Watson Spence Case Studies
  Dent Wins Summary Judgment

Joe Dent filed a motion for summary judgment in a "cow in the road" case he was defending. On December 10, 2011, the plaintiff struck a cow at approximately 5:30 a.m., and the owner, Mr. Dentís client, was notified of the accident. Upon his arrival that morning the owner inspected his pasture. He found all the gates were closed, and the entire fence was in good repair except one section that was bent. Although not sure exactly how the cow escaped, the owner surmised it may have attempted to jump the fence where it was bent. He repaired the bent portion by bending it back to its normal height with a hammer.

Under Georgia law, when livestock is running at large, there is a presumption of negligence against the owner, but the presumption may be rebutted by showing the owner exercised ordinary and reasonable care in maintaining his livestock. In the case Mr. Dent defended, the ownerís fence was in good repair the day before the accident, and he had checked the cows at least twice the day before, which included checking the fence. Additionally, during the several days leading up to the accident, the cows were being checked two to three times a day because they were calving, and the owner checked his fencing weekly as a matter of course.

After the owner of the livestock rebuts the presumption of negligence, the burden falls back on the plaintiff to show there is something in the record creating a fact question of whether the defendant was negligent. In Mr. Dentís case, the plaintiff tried to use the fact that the owner had calves escape prior to 2009 when a new fence was installed, but the court found that was speculative. Then, the plaintiff tried to use photographs of the fence taken in May 2013, a year and six months after the accident, in which the fence was not in the best condition. However, the defendantís neighbor who shared the property line where the fence was in bad shape testified the fence was in good shape before the accident and was in good shape when he inspected it the day of the accident. Plaintiff claimed the condition of the fence in May could be used as an inference as to how the defendant might have maintained the fence in 2011. Again, the court found this evidence to be impermissible speculation. Without any evidence of defendantís negligence after he rebutted the initial presumption of negligence, the court granted the motion for summary judgment filed by Mr. Dent and entered a judgment in favor of the defendant, the owner of the cow.

In response to the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff filed a motion in limine alleging spoliation of evidence because the defendant bent the fence back into place knowing there was potential litigation. The court followed the law which is notice of an injury isnít notice of contemplated or pending litigation and bending the fence on the morning of the accident wasnít done with notice of pending litigation, and the court recognized defendantís duty to keep the rest of his cows in the pasture. Also, the court held that the issue wasnít that the cow might have jumped the fence, as the duty on the livestock owner isnít absolute, but the issue was the height of the fence. The defendantís actions didnít prevent the plaintiff from measuring the height of the fence and having it analyzed by an expert, which the plaintiff didnít do when the property was inspected one year and six months after the accident. Mr. Dent successfully defended against the motion in limine, and it was denied.

  Dismissed Claims of Racial Discrimination and Retaliation Filed Against Local Restaurant by Former Employee

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia (Albany Division) has dismissed claims of racial discrimination and retaliation filed against a local restaurant by a former employee. The restaurant is represented by Louis Hatcher and Alfreda Sheppard.

The plaintiff brought claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ß 1981, alleging she was discriminated against on the basis of her race and was retaliated against by being discharged from employment when she complained of the discriminatory treatment. The restaurant denied the plaintiff was subjected to any discriminatory treatment, and indeed, had employed the plaintiff on two separate occasions. The restaurant also denied that plaintiff had ever made any complaints relating to discrimination, or that her termination was related to any such complaints. Instead, the plaintiff was terminated for her poor performance, not her race.

After conducting discovery in the case, Mr. Hatcher and Ms. Sheppard filed a motion for summary judgment asking that the plaintiffís case be dismissed for failure to make out a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation. The Middle District Court agreed and granted summary judgment to the restaurant on all claims. In addition, the District Court awarded the restaurant its costs of defending the action.

  Summary Judgement Granted in Favor of Automobile Dealership Against Racial Discrimination Claims by Two Plaintiffs

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia has granted summary judgment in favor of a former automobile dealership against claims of racial discrimination filed by two plaintiffs. The dealership is represented by Louis Hatcher and Alfreda Sheppard.

The plaintiffs claimed they were subjected to a hostile work environment on the basis of their race. The plaintiffs also claimed their terminations from employment were the result of retaliation for having allegedly made complaints of racial discrimination. The dealership vehemently denied it discriminated against the employees, and contended the plaintiffs were terminated for violations of the dealershipís policies. The dealership also denied the plaintiffs had made any complaints of racial discrimination. After conducting discovery in the case, Mr. Hatcher and Ms. Sheppard filed a motion for summary judgment asking that the plaintiffsí claims be dismissed. The Middle District Court agreed and granted summary judgment to the dealership on all but one small claim, which was subsequently dismissed by the plaintiffs upon additional proof submitted by the dealership. In addition, the District Court awarded the dealership its costs of defending the action.

The plaintiffs appealed the grant of summary judgment to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but subsequently dismissed the appeal with prejudice.

  Aviation Permission in Mitchell County, Georgia

Joseph Dent represented an aviation company which was seeking permission to build an air strip in Mitchell County from the Mitchell County Board of Commissioners in July of 2012. The aviation company planned to operate its crop dusting service from the location because existing air strip needed to be relocated due to Georgia Powerís route for new overhead power lines. Had the special use application been denied, Georgia Power would have taken an alternate route down Colonial Road, disrupting the residents in this area with large, permanent power poles. Mr. Dent provided a picture of the power poles and information about the cost of maintaining overhead lines as opposed to underground lines as supporting arguments for the relocation of the airstrip. Mr. Dent also addressed concerns pertaining to pesticide drift and noise complaints raised by citizens opposing the application. Despite the strong opposition, the Board of Commissioners approved the application which allowed the airstrip to be relocated as requested by the aviation company.

  Devastating Broadside Collision in Dalton, Georgia

A husband and wife were involved in a devastating broadside collision in Dalton, Georgia during which only the husband survived. Joseph Dent pursued claims for the wrongful death of the wife and the injuries sustained by the husband, and he demanded policy limits from the insurance company covering the at fault driver. However, the insurance company failed to timely respond to the offer leaving them exposed to bad faith claims. Mr. Dent filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Whitfield County. The week prior to trial, a settlement for all claims was reached with payment in excess of $500,000, which was over 2.6 times the amount of the policy limits.

  Eleventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal Of Section 1983 Claims
Against Ben Hill School District, Teachers and Administrators

On May 5, 2010, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of Section 1983 claims against the Ben Hill School District and several teachers and administrators. John M. Stephenson represented the School District and several individual administrators and teachers in a suit filed by the parents of two students who claimed a teacher and two administrators used excessive force against their sons and then retaliated against them after the parents complained about their alleged actions. Plaintiffs claimed policies of the administration and School Board were the moving force behind the alleged constitutional violations. After extensive discovery, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Albany Division, which resulted in a ruling in September of 2009 granting the school district defendants summary judgment on the federal section 1983 claims and dismissing the state tort claims asserted in the complaint. Costs were assessed against the plaintiffs by both the district court and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

In December of 2009, Stephenson successfully obtained a summary judgment in favor of the Ben Hill County School District and several administrators in another section 1983 action brought in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. That ruling was not appealed. Costs were assessed against the plaintiff in that action as well.