Casemetrix, LLC v. Sherpa Web Studios, Inc., A19A2072

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
Writing for the CourtHodges, Judge.
Citation839 S.E.2d 256,353 Ga.App. 768
Docket NumberA19A2072
Decision Date20 February 2020
Parties CASEMETRIX, LLC v. SHERPA WEB STUDIOS, INC.

353 Ga.App. 768
839 S.E.2d 256

CASEMETRIX, LLC
v.
SHERPA WEB STUDIOS, INC.

A19A2072

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

February 20, 2020


839 S.E.2d 257

William Gordon Leonard, Atlanta, for Appellant.

Allan Levin, Christopher John Pet York, Norcross, for Appellee.

Hodges, Judge.

353 Ga.App. 768

This case concerns the validity of an offer made pursuant to Georgia’s offer of settlement statute, OCGA § 9-11-68. CaseMetrix, LLC filed suit against its web host, Sherpa Web Studios, Inc., asserting both a negligence and a breach of contract claim. Sherpa made an offer to settle the lawsuit, which CaseMetrix rejected. When CaseMetrix obtained a verdict of less than 75 percent of the rejected offer, Sherpa sought and was awarded attorney fees against CaseMetrix pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-68.1 CaseMetrix appeals, contending the trial court erred by (1) finding the offer was properly limited to tort claims; (2) awarding Sherpa half of the fees it requested when there was no evidence to support such an allocation; and (3) finding that inclusion of a confidentiality provision in the settlement offer was relevant to the settlement and did not invalidate the offer. Because Sherpa’s offer was internally inconsistent, and therefore ambiguous, about the claims to which it applied, we find that the offer was invalid and reverse the award of attorney fees to Sherpa.

"At the outset, we note that the interpretation of a statute is a question of law, which is reviewed de novo on appeal. Indeed, when only a question of law is at issue, as here, we owe no deference to the

353 Ga.App. 769

trial court’s ruling and apply the plain legal error standard of review." (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Harris v. Mahone , 340 Ga. App. 415, 417 (1), 797 S.E.2d 688 (2017).2

839 S.E.2d 258

So viewed, the record shows that CaseMetrix creates and maintains searchable databases of settlements and judgments for motor vehicle and premises liability claims in multiple states. CaseMetrix was in the process of developing a similar database for worker’s compensation claims. Sherpa provided web hosting services to CaseMetrix for all of these databases. Sherpa moved these databases to a new web hosting service and, according to CaseMetrix, did not properly migrate the worker’s compensation database or maintain a backup of the information contained in the database.

As a result, CaseMetrix sued Sherpa seeking damages in excess of $4.1 million. Specifically, CaseMetrix alleged that Sherpa was negligent because it had an affirmative duty to protect CaseMetrix’s data and that Sherpa failed to act with the level of care of an ordinarily prudent record custodian in failing to properly migrate the worker’s compensation database or back up its data. CaseMetrix also alleged that Sherpa breached the contract between the parties.

Prior to trial, Sherpa made an offer of settlement which provided, in relevant part, as follows:

1.

This Offer of Settlement is made pursuant to O.C.G.A § 9-11-68.

...

4.

This proposal attempts to resolve all pending claims of Plaintiff in the above-styled action, arising out of claims sounding in tort for lost data relating to a Workers’ Compensation database.
353 Ga.App. 770
5.

This Offer of Settlement is to resolve all claims of Plaintiff for the sum of Thirty Thousand Dollars and 00/100 Cents ($30,000.00).

6.

The relevant conditions of this offer are as follows:

...

6) Upon receipt of the funds, Plaintiff shall file a Settlement, Satisfaction, and Dismissal with Prejudice as to all of Plaintiff’s claims ;

7) The amount of the settlement shall be confidential. (Emphasis supplied.) CaseMetrix did not accept this offer, and the case went to trial. The jury found in favor of CaseMetrix; however, it only awarded $6,269.00 on the tort claim and nothing on the contract claim. Further, the jury found CaseMetrix to be 46 percent at fault for its own harm, and thus the total award to CaseMetrix was reduced to $3,385.26.

Following trial, Sherpa moved for attorney fees pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-68, which the trial court granted after reducing Sherpa’s fees to half of those requested. CaseMetrix now appeals.

1. CaseMetrix first contends that the trial court erred in finding that the settlement offer was properly limited to its tort claim. Because we find the offer to be ambiguous as to the scope of the claims encompassed by it, we agree.

