Hull Barrett Successfully Defends Retailer and Employee

A national retailer and one of its employees recently was sued for malicious prosecution, false arrest and false imprisonment. The case was tried in the State Court of Richmond County in Augusta, Ga. The plaintiffs claimed they had been falsely arrested and imprisoned on shoplifting charges and were seeking more than $300,000 in damages.

George Hall, of Hull Barrett PC, and co-counsel went to trial on behalf of the defendants during the week of Jan. 21, 2020. After three days of trial, the jury returned a complete verdict for both defendants.

Hall has an active trial practice with a concentration in personal injury defense and commercial matters. He has tried more than 120 cases in his career and has served as a mediator and arbitrator in more than 300 cases since 1997.

His practice areas include:

  • Alternative Dispute Resolution, Mediation & Arbitration
  • Business Disputes, Commercial & Securities Litigation
  • Discrimination and Harassment in the Workplace
  • Lease and Real Estate Disputes
  • Products Liability, Personal Injury and Torts
  • Professional Liability Law

To read more about Mr. Hall, go HERE.

 

Hull Barrett Successfully Defends Car Dealership & Bank

A local car dealership and a national bank were sued for revocation of acceptance, breach of warranty, violation of Georgia Fair Business Practice Act and punitive damages.  The case was recently tried in the Superior Court of Columbia County, Georgia.

The Plaintiffs had purchased an expensive vehicle from the local dealership which was financed by the bank.  The Plaintiffs alleged that the vehicle had been wrecked prior to being sold to them and was defective.  The Plaintiffs sought damages in excess of $100,000.00.  George Hall and Jordan Bell tried the case on behalf of the Defendants during the week of February 17, 2020.  At the conclusion of the Plaintiffs’ case, the presiding judge granted a Motion for Directed Verdict on all claims for both Defendants.

Hull Barrett Attorneys Selected in Best Lawyers

AUGUSTA, GA – Hull Barrett PC is proud to announce that thirteen of the firm’s attorneys have been selected for inclusion in the 26th edition of Best Lawyers in America. Davis A. Dunaway was also selected as “Lawyer of The Year” for his work in insurance law. This award is made to only one attorney in a geographic region.

For more than 30 years, Best Lawyers has compiled its lists of outstanding attorneys by conducting extensive peer review surveys in which leading lawyers evaluate their professional peers. If the votes for a lawyer are positive enough for recognition in Best Lawyers, that lawyer must maintain those votes in subsequent polls to remain in each edition. Lawyers are not permitted to pay to participate in or be recognized by Best Lawyers.

The following attorneys from Hull Barrett have been included in the 26th edition of Best Lawyers in America:

  • Neal W. Dickert (appellate practice, mediation)
  • William H. Tucker (real estate law)
  • Patrick J. Rice (bet-the-company litigation, commercial litigation, medical malpractice law – defendants, personal injury litigation – defendants)
  • Davis A. Dunaway (commercial litigation, insurance law)
  • James B. Ellington (employment law – management, litigation – First Amendment, litigation – labor and employment)
  • Mark S. Burgreen (tax law)
  • Robert L. Buchanan Jr. (personal injury litigation-plaintiffs)
  • David E. Hudson (personal injury litigation – defendants , bet-the-company litigation, commercial litigation, first amendment law, litigation – construction, and first amendment – litigation)
  • Darren G. Meadows (environmental law)
  • Rand Hanna III (public finance law and real estate law)
  • Christopher A. Cosper (commercial litigation)
  • George R. Hall (legal malpractice law – defendants, litigation – insurance, personal injury litigation – defendants and professional malpractice law – defendants)
  • William J. Keogh III (commercial litigation and litigation – construction)

Established in 1916 in Augusta and in 1872 in Aiken, Hull Barrett PC serves the entire Central Savannah River Region and beyond. With 27 lawyers plus support staff, the firm aims to provide quality legal representation and service to its clients and the community.

