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Georgia Court of Appeals Holds that a Malicious Prosecution Claim May Proceed if Probable Cause was

Hans G. Reid filed a civil action for malicious prosecution, conspiracy and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress against his employer and the employees who made allegations that Reid brandished a gun at them after he was fired. Reid v. Waste Indus. USA, Inc., 2018 WL 1324794 (Ga. Ct. App. 2018). The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on all claims and Reid appealed.

In June 2012, Reid was employed by Waste Industries Atlanta, LLC (“Waste Atlanta”). Around that time, Reid and other employees discussed forming a union. Operations Manager Carlos Pichardo claimed that General Manager Tony J. Gouldthorp and Regional Manager Richard Johnson determined that Reid needed to be terminated because of his union activities. Further, Pichardo claimed that Reid was ultimately fired based on fabricated facts to support violations. After Reid was notified of his termination, he retrieved his personal belongings, including his permitted handgun, and walked to his car while pointing the gun at the ground and left the premises. Gouldthorp then called the police and reported that Reid pointed the gun at his face, threatened him, and then pointed the gun at three other men. Reid was subsequently arrested and tried on four counts of aggravated assault.

Pichardo testified that Reid did not point the gun at anyone and that Gouldthorp rehearsed with all of the witnesses that they would tell the police that Reid pointed the gun at them and threatened them. Based on Pichardo and Reid’s testimony, the jury returned a not guilty verdict on all counts. Reid then filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) and received $25,780 in backpay and interest to settle his claim. Shortly thereafter, Reid filed his civil complaint against Waste Atlanta, Gouldthorp, and other employees.

The trial court held that summary judgment was proper because “there was probable cause for [his] arrest for an assortment of [other] crimes that day.” However, in the context of a malicious prosecution claim, facts must support the crime the plaintiff was charged with committing, not whether the plaintiff was possibly guilty of some other crime. Wills v. Arnett, 306 Ga. App. 503, 506 (2010). Therefore, probable cause cannot exist if the defendant fabricated or concealed facts. As such, viewed in Reid's favor, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that a material issue of fact remained as to whether the defendants conspired to have Reid prosecuted for a crime he did not commit and reversed the grant of summary judgment. Of import, this case does not stand for the premise that law enforcement may be sued for malicious prosecution if the witnesses relied upon fabricate evidence.

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