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Articles Tagged with Georgia Supreme Court

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You have probably heard by now that the Georgia Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed the conviction of Ross Harris for murder for the death of his young child, Cooper Harris, who Ross Harris left in the back seat of a hot car for hours.  I think the Court got it exactly right.  Many people have some very strong opinions on both sides of this case. All you have to do is check the hashtag #RossHarris to see how polarized the public is on the case.  The reversal was certainly big news not only in Georgia, but Nationwide. This was a closely watched case.

This may be Justice Nahmias’s final opinion on the Georgia Supreme Court, and he is going out with a bang.  I never thought Mr. Harris should have been prosecuted for murder in the first place.  We know through neuroscience that it takes very little time or effort to distract our brains.  Just the slightest deviation in our typical routine can make you forget where you intended to go or that a baby is in the car with you. Season 2 of AJC’s podcast Breakdown makes this clear with even an example of an Arkansas judge, Judge Wade Naramore, who left his 19-month-old child in his car while he was in court, resulting in the child’s death. The judge’s 911 call is one of the most horrific calls you will ever hear. You’ll also hear about an elementary school principal who left her home early one morning with her baby in her car seat in the back seat. It was too early for her to drop the baby off at day care, so the school principal deviated from her typical, normal route to go pick up doughnuts. Then she drove to school. Hours later a teacher saw the baby in the back seat. They rushed to get her out but she was dead. That simple deviation to the doughnut shop made the elementary school principal forget her child was in the back in her carseat.  I urge you to listen to the AJC’s podcast. Season Two is called “Death in a Hot Car.”

Today, there are many tools a parent can use to help you remember your child is in the back seat, e.g., Baby in Car Seat Alarms, that sound an alarm and flash lights in your car if you forget your child in his car seat. There are phone apps, e.g., Kars 4 Kids Safety, or Backseat App, that alert you to check for you child in the backseat. Even the GPS app WAZE has added a Child Alert to remind you to check on your child before getting out of your car. This shows that anyone can make this mistake and now there are tools to help you not make it.  The National Safety Council has tracked children left in hot cars for over 20 years. It reported that in 2018, 52 children died being left in hot cars. Since 1998 over 800 kids were lost from vehicular heatstroke. Of these deaths, 24% occurred in employee parking lots, just like Cooper Harris.  This is telling.  For those who are adamant that “this would never happen to me,” we know through neuroscience that that belief is simply one created through a heuristic called “defense attribution.” “Defense Attribution” is defined as “bias or error in attributing cause for some event such that a perceived threat to oneself is minimized. For example, people might blame an automobile accident on the other driver’s mistake because this attribution lessens their perception that they themselves are responsible for the accident.” Our minds do this to us when there is something so horrific you can not imagine it ever happening to you.  We also know that the worse the event, the stronger the human mind insists it would never happen to me.  This is something personal injury attorneys often face with jurors in cases in which the injuries to the plaintiff are horrible.

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I recently had the honor of attending the dedication of the portrait of Justice Harris P. Hines and the portrait’s official installation at the Nathan Deal Judicial Center in the Georgia Supreme Court Courtroom. Justice Hines and I were good friends, and his beautiful wife, Helen Hines, remains my good friend. Helen spoke at the dedication and said this about her husband of 46 years:

“Harris will be remembered as a judge and as a justice who loved people, and served the citizens of Georgia. He will be remembered for how he touched the lives of others, traveling throughout the state for over four decades. He spoke to civic clubs and legal groups, delivered introductions and invocations, taught continuing legal education courses, judged mock trials and debates, moderated panel discussions, counseled anyone who sought his guidance or advice — greeting people with sincerity and warmth. He never seemed to tire of talking — I’m on stop right there. He never seemed to tire of talking — to them, and inquiring about their lives and their families. He cared about individuals and treated them all with respect and fairness. Hard work, courtesy, integrity and kindness are the real legacy Harris leaves,” she concluded.

