Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia

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Drummond Financial Services, LLC and TMX Finance Holdings, Inc. were competitors in the automobile title loan business. Both companies were based in Georgia, with TMX doing business as “TitleMax.” In 2014, Drummond and several of its affiliated companies filed a lawsuit against TitleMax and several of its affiliated companies, alleging that TitleMax was “engaged in a nationwide campaign to systematically and illegally steal [Drummond’s] customers.” Based on these allegations, Drummond asserted claims against TitleMax under the laws of Georgia and various other states for trespass, misappropriation of trade secrets, tortious interference with contracts, and unfair competition. Drummond filed a motion for a nationwide interlocutory injunction to prevent TitleMax from continuing to engage in practices that Drummond alleged were tortious and illegal. Following a hearing, the trial court granted a nationwide interlocutory injunction that prohibited TitleMax from “[e]ntering any of [Drummond’s] [s]tores or the parking lots [or certain portions of the parking lots] of [Drummond’s] [s]tores” to solicit Drummond customers or to record their license plate numbers or vehicle identification numbers (other than for purposes permitted by the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act). In addition, the injunction prohibited TitleMax from offering compensation to Drummond employees to refer Drummond customers to TitleMax. TitleMax appealed. Those aspects of the injunction appeared to the Georgia Supreme Court to have been based on the claims for trespass and misappropriation of trade secrets, but the laws of trespass and trade secrets (at least in Georgia) did not support the scope of the injunction. Accordingly, the Court vacated the injunction in those respects, and remanded for the trial court to reconsider the scope of its injunction. To the extent that the parties on remand might rely on law that varies significantly from state to state, the Court reminded them that activities in one state are not due to be enjoined simply because they might be unlawful if done in another state. View "TMX Financial Holdings, Inc. v. Drummond Financial Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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In cases consolidated for review, the issues presented for the Supreme Court involved the scope of the State’s authority to regulate so-called “payday loans” pursuant to OCGA 16-17-1, et seq., known as the Payday Lending Act. Pursuant to the statute, the State filed suit alleging that CashCall, Inc. (“CashCall”), Delbert Services Corporation (“Delbert Services”), Western Sky Financial, LLC (“Western Sky”), and Martin A. Webb (collectively “Defendants”) violated OCGA 16-17-2 (a) by engaging in a small-dollar lending enterprise that collected illegal usurious interest from Georgia borrowers. Defendants operated outside the State of Georgia and their dealings with Georgia borrowers occurred telephonically or over the Internet, and when a loan is funded, the funds are transferred to the borrower via electronic transfer to the borrower’s bank account. The State sought civil penalties and injunctive and other equitable relief. Defendants filed motions to compel arbitration and to dismiss the action. The trial court referred the case to a special master who recommended the case be dismissed, but the trial court rejected the special master’s recommendation and denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding that the State’s claim was not barred by the language of OCGA 16-17-1 (d). Because the trial court found a substantial likelihood that the State would prevail on the merits of the claim at trial, and found a substantial threat existed that the State would suffer irreparable injury in that there might not be sufficient funds available to satisfy a judgment should the State prevail at trial, the trial court ordered Defendants to deposit a $15 million sum into the court’s registry and to make quarterly deposits of any additional amounts that could be collected from Georgia borrowers in the future. The trial court, however, agreed to stay the granted relief during an appeal, upon the Defendants’ deposit of an additional $1 million into the escrow account created following entry of the consent order requiring the deposit of $200,000. In a separate order, the trial court denied the State’s motion to add as defendants J. Paul Reddam and WS Funding, LLC (“WS Funding”). Defendants filed a notice of appeal and the State filed a notice of cross-appeal. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the order denying Defendants’ motion to dismiss, affirmed the modification of the injunction order, and reversed the order denying the State’s motion to add defendants. View "Western Sky Financial, LLC v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review arose from a deficiency action brought by appellant SunTrust Bank (“SunTrust”) as the assignee under a motor vehicle conditional sales contract following its repossession and sale of a motor vehicle purchased by appellee Mattie Venable. Specifically, the issue was which statute of limitations applied here: the four-year statute of limitation set forth in OCGA 11-2-725 (1) applicable to actions on contracts for the sale of goods, or the six-year statute of limitation found in OCGA 9-3-24, generally applicable to actions on simple written contracts. After review, the Court concluded that this action was subject to the four-year statute of limitation found in 11-2-725 (1). View "SunTrust Bank v. Venable" on Justia Law

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A mandatory arbitration clause is contained in each deposit agreement for customers of appellee SunTrust Bank. The clause permits an individual depositor to reject the agreement’s mandatory arbitration clause by giving written notice by a certain deadline. SunTrust claimed it drafted the arbitration clause in such a way that only an individual depositor may exercise this right to reject arbitration on his or her own behalf, thereby permitting that individual to file only an individual lawsuit against the bank. But SunTrust asserted that even if, as it has been determined here, the filing of a lawsuit prior to the expiration of the rejection of arbitration deadline operated to give notice of the individual plaintiff’s rejection of arbitration, the complaint could not be brought as a class action because the filing of a class action could not serve to reject the arbitration clause on behalf of class members who have not individually given notice. Jeff Bickerstaff, Jr., who was a SunTrust Bank depositor, filed a complaint against SunTrust on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated alleging the bank’s overdraft fee constitutes the charging of usurious interest. At the time Bickerstaff opened his account (thereby agreeing to the terms of SunTrust’s deposit agreement), that agreement included a mandatory arbitration provision. In response to the ruling of a federal court in an unrelated action finding the arbitration clause in SunTrust’s deposit agreement was unconscionable at Georgia law, and after Bickerstaff’s complaint had been filed, SunTrust amended the arbitration clause to permit a window of time in which a depositor could reject arbitration by sending SunTrust written notification that complied with certain requirements. SunTrust had not notified Bickerstaff or its other customers of this change in the arbitration clause of the deposit agreement at the time Bickerstaff filed his complaint, but the complaint, as well as the first amendment to the complaint, was filed prior to the amendment’s deadline for giving SunTrust written notice of an election to reject arbitration. It was only after Bickerstaff’s complaint was filed that SunTrust notified Bickerstaff and its other existing depositors, by language printed in monthly account statements distributed on August 24, 2010, that an updated version of the deposit agreement had been adopted, that a copy of the new agreement could be obtained at any branch office or on-line, and that all future transactions would be governed by the updated agreement. SunTrust appealed the order denying its motion to compel Bickerstaff to arbitrate his claim, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, finding that the information contained in the complaint filed by Bickerstaff’s attorney substantially satisfied the notice required to reject arbitration. Bickerstaff appealed the order denying his motion for class certification, and in the same opinion the Court of Appeals affirmed that decision, holding in essence, that the contractual language in this case requiring individual notification of the decision to reject arbitration did not permit Bickerstaff to reject the deposit agreement’s arbitration clause on behalf of other putative class members by virtue of the filing of his class action complaint. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed that decision, holding that the terms of the arbitration rejection provision of SunTrust’s deposit agreement did not prevent Bickerstaff’s class action complaint from tolling the contractual limitation for rejecting that provision on behalf of all putative class members until such time as the class may be certified and each member makes the election to opt out or remain in the class. Accordingly, the numerosity requirement of OCGA 9-11-23 (a) (1) for pursuing a class complaint was not defeated on this ground. View "Bickerstaff v. SunTrust Bank" on Justia Law