Mayor & City Council of Richmond Hill v. Maia

Citation784 S.E.2d 894,336 Ga.App. 555
Decision Date30 March 2016
Docket NumberNo. A15A2334.,A15A2334.
CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)

336 Ga.App. 555
784 S.E.2d 894


No. A15A2334.

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

March 30, 2016.

784 S.E.2d 896

Patrick T. O'Connor, Benjamin Mason Perkins, Savannah, Ray Chandlar Smith, for Appellant.

Carl Robert Varnedoe, Hinesville, for Appellee.

ELLINGTON, Presiding Judge.

This appeal arises from an action by Laura Lane Maia, following the death by suicide of her daughter, Sydney Sanders, against the Mayor and City Council of the City of Richmond Hill (collectively, the "City") and Douglas Sahlberg, in his individual and official capacities, seeking compensatory and punitive damages for wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and for the deceased's pain and suffering.1 Following our grant of their application for interlocutory appeal, the appellants appeal from the trial court's denial of their motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

A party is entitled to summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. OCGA § 9–11–56(c). On appeal from the grant [or denial] of summary judgment, we construe the evidence most favorably towards the nonmoving party, who is given the benefit of all reasonable doubts and possible inferences. The party opposing summary judgment is not required to produce evidence demanding judgment for it, but is only required to present evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact. Our review
784 S.E.2d 897
of the grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment is de novo.

(Citations and punctuation omitted) Johnson v. Omondi, 294 Ga. 74, 75–76, 751 S.E.2d 288 (2013).

Viewed in a light most favorable to Maia as the nonmoving party, the evidence shows that on February 14, 2011, Maia's then 14–year–old daughter, Sydney Sanders, attempted suicide by cutting her neck and stabbing her chest and abdomen. Sahlberg and Dana Strickland, officers with the Richmond Hill Police Department ("RHPD"), responded to the hospital to investigate. Strickland photographed Sanders's injuries.2

Sanders remained hospitalized until February 23, 2011. While Sanders was in the hospital, news of her suicide attempt spread at her high school. According to Sanders's boyfriend, H.H., "everybody knew after a couple days what happened." On the day Sanders was released from the hospital, she met with friends and told them that they had one opportunity to ask her about the incident, but that she did not want to discuss it after that. Sanders disclosed to her friends that she had cut herself in her neck, abdomen, and chest.

On or about February 26, 2011, Sahlberg's daughter, K.S., who attended school with Sanders, expressed concern to her father about why someone like Sanders would attempt to commit suicide. As the conversation progressed, he became concerned that his daughter did not appreciate the serious nature of suicide. Sahlberg then logged into his password-protected work computer and showed K.S. the photographs that Strickland had taken of Sanders's injuries. Sahlberg deposed that he did not print the photographs of Sanders's injuries for his daughter, that he did not allow his daughter to copy, disseminate, or possess the photographs, and that he did not disseminate the photographs to anyone else.

One of Sanders's classmates deposed that on either February 28 or March 1, 2011, K.S. showed her a photograph of the injury to Sanders's breast and a photograph of the injury to Sanders's abdomen, and that at least two other classmates were present when the photographs were shown. A second classmate of Sanders averred that K.S. "pulled out her phone and showed [her and another girl] a picture of [Sanders's] cut on her [breast]." After her return to school the week of February 28, 2011, Sanders learned that K.S. had been showing photographs of her injuries. After Sanders found out that the photographs had been displayed at school, Maia saw that Sanders was "mortified" and "screaming and yelling and gasping for breath and crying[.]"

On April 1, 2011, Strickland learned that Sahlberg had shown the photographs of Sanders's injuries to K.S., and that K.S. had told others about the photographs. Strickland informed Sahlberg that he had violated RHPD policy in disclosing the photographs. That policy, entitled "Duty to Refrain from Disclosing any Information Relating to Police Activities," provided that "[d]iscussion of the operations and official business of the department ... which is of a confidential nature without the permission of a supervisor is prohibited." Sahlberg acknowledged his violation and Strickland counseled him to "reflect on how disseminating confidential information can affect the victims and this department." Sahlberg was disciplined for the infraction.

