Municipal liability covers both state and federal litigation arising from general tort and federal civil rights claims. This practice area represents a significant part of the firm’s work. A municipality is a town, city, school district, or local government unit formed by a municipal charter from the state. This practice area covers a broad range of issues from alleged police misconduct, to employment discrimination charges, pension and disability disputes, political discharge and retaliation claims, zoning and land use disputes, first amendment issues, as well as casualty claims. Such claims must be addressed with an eye toward existing immunities and ever-changing limitations on actions against government agencies.
Strengthening Sovereign Immunity
A plaintiff filed a negligence claim against a county after he was injured in a motorcycle accident which he contended occurred because the county had left gravel in the roadway a few days earlier when it was patching sections of the shoulder of the roadway. At the trial court level, our firm successfully argued that the plaintiff’s claims do not arise out of the use of a county motor vehicle as contemplated by O.C.G.A. § 33-24-51 because the injury or damage to plaintiff did not occur at the time of the alleged “use” or negligent act as the patch truck was not on the scene at the time of the accident. The trial court granted summary judgment to the county, finding that the county was entitled to sovereign immunity. The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment holding that the patch truck was not being used as a motor vehicle at the time the injury occurred and that any use of the patch truck was too remote in time to waive sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court of the State of Georgia denied the plaintiff’s petition for certiorari.
No Excuses - Probable Cause Exists
A plaintiff filed a claim against a sheriff and deputy, in both their individual and official capacities. The plaintiff asserted claims under state law for alleged false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, battery, negligent supervision, negligent hiring, and punitive damages. The plaintiff also asserted claims under federal law for alleged violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1985, 42 U.S.C. § 1986, and for attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The case arose out of the arrest of the plaintiff, after he led police on a chase where his speed exceeded 100 miles per hour on his motorcycle. The plaintiff attempted to argue the reason he ran a stop sign and was speeding is because he did not recognize the SUV being driven by the deputy as a police vehicle and was fearful that whoever was in the SUV was going to try and steal his motorcycle.
The defendants moved for summary judgment as to the federal claims raising multiple defenses, including but not limited to Eleventh Amendment immunity; defendant being entitled to qualified immunity for the Fourth Amendment/unlawful arrest claim because the plaintiff could not show the absence of arguable probable cause as the plaintiff was speeding; and the plaintiff’s unlawful arrest claim should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and not under the Fourteenth Amendment. The defendants also moved for summary judgment as to the state law claims raising multiple defenses, including but not limited to the defendants being entitled to sovereign immunity as to any claims against them in their official capacity because there had been no waiver; the defendants being entitled to official immunity for claims against them in their individual capacities as there was no evidence of actual malice; and the false imprisonment claim should fail as the arrest was lawful because the speeding for which the plaintiff was arrested occurred in the deputy’s presence. A Superior Court Judge granted summary judgment to the defendants as to all of the plaintiff’s claims against the defendants.
In a politically charged case that garnered statewide media attention, our attorneys secured a favorable ruling on behalf of Forsyth County from the Forsyth County Civil Service Board, which upheld the termination of former Forsyth County planning director Jeff Chance. Last April, an Open Records Act request revealed a host of personal and inappropriate e-mails on Chance’s office computer. The discovery of the e-mails triggered an investigation by the County, which determined that Chance had violated several county policies. On August 19, 2010, the Board of Commissioners voted to terminate Chance’s employment. Chance immediately appealed to the Civil Service Board, which conducted an eight-day hearing to determine whether Chance’s termination was warranted. At the hearing, Chance argued that the reasons for his termination were pretextual and that he was fired for political reasons, particularly in connection with a zoning decision regarding a proposed recycling center.
On December 27, 2010, the Civil Service Board upheld Chance’s termination, concluding that Chance had blatantly violated county policies regarding personal and inappropriate use of county property including the e-mail system and his cellular phone. The Board also found that, despite Chance’s documented knowledge and awareness of county policy, he continually allowed staff members to send and receive non-business and inappropriate e-mails. Furthermore, the Board found that Chance had allowed a specific group of staff members to take longer breaks than county policy allowed and criticized Chance’s management skills and lack of supervisory authority.
No Liability for Negligence
Our attorneys successfully defended a water and sewer authority in two separate suits alleging negligence. A Superior Court judge and a Magistrate Court judge dismissed the claims on the grounds that the water and sewer authority was entitled to immunity.