Chief Justice David Nahmias spoke. Former Chief Justice Harold Melton (now private lawyer) spoke and said this about Justice Hines: “Everybody here knew and loved Justice Hines, and everybody has the same impression of him and of his kindness,” said Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders partner Harold Melton, who succeeded Hines as chief justice and was his close friend, though they were 23 years apart in age. But Melton said for this occasion he wanted to remember Hines as a lawyer.  “It’s appropriate that we also talk about his legal legacy and his commitment to the fidelity of the law, how painstakingly he pored over the law and how determined he was to get it right,” Melton said.

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You may recall that I wrote a blog about a case that occurred in here in Georgia in which a husband and wife sued Snapchat (now known as Snap, Inc.) for negligent design of their “app” because the app promoted using it while a driver was driving at a high rate of speed as it recorded your speed for you to share (brag) with all of your friends and followers. The speed filter allows a driver behind the wheel to document his or her speed by “snapping” a picture while the car is in motion. On this one particular night, a teenage driver allegedly opened her Snapchat app while driving as an attempt to snap a picture of her car reaching 100 mph. The driver allegedly, according to the Complaint, accelerated until reaching approximately 107 mph before she realized another driver had pulled onto the road. She crashed into him at full speed. Both cars were totaled, leaving multiple people with tremendous injuries – both physical and psychological – and thousands of dollars in expenses.

That happened in 2015. Somewhere along the last seven years Snapchat filed a Motion to Dismiss the lawsuit and the trial court granted it. The plaintiffs appealed and the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed. But now, in 2022, seven years after the original wreck, the Georgia Supreme Court has ruled against Snapchat and in favor of the Plaintiffs to permit the lawsuit to proceed. Justice Verda Colvin wrote the opinion of the Supreme Court, which was not unanimous. There were three special concurrences and two dissents, and two justices did not participate in the opinion.  The issue presented here was whether Snapchat owed a legal duty to the Maynards on the basis that a manufacturer’s duty to design reasonably safe products  extends to people injured by a third party’s intentional and tortious misuse of the manufacturer’s product. Maynard v. Snapchat, Inc., S21G0555, 2022 WL 779733, at *1 (Ga. Mar. 15, 2022) The Georgia Court of Appeals said “no.” The Georgia Supreme Court said “yes.” And there you have it. The Georgia Supreme Court’s opinion carries the day. But the plaintiffs still have a long way to go. The Supreme Court remanded (sent back) the case to the Georgia Court of Appeals with the instruction “to address whether the trial court erred in dismissing the Maynards’ claims against Snap and in granting judgment on the pleadings to Snap for lack of proximate causation.” This means the lower appellate court must now analyze the case from the standpoint of whether the Snapchat speed filter actually caused the wreck or was it merely the negligent driving of the teenage driver that caused the wreck.  This is a 56 page opinion issued by the Supreme Court, so it is clear that the Court spent a great deal of time and thought on this matter. That is all you can ask for. But, with two dissents and three other special concurrences, you couldn’t call this a “ringing” endorsement of the cause of action. And, the Supreme Court may see the case a second time before a jury ever does, because depending on how the Georgia Court of Appeals rules, it is likely to go back up to the Supreme Court on the issue of proximate causation. I think, realistically, it will probably be 2025 (the 10 year anniversary of the wreck) before it may get in front of a jury.

That should show you a couple of things. First, the wheels of Justice often grind slowly. Recently, I had to testify in a deposition to authenticate a videotape of DeKalb Avenue for an attorney who has a case pending against the City of Atlanta regarding the reversible lane lights. I had taken that videotape in 2012, ten years ago. And that case was just getting to trial. Secondly, it should show you the tenacity of the lawyers representing the Maynards in this case.  You can also say that about the defense attorneys in the case, but they have been getting paid for their work for the last seven years; the plaintiffs’ attorneys have not. When a plaintiff’s attorney decides to take a case, she or he has to decide to see it to the end, knowing the life of the case may last years before resolution. This is the agreement we make with our clients when we accept a case. We must fight nonstop for our clients. So hats off to the Maynards’ attorneys.

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Oyez, Oyez! Oyez!  All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of Georgia, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God Bless the State of Georgia and this Honorable Court.  May it please the Court.

Yesterday, I was honored to speak in the Georgia Supreme Court as part of the Court’s 175th Anniversary Celebration. The Celebration began Wednesday evening with a lovely dinner at The Commerce Club.  Thursday was a full day of seminar on the history of the Supreme Court and biographies of various former Justices. I spoke about the creation of the State Bar of Georgia in 1964, which was approved by the Georgia Supreme Court and five years later held to be Constitutional in two separate cases. It was one of the highest honors of my career. I am sharing with you below my presentation.

We are very fortunate to have the Georgia Supreme Court and the State Bar of Georgia, which, together, protect your rights to live in a Just society, grounded in the Rule of Law, so that all may reap the benefits and rewards that our system of Justice provides.

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We received some sad news this Thanksgiving weekend about a dear friend.  Justice George Carley had died.

Many tributes are now coming in about Justice Carley. One, from Judge William Ray, (U.S.D.C.,Northern District of Georgia) touched me and let me know we had similar relationships with Justice Carley. The Georgia Supreme Court, from which he retired, also paid tribute to him and I urge you to watch it.  These tributes reminded me of my relationship with Justice Carley that I now share with you in memory of him.

Justice Carley was a proud “Double Dawg,” meaning he graduated from both undergraduate school and law school at The University of Georgia, often referred to as just “The University,” as if there were no others.  He is the only person to have served as both Presiding Judge and Chief Judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals, and the Presiding Judge and Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Georgia.

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As many of you know, I often watch oral arguments in the Georgia Supreme Court via its livestreaming capability on its website.   I encourage you to watch, as well. If you are reading my blog it means you must be interested in Georgia law, and what better way to gain some insight than to watch arguments before the State’s highest court? Having available online the live streaming of oral arguments really is a public service to Georgia citizens and a nod to open and transparent government from the Judicial Branch of Georgia government.

I wanted to let you know that tomorrow, February 7, 2016, an interesting and very sad case will be argued before the Georgia Supreme Court, City of Richmond, GA v. Maia.  I blogged about the Maia case when it was before the Georgia Court of Appeals.  My blog then asked “Who is legally responsible for suicide?”  Suicide and suicide prevention has been an interest of mine since one of my dear friends committed suicide in 2012, when I was President of the State Bar of Georgia. His suicide led me to form the State Bar’s Suicide Prevention Campaign “How To Save a Life.”  The issue of who is to blame for suicide is squarely before the Georgia Supreme Court now.  The City of Richmond argues you can never blame a third party for someone’s suicide because suicide is also an independent, intervening act.  This is based on years of rather old Georgia case law.  But we know now, after suicide prevention has become more of the public conversation and as open discussion about suicide is helping to remove the stigma associated with suicide, that sometimes it seems suicide can often be traced directly back to bullying of the victim by third parties.  It will be an interesting case to watch. My good friend Carl Varnedoe will be arguing for the Plaintiff and my good friend Pat O’Connor will be arguing for the City of Richmond.  Below is the Supreme Court’s case summary. I’ll keep you posted, as promised.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 10:00 A.M. Session

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Can a County Police Officer be held liable for failing to prevent the suicide of an inmate under his custody?  That is the interesting question in the case below, which was argued before the Georgia Supreme Court this week. Below is the Court’s summary of the case. It gives you some of the pertinent facts and then a synopsis of the arguments and positions of both sides in the case. For court watchers and trial junkies this is a helpful tool provided by the Court (presumably written by one of the Court’s clerks;  I did not write it) to be able to follow along in oral argument.  By the way, the Georgia Supreme Court’s oral arguments all can be viewed through their livestreaming capability found on its website. 
And if you can’t catch them live, the arguments are taped and available for your leisure viewing on the website, as well.
Pearce v. Tucker will be a case I’ll be watching as it turns on the old “discretionary v. ministerial” argument trap that really needs to be abolished in favor of including all such claims against counties as part of the Georgia Tort Claims Act. This would give this area law the predictably it desperately needs.  Hopefully, the Georgia Legislature will address that one day. In the meantime, every time there is a case against a county employee, like the one below, the Court must go through this time-worn analysis  of whether the employee’s conduct was discretionary, for which the employee has immunity, or whether it was ministerial, for which the employee does not have immunity.  Stay tuned. Should be interesting.
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