Our resolution of this case requires us to interpret OCGA § 9-11-68. In doing so, we keep in mind that

when interpreting any statute, we necessarily begin our analysis with familiar and binding canons of construction. In considering the meaning of a statute, our charge as an appellate court is to presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant. Toward that end, we must afford the statutory text its plain and ordinary meaning, consider the text contextually, read the text in its most natural and reasonable way, as an ordinary speaker of the English language would, and seek to avoid a construction that makes some language mere
...

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4 practice notes
  • Eichenblatt v. Piedmont/Maple, LLC, A20A2052
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • January 29, 2021
    ...supplied.) OCGA § 9-11-68 (a). Pursuant to this Court's decision in 854 S.E.2d 577 CaseMetrix, LLC v. Sherpa Web Studios , 353 Ga. App. 768, 770-773 (1), 839 S.E.2d 256 (2020), appellees’ offer was unenforceable under OCGA § 9-11-68 (a). As this Court stated in CaseMetrix ,the law applies t......
  • Junior v. Graham, A20A1188
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • October 28, 2020
    ...affirmed. McFadden, C. J., and Hodges, J., concur.--------Notes:1 (Punctuation omitted.) CaseMetrix, LLC v. Sherpa Web Studios, Inc. , 353 Ga. App. 768, 839 S.E.2d 256 (2020), quoting Harris v. Mahone , 340 Ga. App. 415, 417 (1), 797 S.E.2d 688 (2017).2 See OCGA § 9-11-68 (c).3 Graham also ......
  • Sivonda v. State, A19A1979
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • February 20, 2020
    ...contain their makers’ assertions of purported truths, are ascribed evidentiary value only to the extent that their makers are credible.839 S.E.2d 256 Bryant v. State , 270 Ga. 266, 270-271 (3), 507 S.E.2d 451 (1998) (footnotes and punctuation omitted)."However, harm as well as error must be......
  • Junior v. Graham, A20A1188
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • October 28, 2020
    ...affirmed. McFadden, C. J., and Hodges, J., concur.--------Notes:1 (Punctuation omitted.) CaseMetrix, LLC v. Sherpa Web Studios, Inc. , 353 Ga. App. 768, 839 S.E.2d 256 (2020), quoting Harris v. Mahone , 340 Ga. App. 415, 417 (1), 797 S.E.2d 688 (2017).2 See OCGA § 9-11-68 (c).3 Graham also ......
4 cases
  • Eichenblatt v. Piedmont/Maple, LLC, A20A2052
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • January 29, 2021
    ...supplied.) OCGA § 9-11-68 (a). Pursuant to this Court's decision in 854 S.E.2d 577 CaseMetrix, LLC v. Sherpa Web Studios , 353 Ga. App. 768, 770-773 (1), 839 S.E.2d 256 (2020), appellees’ offer was unenforceable under OCGA § 9-11-68 (a). As this Court stated in CaseMetrix ,the law applies t......
  • Junior v. Graham, A20A1188
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • October 28, 2020
    ...affirmed. McFadden, C. J., and Hodges, J., concur.--------Notes:1 (Punctuation omitted.) CaseMetrix, LLC v. Sherpa Web Studios, Inc. , 353 Ga. App. 768, 839 S.E.2d 256 (2020), quoting Harris v. Mahone , 340 Ga. App. 415, 417 (1), 797 S.E.2d 688 (2017).2 See OCGA § 9-11-68 (c).3 Graham also ......
  • Sivonda v. State, A19A1979
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • February 20, 2020
    ...contain their makers’ assertions of purported truths, are ascribed evidentiary value only to the extent that their makers are credible.839 S.E.2d 256 Bryant v. State , 270 Ga. 266, 270-271 (3), 507 S.E.2d 451 (1998) (footnotes and punctuation omitted)."However, harm as well as error must be......
  • Junior v. Graham, A20A1188
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • October 28, 2020
    ...affirmed. McFadden, C. J., and Hodges, J., concur.--------Notes:1 (Punctuation omitted.) CaseMetrix, LLC v. Sherpa Web Studios, Inc. , 353 Ga. App. 768, 839 S.E.2d 256 (2020), quoting Harris v. Mahone , 340 Ga. App. 415, 417 (1), 797 S.E.2d 688 (2017).2 See OCGA § 9-11-68 (c).3 Graham also ......

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