for the resumption of temporary total disability payments had to be brought within two years of the last weekly payment of benefits. Even if his injury was “catastrophic” and he could get TDD benefits indefinitely, Barnes still had to apply for them within two years of the last payment to enforce his rights. His fictional new injury claim was also untimely because it was not brought within one year of the end of his employment in September 2009. The court explained, “The fact that Barnes sought additional remedial treatment in December 2011 did not revive his claim that had already become time barred in November 2010.” It noted that allowing injured employees to revive stale claims by seeking remedial treatment after the statute of limitations has run conflicts with the goals of closure and finality that are part of the workers compensation system.
S15A0516 Mays v. Southern Resources Consultants, Inc.
In a unanimous opinion by Presiding Justice Hines, the Supreme Court reversed a trial court’s decision to grant temporary injunctive relief in part and vacated the other portions of the injunctive order. The underlying case was a business and trade secrets dispute that arose after the Georgia Department of Health and Developmental Disabilities allowed a Home Health Provider to continue serving an individual (S.F.) in the Department’s care following a change of the Residential Service Provider. Southern Resources Consultants (SRC) was the terminated Residential Service Provider, and Mays ran the home and cared for S.F. for both SRC and its successor. SRC filed suit for breach of confidentiality and non-compete provisions in its contract with Mays and for protection of trade secrets.
The trial court entered temporary injunctive relief directing Mays not to possess or distribute SRC’s confidential information, to stop providing services to S.F., and not to possess or distribute S.F.’s personal information. Mays appealed from the entry of the injunction, and the Supreme Court reversed the first portion of the injunction and vacated the other portions as moot. With respect to SRC’s confidential information, the Court found that Mays had already returned it before the injunction was entered, so the trial court’s direction to her to do it was a nullity. In addition, the Non-Compete provision in the parties’ contract had expired by its terms, so the rest of the injunction was moot. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings.