The Georgia Supreme Court has rejected a request that it vacate one of its rulings because it was issued too late.
The motion had been made by lawyers for Agnes Scott College and three of its campus police officers. The officers were on the losing end of a unanimous June 16 decision that said they were not entitled to the sort of immunity afforded state police officers. The officers from the Decatur women’s school are defendants in a somewhat bizarre case brought by a woman who claims she was falsely arrested on allegations that she assaulted an Agnes Scott student.
The defendants’ motion for reconsideration was based on the a provision in the state constitution, known as the “two-term rule.” It directs the state’s appellate courts to decide their cases within two of their three annual terms. The state constitutional language says appellate courts must “dispose of every case at the term for which it is entered on the court’s docket for hearing or at the next term.”
In their motion, Atlanta lawyers Laurie Webb Daniel and Joshua Bosin at Holland & Knight and David Ladner and Brian Trulock at Bendin Sumrall & Ladner argued that the Supreme Court’s June decision did not make the constitutional deadline. Their reason: the ruling was not rendered until after the close of the January 2014 court term, which ended in mid-April. Because oral argument was held in November, during the September 2013 term, the court had only until the end of the next term, the January term, to rule, the defendants claimed. An unusual factor in the Agnes Scott case was that the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case relatively early; the justices heard it during a special sitting at Mercer University in November, rather than at the court in January as originally planned.
Atlanta lawyer Lloyd Bell, who represents plaintiff Amanda Hartley, responded that the scheduling of oral argument in November, with the parties’ consent, didn’t change that the case was docketed for hearing in the January term within the meaning of the two-term rule.
The court denied the motion without elaboration in a July 11 order. The court also denied a motion for reconsideration filed by the plaintiff seeking to revive her separate claim against Agnes Scott College, even though the high court had cleared the way for her to pursue her claims against the officers.
Bell had argued that the Supreme Court’s ruling that the campus police are not government officials undermined the Court of Appeals’ prior ruling insulating the college itself from liability. The defense contended the Supreme Court’s ruling on the officers’ immunity didn’t interfere with the Court of Appeals’ ruling that the college couldn’t be held liable. The defense noted that the Supreme Court had said in its June decision that it was not expressing an opinion on the plaintiff’s claims against the college.
“Given the generic denials of both motions for reconsideration, it’s impossible to ascertain what the thought process was behind the denial…of our motion for reconsideration,” Daniel, the defense lawyer, said on Friday.
Bell, the plaintiff’s lawyer, said in an email Friday that the plaintiff now has asked the Court of Appeals to allow additional briefing on Agnes Scott’s liability, a request the college has opposed.
“The Court of Appeals will either revisit the issue of vicarious liability or not. Either way, they will ultimately remit the case back to the trial court,” said Bell. “At that time, we will request the earliest possible trial date.” Hartley’s lawsuit includes claims for false arrest, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Hartley was a student at the University of Tennessee when she was arrested based on accusations of sexual assault that were shown to be false. She was held in custody for more than three weeks before being released on bond. DeKalb County prosecutors later dropped the case. Bell has said his client at one point made a settlement demand of $10 million.