ATLANTA NATIONAL LEAGUE BASEBALL CLUB, INC.
F.F. et al
Negligence. Fulton State Court. Before Judge Porter.
Schiff Hardin, Leah Ward Sears , Ronald B. Gaither , Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers, Bradley S. Wolff , Pamela N. Lee, for appellant.
J. Matthew Dwyer, Jr ., Law & Moran, Peter A. Law , E. Michael Moran , Amanda L. Evans, for appellees.
Thomas J. Ostertag, amicus curiae.
BRANCH, Judge. Barnes, P. J., and Boggs, J., concur.
On August 30, 2010, plaintiff M. F., a six-year-old girl, was sitting with her father behind the visitors' dugout at a home game of appellant Atlanta National League Baseball Club, Inc., known as the Atlanta Braves, when she was struck by a foul ball, suffering a skull fracture and brain injuries. M. F.'s parent and guardian brought this [328 Ga.App. 218] action for negligence against the Braves and three other defendants. After the trial court denied the Braves' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim or for summary judgment, the Braves moved for a certificate of immediate review, which the trial court also denied, with the result that the Braves were unable to pursue an appeal. The Braves then moved for a declaratory judgment as to the applicable standard of care. The trial court denied this motion but granted a certificate of immediate review as to it. Having granted the Braves' application for interlocutory review of the trial court's denial of their motion for declaratory judgment, we find that such relief is not appropriate at this stage of the proceedings. We therefore affirm.
The relevant facts are not in dispute. At some point before the 2010 season, the Braves added netting to portions of both dugouts to protect players from balls leaving the field of play. At the game held at Turner Field on August 30, 2010, safety netting behind home plate protected 2,791 of the stadium's 49,856 seats, but did not extend to the seats directly behind the dugouts on either side of the field. 488 protected seats, including 53 groups of four or more seats, remained unsold. Attendance at the game was 18,842. Although a Braves representative testified that M. F. and her family would have been free to move to unsold protected seats behind home plate by notifying an usher, the same representative testified that a surcharge would apply to seats purchased in this way. In the fifth inning, M. F. and her parents, who had received their tickets as a gift, were sitting a few rows behind the visitor's dugout when a player hit the foul ball that struck M. F.
Plaintiffs filed this negligence action against the Braves on July 16, 2012. The Braves' answer raised defenses including that their provision of netting only behind home plate amounted to " ordinary care" for purposes of OCGA § 51-3-1. A few weeks later, on August 17, 2012, the Braves filed a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment on grounds including that they had " no duty as a matter of law to protect a spectator at a baseball game from being hit by a foul ball," or, in the alternative, that if such a duty existed, it must be " limited to protecting the seats behind home plate and protecting a sufficient number of those seats to accommodate the reasonably anticipated number of requests for protected seats." After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion. The Braves requested a certificate [328 Ga.App. 219] of immediate review, which the trial court denied, noting as it did so that it " [stood] behind [its] ruling" denying the Braves' motion.
Shortly afterward, the Braves filed a " motion for declaratory judgment" seeking a declaration " as to the standard of care owed to Plaintiffs," which the Braves argued was " essential to the proper development of the legal issues presented and the trial of this case." The same motion also noted that it was " in no way seeking reconsideration of [the trial court's] ruling" on the motion to dismiss or for summary judgment, but that it sought a declaration " so that the parties may move forward with a clear understanding regarding" plaintiffs' claims. The trial court denied this motion as well, but granted a certificate of immediate review limited to " the matters
presented" by the motion for declaratory judgment and " the resulting order" denying that motion. We granted the Braves' application for an interlocutory appeal.
The Braves argue that the trial court erred when it denied their motion for declaratory judgment and refused to declare the extent of the duty the Braves owe to plaintiffs. More specifically, the Braves argue that the trial court should have declared the so-called " limited duty" or " baseball rule," in effect in various states since at least 1932, as Georgia law in this context. At this stage of this ...