Shelnutt v. Mayor & Aldermen, A18A1667

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Writing for the CourtCoomer, Judge.
Citation826 S.E.2d 379,349 Ga.App. 499
Docket NumberA18A1667
Decision Date14 March 2019
Parties SHELNUTT et al. v. The MAYOR and Aldermen OF the City of SAVANNAH et al.

349 Ga.App. 499
826 S.E.2d 379

SHELNUTT et al.
v.
The MAYOR and Aldermen OF the City of SAVANNAH et al.

A18A1667

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

March 14, 2019


826 S.E.2d 381

Christopher Dorian Britt, Jeremy Springer McKenzie, Savannah, for Appellants

Jennifer Neison Herman, Shawn Anton Kachmar, W. Brooks Stillwell III, David M. Burkoff, Savannah, for Appellees

Coomer, Judge.

349 Ga.App. 499

This is the second appearance of this case before this Court. In Shelnutt v. Mayor (" Shelnutt 1 "), firefighters from the City of Savannah appealed the trial court’s grant of a motion to dismiss and motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Savannah and Stephanie Cutter, the Savannah city manager (collectively, the "City") as to their claims for breach of contract.1 333 Ga. App. 446, 776 S.E.2d 650 (2015). We reversed the trial court’s decision and held, inter alia , that the issue of whether the City breached its contractual obligations to the firefighters could not be resolved at the motion to dismiss or motion for judgment on the pleadings phase. Id . at 452 (2), 776 S.E.2d 650. On remand, the City filed a motion for summary judgment that was granted by the trial court. Now on appeal, the firefighters assert the following three enumerations of error: first, that the pay policy in effect at the time each firefighter was promoted should control; second, that the firefighters promoted prior to March 31, 2008, were not time-barred from pursuing their claims; and lastly, that, at a minimum, a jury question exists as to whether the job description or schedule of allocations controlled when determining the minimum pay grade for the position of fire captain. For the reasons outlined in this opinion, we affirm.

"On appeal from the grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment, we review the evidence de novo, and all reasonable conclusions and inferences drawn from the evidence are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant." McCaskill v. Carillo , 263 Ga. App. 890, 890, 589 S.E.2d 582 (2003) (citations omitted). So viewed, we recite below

349 Ga.App. 500

the facts of Shelnutt 1 as is relevant to this appeal.

Christopher Shelnutt and 49 other firefighters (the "firefighters") from the City of Savannah ... asserted in their ... [c]omplaint that the City’s written Pay Policy created a contract between the City and the firefighters and that the City breached that contract by paying them less than they were owed under the terms of the Pay Policy.

...

The City’s Pay Policy includes provisions outlining changes in compensation for employees when promoted to a higher position, and those provisions have undergone a number of revisions since 1998. From 1998 to November 2009, the Pay Policy provided, in pertinent part, that "an employee promoted to a higher classification shall receive an increase of five percent above his/her current pay," and "when the present rate of the promoted employee is five percent or more below the minimum of the new pay grade, he/she will receive the minimum of the new pay grade." And during the same time period, the Pay Policy also provided that an individual promoted to an "exempt" supervisory position "shall receive an increase of 7.5% above his/her current pay," with the qualification that if "the present rate of the promoted employee is 7.5% or more below the minimum of the new pay grade, he/she will receive the minimum of the new pay grade." As of November 2009, the percentage pay increase for employees "promoted to a higher classification" was raised to ten percent "up to the maximum of the new pay range," and the language providing for a 7.5% pay increase for "exempt" supervisory positions was deleted.

Additionally, as of July 2005, the Pay Policy was amended to include a provision that mandated a one-time promotional pay increase
826 S.E.2d 382
for an employee promoted to a supervisory position, whether exempt or non-exempt, to "a minimum of 5% above the highest paid employee to be supervised at the time of the promotion." This language was removed from the Pay Policy in the November 2, 2009 revision but was reinserted in the September 8, 2013 revision of the Pay Policy.

The Complaint, as amended, alleges that each of the 50 firefighters has received a promotion since 2002 but did not receive the pay increases outlined in the City’s Pay Policy. They assert that Cutter, or her designees, failed to enforce the City’s pay requirements as required by the Pay
349 Ga.App. 501
Policy, but rather "determined pay based on personal favoritism and bias."

Shelnutt , 333 Ga. App. at 446-447, 776 S.E.2d 650 (footnote and punctuation omitted).

This Court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the firefighters' complaint in Shelnutt 1 and held that although the firefighters are in a terminable-at-will employment relationship with the City—and promises of future change in compensation are generally unenforceable—each firefighter "may be able to point to the version of the pay policy in effect at the time he or she was hired and show that it provided for a definite percentage pay increase conditioned on promotion to a supervisory position." Shelnutt , 333 Ga. App. at 451-452 (2), 776 S.E.2d 650. After remittitur, the City filed a motion for summary judgment. Following a hearing, on March 7, 2017, the trial court granted the City’s motion as to the claims of twenty-two of the fifty firefighters for whom there was no pay policy in place at the time they were hired. In that order, the trial court further held that the claims of seven firefighters were also barred because they each received promotions outside the six-year statute of limitations.