George Hall named Georgia Defense Lawyers Treasurer

George Hall, a defense attorney for Hull Barrett Attorneys, has been elected treasurer of the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association. He has been a member since 1988.
The 900-member Georgia Defense Lawyers Association is a statewide organization for lawyers who specialize in defense litigation. As the treasurer, he is in charge of finances for the organization. In the past year, he was the organization’s secretary and the editor of its journal.
Hall joined Hull Barrett in 1986 after completing law school at the University of South Carolina. He specializes in general civil defense litigation and is a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
“The Georgia Defense Lawyers Association is great because it lets you meet and get exposure to lawyers from all over the state. I have made lots of referral relationships, but even more important, I have made a lot of good friends through the organization,” Hall said.
Originally from Red Springs, N.C., Hall and his wife, Margaret, live in Augusta and have two adult sons.

ROBERT L. BUCHANAN, JR. HAS JOINED HULL BARRETT, PC

 

Hull Barrett, PC is pleased to announce that Robert L. Buchanan, Jr. has joined the firm and has moved his law practice to the firm’s Aiken office.  He will continue to practice in the areas of civil litigation, including personal injury litigation, business litigation, probate and estate litigation, real estate litigation, as well as corporate governance and transactions.

 

A native of Aiken, Mr. Buchanan is a 1973 graduate of Erskine College and a 1976 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law.   Following graduation and his being admitted to the South Carolina Bar, Mr. Buchanan returned to Aiken and joined the former firm of Williams & Johnson.  He later formed Buchanan Law Office, PA where he has continued to practice until joining the Hull Barrett firm.  He has served as a part-time federal Magistrate Judge for the District Courts of South Carolina since 1979.    He is named in the Best Lawyers in America and holds the AV Preeminent Judicial rating by Martindale Hubbell.

 

Mr. Buchanan is an active member of the First Presbyterian Church of Aiken where he has served as a Ruling Elder, Deacon, Trustee, and Church School teacher.  He is a former youth sports coach in the community.  He and his wife, Tookie, are the parents of three adult children, all of whom are living in Aiken.  They have four grandchildren.

 

Hull Barrett, PC, founded in 1872 in Aiken and 1916 in Augusta, provides a full range of legal services to its clients through its offices in Aiken, Augusta, and Evans.

Dated: August 29, 2018

Mitch Snyder selected to Leadership Augusta – Class of 2019

Mitch Snyder has been selected to Leadership Augusta, Class of 2019.

Leadership Augusta is a program of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce. The mission of Leadership Augusta is to inform and inspire existing and emerging leaders of the greater Augusta area to build a stronger community. It’s vision is to  recognize the power that trusted relationships between community leaders bring to the region. They believe in cultivating leaders who will build upon those relationships, collaborate across cultural and economic boundaries, and develop innovative ways for the greater metro Augusta area to thrive, socially and economically.  Congratulations Mitch – we sure know you are a great asset to this team.

Read more about them here: https://www.leadershipaugustaga.com/

George Hall elected as Secretary of the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association

Congratulations! George Hall has been elected as the 2018 Secretary of the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association.

The Georgia Defense Lawyers Association (GDLA) was founded 51 years ago by a group of civil defense attorneys to create a forum for networking outside of the office, courtroom and arbitration table. Initially the GDLA’s focus was social camaraderie and the informal sharing of techniques on the vision of its founders and evolved to offer formal avenues for training, networking and communication. Wishing George all the best in his role with the GDLA.

Supreme Court holds that Government agencies have the discretion to produce most open records exempted documents

In the case of Campaign for Accountability v. Board of Regents, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision on June 18, 2018.  This was a case in which the sponsor of a professor’s academic research at Kennesaw University sued to prohibit disclosure of documents between the University researcher and the sponsor of the research that had to do with the effects of payday loans on the financial health of consumers.  The requester of the background records obviously wanted to see if the professor’s research was swayed because it was financed by the payday loan industry.

