Can a tax commissioner apply excess funds to post-tax sale property taxes?

Iglesia Del Dios Vivo Columna Y Apoyo De La Verdad La Luz Del Mundo, Inc. v. Downing, 321 Ga. App. 778 (2013) addressed this issue, and the answer, quite simply, is NO. (Bonus points for being able to say the plaintiff’s name in that case three times fast.)

The guiding statute is O.C.G.A. § 48-4-5, which provides that any excess funds existing “after paying taxes, costs, and all expenses of a sale made by the tax commissioner” shall be distributed “to the owner or owners as their interests appear in the order of priority in which their interests exist.”

So, while a tax commissioner is authorized to apply excess funds to satisfy outstanding property taxes owed by the delinquent taxpayer that accrued before the tax sale, it can’t do so after the tax sale. This reasoning for this is that the tax deed purchaser, not the delinquent taxpayer, is liable for post-tax sale property taxes.

What about a situation in which post-tax sale property taxes accrue before the tax deed purchaser has barred the right of redemption? In this situation, the delinquent taxpayer still has possession and the tax deed purchaser doesn’t have full title. Is the delinquent taxpayer jointly liable with the tax deed purchaser? According to the Downing case, the answer is no.  Only the tax deed purchaser is liable for post-tax sale property taxes; this is regardless of whether the right to redeem has been barred.

Discovery From Third-Parties

Once a lawsuit is filed, there is a period of discovery in which the parties exchange evidence and take depositions. In almost every case, there is tension in regard to what must be disclosed to the other side. Georgia law says that parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action, whether it relates to the claim or defense of the party seeking discovery. It is not grounds for objection that the information sought will be inadmissible at the trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

What does this mean? Well, it means that most anything that is or may become an issue in the litigation must be disclosed. The same rationale applies to discovery to a third-party (i.e., a party that is not named in the lawsuit). The way this is applied, as a practical matter, is that the court will look at issue in dispute and decide whether the information or documents sought are relevant or likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. This is a liberal standard but there must be some connection between the evidence sought and a dispute in the lawsuit.

Food Poisoning in Georgia

In a big victory for parties injured by contaminated or defective food, the Georgia Supreme Court made it significantly easier for food poisoning victims to recover for their injuries. See Patterson v. Kevon, No. S17G1957. Up until this recent decision, a food poisoning victim was required to submit direct evidence of the defectiveness of the food and was only allowed to submit circumstantial evidence if every other reasonable hypothesis as to the cause of the illness was excluded by the evidence.

What this meant in plain English is that, in most instances, an injured party could make a recovery only if they had the actual food item and if the food item was tested in a lab. This was an unrealistic standard because food poisoning symptoms typically appear several hours after consuming the food. And many times, several days pass before symptoms are connected with the defective food. By that time, the food item is long gone.

The facts of the case were, several days after eating BBQ at a wedding, the victim and another guest were diagnosed with salmonella. In addition, 17 other guests had become ill with similar symptoms. Prior to the current ruling, the BBQ caterer would have been able to successfully argue that because the injured party didn’t have the food item to present as evidence (direct evidence), the injured party would lose. This is because the salmonella, in theory, could have been ingested during another meal.

The new decision says that circumstantial evidence, by itself, is enough. Thus, although the victim couldn’t produce a food item that tested positive for salmonella, he had testimony from 19 people attending the wedding, all who suffered salmonella symptoms in the days following the wedding. Even though this was only circumstantial evidence of his injury, it was enough for the injured party to present his case to a jury.

Slip and Fall in a Parking Lot

Who is responsible when you’re injured in a shopping center parking lot. Is it the store you were shopping in? Is it the owner of the shopping center? Or, is it both? These were the issues decided in a recent Georgia appellate case. See Boyd v. Big Lots Stores, Inc., 18A1140 (July 31, 2018).

In what is likely one of his last opinions, Judge Andrews, writing for the court, predictably sides against the injury party. Judge Andrews is retiring from the bench, and for attorneys who represent injured parties, it can’t come soon enough. While Judge Andrews authors intelligent, articulate opinions, he typically sides with businesses and insurance companies.

With regard to parking lot injuries, the general rule is that a business must keep its premises and approaches safe for its customers. This includes protecting its customers from known dangerous conditions in the parking lot. In the Big Lots case, the customer was injured 45-feet away way from the store entrance. The Court of Appeals explained that an “approach” to a premises refers to property that is within the last few steps taken by the customer, as opposed to mere pedestrians. More specifically, an approach “is that property directly contiguous, adjacent to, and touching those entryways to [the] premises under the control of an owner or occupier of land, through which the owner or occupier, by express or implied invitation, has induced or led others to come upon his premises for any lawful purpose, and through which such owner or occupier could foresee a reasonable invitee would find it necessary or convenient to traverse while entering or exiting in the course of the business for which the invitation was extended.”

In Big Lots, the customer exited the store, walked across a sidewalk, and continued away from the store into the parking lot. The Court decided she was no longer within the store’s “approach” when she slipped and fell because the area was not adjacent to or touching the entry/exit of the store.

Although Big Lots got out of the case, all was not lost for the injured party as she still has a claim against the owner of the shopping center for her injuries.

Venue In An Uninsured Motorist Lawsuit

The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that an uninsured motorist lawsuit against a known defendant and an unknown defendant can be brought in the county where the accident occurred. Carpenter v. McMann et al., S17G1894 (8/2/18).

The Georgia Constitution says, generally, that lawsuits must be filed in the county in which the responsible party resides. But, it also says that if there are two or more responsible parties who reside in different counties, the lawsuit can be filed in either of the defendants’ “home” counties.

In Carpenter, one of the (alleged) responsible parties left the scene of the collision and was therefore unknown. Lawyers and the courts label these unknown parties as “John or Jane Does.” Under Georgia uninsured motorist law, a lawsuit against a John or Jane Doe can be brought in the county where the collision occurred. What is a little unusual in Carpenter is there was one known defendant and one unknown defendant.

The question before the Georgia Supreme Court was whether the lawsuit should have been filed in the county where the known defendant resided instead of where the collision occurred. Reading the Georgia constitution and relevant statutory provisions together, the Court found that the plain language of drafted by the Georgia legislature permitted the injured party to choose the county where the collision occurred (via the unknown driver) and not the county where the known driver resided.