On June 15, 2017, the City filed a motion for summary judgment as to the remaining twenty-one firefighters. After a hearing on October 9, 2017, the trial court granted the City’s motion. In its order, the trial court found that for each firefighter promoted, the City complied with the pay policy in effect at the time he or she was hired and was thus entitled to summary judgment on the remaining claims. This appeal followed.

1. The firefighters first contend that the trial court erroneously interpreted this Court’s prior holding in Shelnutt 1 to mean that only the pay policy in effect at the time of a firefighter’s original hire could give rise to enforceable contractual rights. The firefighters assert that the issue of which particular version of the pay policy governs their claims was not an issue before this Court in Shelnutt 1 and thus our reference to any version of the pay policy was dicta. We disagree because as explained further below, for the Court in Shelnutt 1 to determine whether dismissal of the firefighters' claims was authorized, it was necessary for the Court to identify the source of the firefighters' contractual rights— that is, the version of the pay policy from which those rights arose.

As noted above, in Shelnutt 1 , we held that the firefighters were entitled to pursue their breach of contract claims against the City. 333 Ga. App. at 454, 776 S.E.2d 650. This holding was premised on the legal conclusion that at the time the firefighters initiated this litigation, the question of whether each firefighter could assert a contractual claim depended on whether they could demonstrate that the City failed to pay them

349 Ga.App. 502

in accordance with the version of the pay policy in effect at the time he or she was hired. Id . at 451-452 (2), 776 S.E.2d 650. Under OCGA § 9-11-60 (h), "any ruling by the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals in a case shall be...

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4 practice notes
  • Exec. Cars, LLC v. W. Funding Ii, Inc., A18A2076
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 14, 2019
    ...Funding refused to return the Camry to Executive Cars; and that in its complaint, Western Funding denied that Executive Cars was entitled 826 S.E.2d 379to possession of the Camry. Given that Western Funding has not challenged this evidence, Executive Cars is entitled to summary judgment on ......
  • Shields v. RDM, LLC, A20A0465
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • June 5, 2020
    ...Crisp Cty. v. City Cm'rs of the City of Cordele , 315 Ga. App. 696, 699, 727 S.E.2d 524 (2012) ; accord Shelnutt v. Mayor of Savannah , 349 Ga. App. 499, 505 (3), 826 S.E.2d 379 (2019).10 Bd. of Cm'rs of Crisp Cty. , 315 Ga. App. at 699, 727 S.E.2d 524 (punctuation and footnotes omitted); a......
  • Clayton v. Savannah Chatham Metro. Police Dep't, CASE NO. CV415-93
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Georgia)
    • February 5, 2020
    ...be waived by a legislative act of the General Assembly. Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. IX, Sec. II, Par. IX; Shelnutt v. Mayor of Savannah, 349 Ga. App. 499, 505, 826 S.E.2d 379, 384 (Ga. Ct. App. 2019), cert. denied (Nov. 18, 2019); Godfrey v. Ga. Interlocal Risk Mgmt. Agency, 290 Ga. 211, 214, ......
  • Ron D. Beal, P.A. v. Hartford Fire Insurance Company, 20-14854
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • July 13, 2021
    ...or is ascertained." Hamburger v. PFM Capital Mgmt., Inc., 649 S.E.2d 779, 782 (Ga.Ct.App. 2007); see also Shelnutt v. Mayor of Savannah, 826 S.E.2d 379, 384 (Ga.Ct.App. 2019) ("In contract actions the time of the breach controls, not the time the actual damages result or are ascertained.");......
4 cases
  • Exec. Cars, LLC v. W. Funding Ii, Inc., A18A2076
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 14, 2019
    ...Funding refused to return the Camry to Executive Cars; and that in its complaint, Western Funding denied that Executive Cars was entitled 826 S.E.2d 379to possession of the Camry. Given that Western Funding has not challenged this evidence, Executive Cars is entitled to summary judgment on ......
  • Shields v. RDM, LLC, A20A0465
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • June 5, 2020
    ...Crisp Cty. v. City Cm'rs of the City of Cordele , 315 Ga. App. 696, 699, 727 S.E.2d 524 (2012) ; accord Shelnutt v. Mayor of Savannah , 349 Ga. App. 499, 505 (3), 826 S.E.2d 379 (2019).10 Bd. of Cm'rs of Crisp Cty. , 315 Ga. App. at 699, 727 S.E.2d 524 (punctuation and footnotes omitted); a......
  • Clayton v. Savannah Chatham Metro. Police Dep't, CASE NO. CV415-93
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Georgia)
    • February 5, 2020
    ...be waived by a legislative act of the General Assembly. Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. IX, Sec. II, Par. IX; Shelnutt v. Mayor of Savannah, 349 Ga. App. 499, 505, 826 S.E.2d 379, 384 (Ga. Ct. App. 2019), cert. denied (Nov. 18, 2019); Godfrey v. Ga. Interlocal Risk Mgmt. Agency, 290 Ga. 211, 214, ......
  • Ron D. Beal, P.A. v. Hartford Fire Insurance Company, 20-14854
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • July 13, 2021
    ...or is ascertained." Hamburger v. PFM Capital Mgmt., Inc., 649 S.E.2d 779, 782 (Ga.Ct.App. 2007); see also Shelnutt v. Mayor of Savannah, 826 S.E.2d 379, 384 (Ga.Ct.App. 2019) ("In contract actions the time of the breach controls, not the time the actual damages result or are ascertained.");......

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