The Georgia Court of Appeals sided with the Consumer Credit Research Foundation that sponsored the professor’s research.  The Court of Appeals held that an agency could not release documents covered by an Open Records Act exemption.

However, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals’ interpretation was wrong.  The language that precedes the 50 enumerated exceptions under O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a) states as follows:  “Public disclosure shall not be required for records that are [listed below].”  The Supreme Court rightly held that a common sense understanding is that not “requiring” records to be released is entirely different from “prohibiting” records from being released.

The Court correctly noted that some Open Records Act exemptions specifically state that the documents in question cannot be disclosed.  But for the great majority of the exemptions, an agency is free to permit disclosure of the requested records should it choose to do so.

David Hudson

GPA Counsel

EXCELLENT WEEK OF RESULTS FROM THE GEORGIA COURT OF APPEALS

In four decisions rendered by the Georgia Court of Appeals during the week of March 5, 2018, clients of Hull Barrett obtained excellent outcomes.
One case involved a forest products manufacturing facility that was being sued by neighbors for nuisance, trespass and negligence. The Georgia Court of Appeals held that because the facility had been in existence prior to the construction of the neighbors’ residences, O.C.G.A. § 41-1-7 applied and the neighbors’ claim for nuisance was barred. The claims for negligence and breach of trespass were barred because of an inability of the plaintiffs to show a breach of any standard of care by the defendant in the operation of the facility.
In another case, Hull Barrett represented a company that supplied management services to a local hospital. A physician was terminated during a layoff by the hospital, and she filed suit claiming that her termination was based on her status as a whistleblower who had made complaints about patient referral requirements. The Georgia Court of Appeals exonerated the Hull Barrett client because there was no evidence that the executive who made the decision to terminate the physician had any knowledge of prior complaints she may or may not have made. The client was also absolved for any allegedly slanderous comments made by the executive.
In a third appeal, Hull Barrett represented a family member who brought suit contending that the executor of a deceased family member’s estate had misappropriated estate funds and breached fiduciary duties. At the trial court, Hull Barrett’s client obtained a substantial verdict of $206,000 in compensatory damages, $97,000 in attorney fees, and $12,500 in punitive damages. Upon appellate review, this verdict was upheld in its entirety by the Court of Appeals.
Lastly, the Court of Appeals upheld a verdict in favor of the Augusta Housing Authority, a Hull Barrett client, in a case in which a tenant challenged a dispossessory judgment that had been obtained in the trial court.

Lending a helping Hand for Hurricane Harvey

Red Cross Hurricane Harvey

Hull Barrett is proud to lend a helping hand to the American Red Cross (Augusta Chapter) for their help & support to all of those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Our thoughts will be with Susan Jernigan & her team of volunteers as they head to Texas to assist. Donations are still welcome – see their website for more details.
http://www.redcross.org/

Judge Dickert receives Justice Benham Award

As his nominators say, ” among fellow lawyers, members of the bench and citizens at large, there are a few, if any, who do not admire Neal Dickert for his many exceptional qualities: his kindness and humility; his service to his fellow citizens and his country; his service to his profession; and service to those throughout the community who need a helping hand.” Returning the the Augusta law firm Hull Barrett P.C. in 2008, Neal W. Dickert concentrates his practice in civil litigation, arbitration, and mediation. Dickert served for eleven years as Judge of the Superior Court for the Augusta Judicial Circuit from January 1997 to November 2007 where he presided over civil, criminal, and domestic cases, including over 100 jury trials.Before his judicial service, Dickert practiced for more than twenty years with Hull Towill Norman & Barrett, P.C. from Augusta 1974 to 1996, handling matters in the State and Federal courts of Georgia and South Carolina. A trained mediator since 1994 he has mediated extensively, is listed in The Best Lawyers in America – Mediation and is a Paul C. Harris Fellow of Rotary International.