On the afternoon of April 5, 2011, RHPD officers responded to a report of a suspicious person at Sanders's home. Police discovered that H.H. was in the house with Sanders, who had stayed home from school that day. Maia received word of the incident and returned home, where she declined the officers' request to press charges against H.H. Maia then took Sanders to her high school to meet with H.H. and his mother, who was the assistant principal.

According to Maia, during the ride to the school, Sanders expressed, "[w]hat more can they do to me[?] Great. The police have been at the house and now what are they going to do and say[?]" Sanders also told Maia on that day that she was upset about how the police had talked to her and belittled her, and Sanders said, "they've showed the

784 S.E.2d 898

pictures, now what are they going to do to me[?] What more can they do to me[?]"

At the meeting at Sanders's school, Maia and H.H.'s mother decided that Sanders and H.H. should not see each other outside of school. Maia then took Sanders to see Sanders's coach and mentor, Angie Hummeldorf. Sanders stated in front of the two adults that "she didn't want to be here anymore," and wished her suicide attempt had been successful, after which Maia stepped out of the room, and Hummeldorf and Sanders discussed why Sanders felt that way. Hummeldorf testified that, after she asked Sanders why she would want to take her life, Sanders "just kind of went on a rampage." Sanders informed Hummeldorf of several frustrations, which included the photographs and that "those pictures are going around." During the conversation, Sanders also said that her mother was disappointed in her, that girls were gossiping about her, and she mentioned her problems with her sister and H.H. After the discussion, Hummeldorf told Maia that Sanders "wasn't doing so good" and should not be left alone.

Maia and Sanders then drove to Maia's workplace, after which Maia dropped Sanders off at Sanders's friends' house at approximately 4:00 p.m. Another friend picked Sanders up between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. The two talked for about 30 to 45 minutes, after which the friend dropped Sanders off at Sanders's house. After her friend left, at 7:49 p.m. Sanders spoke with Maia, who was still at work, on the phone. Maia was not concerned that Sanders was then about to harm herself. When Maia returned home at approximately 8:45 p.m. she discovered that Sanders had committed suicide by hanging.

1. As a threshold issue with respect to the liability of the City and of Sahlberg, in his official capacity, we consider the appellants' contention that the ante litem notice was deficient other than for the claim for wrongful death, and that the City and Sahlberg, in his official capacity, were consequently entitled to summary judgment on Maia's claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and Sander's pre-death pain and suffering (also known as a survival claim).3 As to Maia's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the complaint alleged that the publication of the photographs was intentional or reckless, extreme and outrageous, and caused Maia, personally, severe emotional distress. Maia's claims for invasion of privacy and Sanders's pre-death pain and suffering alleged injuries to Sanders caused by the alleged breach of duty by Sahlberg in the distribution of the photographs.

Ante litem notice, as contemplated under OCGA § 36–33–5, is a prerequisite to filing suit against a municipality. The ante litem notice requirement also applies to claims against municipal employees in their official capacity. See Conley v. Dawson, 257 Ga.App. 665, 667(1), 572 S.E.2d 34 (2002). OCGA § 36–33–5(b)provides:

Within six months of the happening of the event upon which a claim against a municipal corporation is predicated, the person, firm, or corporation having the claim shall present the claim in writing to the governing authority of the municipal corporation for adjustment, stating the time, place, and extent of the injury, as nearly as practicable, and the negligence which caused the injury. No action shall be entertained by the courts against the municipal corporation until the cause of action therein has first been presented to the governing authority for adjustment.

Substantial compliance with the statutory provisions is all that is required. See Owens v. City of...

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  • King v. State, A15A1878.
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • 30 Marzo 2016
  • City of Richmond v. Maia
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 30 Mayo 2017
    ...motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of summary judgment in a plurality decision. See Mayor of City of Richmond Hill et al. v. Maia , 336 Ga.App. 555 (2), 784 S.E.2d 894 (2016). We granted certiorari to review division (2) of the decision below; for the reasons discussed herein,......
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    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • 6 Marzo 2017
    ...applies to claims other than negligence claims, they are overruled. See, e.g., Mayor & City Council of City of Richmond Hill v. Maia, 336 Ga.App. 555 (1), 784 S.E.2d 894 (2016), cert. granted (Oct. 17, 2016) (holding the statute applicable to intentional infliction of emotional distress and......
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