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Improper Analysis of Sovereign Immunity Defense Requires Remand in Georgia Negligence Claim

The Georgia Supreme Court vacated the rulings of two lower courts because they failed to apply the proper legal analysis in deciding the application of sovereign immunity.

The matter before the court came on a petition for writ of certiorari. The origin of the litigation stemmed from the injury to Lucious Primas while driving a prison work-detail van owned by the City of Milledgeville (the City). The van was leased by the Georgia Department of Corrections, but the lease contract made the City responsible for vehicle maintenance and the purchasing of insurance contracts.

As Primus approached an intersection, a brake line failed. He was able to steer the van off the road, but he hit a utility pole, causing him injury. He alleged the City was negligent for failing to inspect and maintain the van’s brake lines.

The trial court denied the City’s motion for summary judgment that claimed the maintenance and inspection of a brake line is a discretionary act that had not been waived under Georgia law.

The parties agreed before the Georgia Supreme Court that the courts’ analysis below was flawed, and that under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, a municipal corporation is immune from suit unless its immunity is waived by the General Assembly. It was further agreed under OCGA (b) which subjects a municipal corporation to suit for the negligent performance of its ministerial functions, but keeps in place its immunity from suit for actions taken in the performance of its governmental functions.

Because he failed to present it in the lower courts, Primas’s argument that the purchasing of insurance was a waiver by the City of sovereign immunity was not considered by the Georgia Supreme Court.

Both the trial and appellate courts gave “no consideration to whether the alleged negligence by the City occurred in the performance of a governmental function and d[id] not acknowledge or apply the definitions of governmental and ministerial functions as those terms relate to the City’s sovereign immunity.”

That resulted in their orders being vacated and remanded for reconsideration. See: Primas v. City of Millidgeville, 296 Ga. 584 (Case No S14G0753) (Ga. 2015).

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Related legal case

Primas v. City of Millidgeville