Judge Dickert received his J.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1974 and was a member of the South Carolina Law Review and Wig and Robe Scholastic Honorary Society. He earned his M.B.A from the University of South Carolina in 1969 and B.A. in Economics from the Wofford College in 1968. Judge Dickert is a U.S. Army veteran who served as First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps from 1969 – 1971  and with the Medical Group Headquarters in Vietnam from July 1970 until July 1971. He received the Bronze Star and Vietnam Service Medal. He was admitted to the South Caroline Bar in 1974 and the Georgia Bar in 1975.

Serving the Community

Dickert has served on the Board of Managers for nine years and as President for one and a half years for the Tuttle-Newton Home that started as an orphanage in 1852 and now serves families and at-risk children by providing scholarships, emergency assistance, and other financial help. He serves as Secretary of the Board of the Augusta Partnership for Children that fosters cooperation among groups serving at risk families and combats teen pregnancies. He and two other lawyers started the Augusta Bar Foundation three years ago which how has an endowment of over $100 000 and has given grants to organizations serving at risk youth. He serves on the Disciplinary Board of the Episcopal Diocese, handling clergy disciplinary issues with the diocese and is a frequent speaker at local public schools and works with Communities in Schools.

Over the years, Dickert has served on the Board of Trustees of the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education for Georgia (Chairman, 2005 -2007), Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia (1986-1990), president of the Augusta Rotary Club (1991-1992) and the Wofford College Alumni Association (President, 1996-1997). He has also served on the Board of Directors of the University of South Carolina Law School Association (1992-1998) and as a Senior Warden of the Church of the Good Shepherd (2004-2007).

Personal Life

Married to the former Floride Clarkson for 47 years, they have one son, Dr. Neal W. Dickert, Jr., an Assistant Professor of Cardiology at the Emory University School of Medicine.

See profile here

 -Published in the 18th Annual Justice Robert Benham Awards for Community Service Reception Program, Feb 28, 2017

Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) of 2016

Trade Secret Misappropriation Recourse and Whistleblower Protection

New Legislation Impacting Business

All businesses have intellectual property and trade secrets.  A company is in business because it is offering something of “value” which can be a number of things from product to process to promotion.  For example, proprietary software, product systems, new product generation, or even client lists.  The loss or misappropriation of such can be devastating to the success and profitability of a company.

In a measure to further protect businesses, the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) of 2016 was signed into law on May 11, 2016 after being unanimously passed in the Senate and ratified in the House. It creates a federal cause of action for trade secret misappropriation.  The central provision of the DTSA will be codified as 18 U.S.C. § 1836(b) and reads:

An owner of a trade secret that is misappropriated may bring a civil action under this subsection if the trade secret is related to a product or service used in, or intended for use in, interstate or foreign commerce.

What this Means

A “trade secret” means “all forms and types of financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information …  if—(A) the owner thereof has taken reasonable measures to keep such information secret; and (B) the information derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable through proper means by, the another person who can obtain economic value from the disclosure or use of the information.”

Misappropriation includes: without permission (A) obtaining a trade secret that was knowingly obtained through improper means or (B) disclosing or using a trade secret with knowledge that either (1) it is a trade secret or (2) it was obtained through improper means. The “improper means” include “theft, bribery, misrepresentation, breach or inducement of a breach of a duty to maintain secrecy, or espionage through electronic or other means.” However, misappropriation does not include “reverse engineering, independent derivation, or any other lawful means of acquisition.”

The DTSA also creates an ex parte seizure procedure for use in extraordinary circumstances where the party against whom the seizure is ordered would “destroy, move, hide, or otherwise make such matter inaccessible to the court, if the applicant were to proceed on notice to such person….”

Protection for Whistleblowers Under DTSA

The DTSA seeks to protect whistleblowers from criminal or civil liability for disclosing a trade secret if the disclosure is made for purpose of reporting a violation of law. Employers have an affirmative duty to provide employees notice of the new immunity provision in “any contract or agreement with employee that governs the use of a trade secret or other confidential information.” Failure to comply means that the employer may not recover exemplary damages or attorney fees in an action brought under the DTSA for theft of trade secrets against an employee.  The definition of “employee” is drafted broadly to include contractor and consultant work performed by an individual for an employer.

