Sisson v. Douglas County School Dist., 73425

Decision Date01 December 1986
Docket NumberNo. 73425,73425
Citation181 Ga.App. 77,351 S.E.2d 272
Parties, 36 Ed. Law Rep. 998 SISSON v. DOUGLAS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT et al.
CourtGeorgia Court of Appeals

Charles M. Gisler, Jonesboro, for appellant.

G. Randall Moody, Arthur H. Glaser, Atlanta, for appellees.

BIRDSONG, Presiding Judge.

Rodney Sisson, plaintiff below, brings this appeal from the grant of summary judgment to defendants, the Douglas County School District and Charles Warnock, the principal of the Lithia Springs High School. Sisson, a student at Lithia Springs High School, entered the school on the morning of November 7, 1982, through the gymnasium entrance. It had been raining and was misting at the time Sisson entered the building. Sisson saw water running down the walkway to the building entrance and after entering the building saw a large puddle of water just inside the entranceway. There was no mat and the floor was made of concrete or tile. He remembered that his shoes "squeeked [sic] all the way across, my shoes were screaching [sic]." He was carrying a school project in one hand. When he came to the top of the stairs leading down, he slipped and fell on the top step and bounced on his back all the way to the bottom. He was severely injured in the fall, and required hospitalization and surgery.

He brought his complaint against the School District and the school principal alleging defendants breached their duty to warn him of the hazard, failed to provide mats or other means for students to clean and dry their feet on days with inclement weather, failed to install a handrail on the flight of stairs down which plaintiff fell, and failed to correct this dangerous condition in total disregard of his safety, so as to constitute wilful and wanton conduct on the part of defendants. Plaintiff also alleged that defendants "conspired to cause, or assisted in causing, plaintiff to attend Lithia Springs High School under color of law" and "by their lack of action, violated plaintiff's constitutional rights to life and pursuit of happiness by reducing his mobility and earning ability due to injuries sustained through defendants' wilful and wanton disregard of his health and well-being and total negligence of their duties" and subjected themselves to liability under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. Following discovery, defendants filed for and were granted summary judgment. Plaintiff brings this appeal. Held:

1. Plaintiff contends the trial court erred "in holding that there was no evidence of defendants' wilful and wanton actions and that therefore sovereign immunity shielded the defendants...."

The doctrine of sovereign immunity is recognized in this state (Crowder v. Dept. of State Parks, 228 Ga. 436(1), 185 S.E.2d 908) and it applies to political subdivisions of the state, including counties (Miree v. United States, 242 Ga. 126(1), 249 S.E.2d 573) and boards of education (Sheley v. Bd. of Public Education, 233 Ga. 487, 212 S.E.2d 627). The operation of a school is a governmental function and the care and control of school property is the responsibility of the local school board. Hennessy v. Webb, 245 Ga. 329, 330, 264 S.E.2d 878.

There is no question of governmental immunity of the board of education but there can be an issue as to whether such immunity extends to an agent of the board carrying out its duties in exercising custody and control over the school premises. Id. at 330, 264 S.E.2d 878. At common law public officers were held personally liable for their torts but a different rule prevails where an officer or agent of the state is sued in his official capacity or where such officers or agents are sued for acting in areas where they are vested with discretion and are empowered to exercise their judgment in matters within the scope of their authority. Id. at 330, 264 S.E.2d 878.

"It is a well-established principle that a public official who fails to perform purely ministerial duties required by law is subject to an action for damages by one who is injured by his omission. However, it is equally well established that where an officer is invested with discretion and is empowered to exercise his judgment in matters brought before him, he is sometimes called a quasi-judicial officer, and when so acting he is usually given immunity from liability to persons who may be injured as the result of an erroneous decision; provided the acts complained of are done within the scope of the officer's authority, and without wilfulness, malice, or corruption." Partain v. Maddox, 131 Ga.App. 778, 781-782, 206 S.E.2d 618. Where public officials "are acting within the scope of their duties and exercising a discretionary power, the courts are not warranted in interfering, unless fraud or corruption is shown, or the power or discretion is being manifestly abused to the oppression of the citizen." City of Atlanta v. Holliday, 96 Ga. 546(1), 23 S.E. 509. Such discretionary acts "lie midway between judicial and ministerial ones ... and the question depends on the character of the act. If the act done for which recovery is sought is judicial or quasi-judicial in its nature, the officer acting is exempt from liability." Hennessy, supra 245 Ga. at 331, 264 S.E.2d 878; accord: Nelson v. Spalding County, 249 Ga. 334, 336, 290 S.E.2d 915.

The facts of the instant action allege that the principal and the school board allowed a condition to exist, under the supervision of the principal, and that he failed to use sound judgment to remedy the situation which they considered to be a hazardous condition. Therefore, the act or failure to act was discretionary. Hennessy, supra 245 Ga. at 332, 264 S.E.2d 878. In the exercise of discretionary duties, the doctrine of sovereign immunity acts to shield the defendants in the absence of evidence that such acts were wilful, malicious, or corrupt. Nelson, supra 249 Ga. at 337, 290 S.E.2d 915. In this case, there is a total absence of any evidence that the acts, or failure to act by the principal were wilful, malicious, or corrupt. Truelove v. Wilson, 159 Ga.App. 906(4), 285 S.E.2d 556; Holloway v. Dougherty County School System, 157 Ga.App. 251, 277 S.E.2d 251.

2. Plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to defendants on his "claim under 42 USCA § 1983," which provides in pertinent part: "Every person who, under color of any ...

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11 cases
  • Thompson v. Spikes
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Georgia
    • June 22, 1987
    ...150 Ga.App. 326, 257 S.E.2d 315 (1979). The Supreme Court's decision in Hennessy has been followed in Sisson v. Douglas County School District, 181 Ga. App. 77, 351 S.E.2d 272 (1986), and Holloway v. Rogers, 181 Ga.App. 11, 351 S.E.2d 240 24 Certain acts performed by wardens, for example, h......
  • Vann v. DeKalb County Bd. of Tax Assessors
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • January 20, 1988
    ...or nonuniform imposition of ad valorem taxation. Backus, supra 236 Ga. at 506, 224 S.E.2d 370; c.f., Sisson v. Douglas County School Dist., 181 Ga.App. 77, 80, 351 S.E.2d 272 (the legislature provided due process of law in its consideration of potential claims during enactment of the state'......
  • Gulf Life Ins. Co. v. Brown
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • December 1, 1986
  • Coffee County School Dist. v. Snipes
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • January 30, 1995
    ...and county school districts. Thigpen v. McDuffie County Bd. of Ed., 255 Ga. 59, 335 S.E.2d 112 (1985); Sisson v. Douglas County School Dist., 181 Ga.App. 77, 78, 351 S.E.2d 272 (1986). Since the 1991 amendment was proposed and ratified with full knowledge of the construction placed upon the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Local Government and Constitutional Torts: in the Georgia Courts - R. Perry Sentell, Jr.
    • United States
    • Mercer University School of Law Mercer Law Reviews No. 49-1, September 1997
    • Invalid date
    ...108. Id. The court thus affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the county. Id., 356 S.E.2d at 554. 109. 181 Ga. App. 77, 351 S.E.2d 272 (1986). 110. Id. at 77-78, 351 S.E.2d at 272-73. Plaintiff alleged various acts and failures to act resulting in his fall on a ra......

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