What Companies Should Do Next

Companies should update their employment manuals, employment agreements and confidentiality agreement to disclose the whistleblower immunity provisions in the DTSA. Otherwise the company is not eligible to recover double damages or attorney fees in trade secret litigation.

Trade Secrets

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Image Credit: TunedIn by Westend61/shutterstock.com

Watch Out for your Employees and Agents

What your employees say can (and will) hurt you.

The Basics of Hearsay and Personal Knowledge

One of the principles of basic evidence law is that a witness cannot testify to a fact, an observation, or event, unless that witness can establish “personal knowledge” of such fact, observation, or event.  The new Code of evidence affirms this rule in O.C.G.A. §24-6-602.  In general, witnesses are not permitted to repeat what they were told by someone about an event.  Although the definition of hearsay is more complicated, merely repeating what another person says falls into the classic definition of hearsay.

As with everything, there are exceptions.  One is the rule relating to an admission by a party.  An admission is a statement that is inconsistent with the position taken by a party in a dispute.  An example would include a defendant in an automobile collision claim admitting to the investigating officer that he or she ran a red light or rolled through a stop sign.   That officer could testify to what was told to the officer by the defendant, even if that defendant is not available to testify at trial.  Furthermore, to be admitted as an admittion does not require that the party, or person making the statement, show personal knowledge of the statement made.   If the same defendant in the automobile collision described above did not see the traffic light in question, or did not know whether he or she stopped at the sign, the fact that that defendant did not have “personal knowledge” of those facts has no bearing on the admissibility of the admission.

Application to Your Company’s Employees

These principles apply as well to agents or employees of parties.  Under prior Georgia law, the ability to offer into evidence a statement made by an agent or employee of a corporate entity was restricted by several Code sections.  The new Code, however, is much more liberal in allowing these statements into evidence.  Any statement made by a party’s agent or employee concerning a matter within the scope of that agency or employment made during the existence of that relationship can be an admission against the corporate party represented by the agent or employee.  Here again, the rule about personal knowledge of the events in question does not apply.  One recent case illustrates this principle.  The case of Emory Health Care vs. Pardue, 328 Ga. App. 666 (2014), involved an elderly patient at an Emory facility who slipped and fell in the bathroom of her hospital room.   There was some discussion between the patient’s family and nursing staff about the patient being left unattended in the bathroom and about a foreign substance on the floor.  The Plaintiff’s daughter had a conversation with one of the nurses who had described the events, and also appeared to laugh when describing what happened to the Plaintiff’s mother.  The Court allowed the Plaintiff’s daughter to testify as to exactly what had been said by the nurse (as well as the laughter by the nurse) without any consideration of whether the nurse had personal knowledge of what occurred at the time of the patient’s fall.

Another interesting case involved a deposition given by the manager of a physicians group in which one of the partners in the group was a defendant in a medical malpractice case.  The physician’s group was also a defendant in the case.  In the deposition, the managing partner of the physicians group gave various opinions about the proper standard of care in treating the patient and also testified concerning assumptions that the witness had made concerning certain diagnostic procedures that may have been performed by the manager’s partner in connection with treatment of the patient.  The Court said that it did not matter whether the witness had personal knowledge concerning how the patient was treated.  The Court also said that as an agent of the practice group, this person could express opinions on the proper standard of care, even though that person may not have been qualified as an expert to give an opinion on the facts of the case and treatment by the physician.

The lesson here is that employees and/or agents of corporate defendants need to be careful making statements based on speculation or conjecture about events that the witness may or may not have observed.  These statements made by an agent to a third party may be admitted as admissions, whereas if that individual is offered as a witness in the case, that witness may not be able to give the same statement without personal knowledge of what occurred.