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Sampson v. Georgia Dep't of Juvenile Justice

Court of Appeals of Georgia

July 11, 2014

SAMPSON
v.
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE

Reconsideration denied July 31, 2014 -- Cert. applied for.

Page 204

Open Records Act. DeKalb Superior Court. Before Judge Flake.

Thomas Kennedy Sampson & Tompkins, Thomas G. Sampson II, pro se.

Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, Angelique B. McClendon , Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

DILLARD, Judge. Miller, J., concurs. Doyle, P. J., concurs fully in Division 1 and concurs in judgment only as to Division 2.

OPINION

Page 205

Dillard, Judge.

Thomas G. Sampson II (" Sampson" ) appeals the trial court's grant of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice's (" DJJ" ) motion to dismiss his complaint alleging violations of the Georgia Open Records Act.[1] Sampson contends that the trial court erred in (1) finding that res judicata barred his complaint, (2) finding that the complaint should be dismissed for insufficient service, and (3) failing to find an ongoing violation of the Open Records Act and, instead, concluding that same was irrelevant as to whether res judicata barred the action. Because we agree with Sampson that the trial court erred in dismissing his complaint, we reverse.

[328 Ga.App. 734] The record reflects that Sampson filed suit against the DJJ, alleging violations of the Open Records Act with regard to more than 20 requests for records from different juvenile-detention centers. Sampson asked that the trial court issue an injunction ordering production of the requested documents, a declaration that the DJJ's alleged failure to respond was unlawful, as well as an award of attorney fees and expenses.

The DJJ filed a special appearance and motion to dismiss, in which it contended that Sampson was the attorney who represented plaintiffs in a virtually identical action against a DJJ staff attorney with regard to the very same Open Records Act requests, which had previously been dismissed by the trial court. The DJJ contended that, as the attorney for the prior plaintiffs, Sampson was on notice for more than 30 days prior to the dismissal order in the previous action that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the claim and that the DJJ staff attorney was an improper party. The trial court ultimately found the same in its decision to dismiss the prior action, concluding that the action was initiated " without substantial justification." Accordingly, the DJJ argued that Sampson's action was barred by res judicata. The DJJ further contended that the action should be dismissed for failure to properly serve the DJJ, as well as for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

The trial court granted the DJJ's motion to dismiss Sampson's action, finding that res judicata applied to bar the action and that Sampson failed to properly serve the DJJ. Sampson now appeals the trial court's dismissal of his action, which we review de novo.[2]

1. Sampson first contends that the trial court erred in finding that the doctrine of res judicata barred his action because (1) there is no privity between the parties and (2) the cause of action is not identical. We agree that there is no privity between the plaintiffs in the prior action and the current action and, accordingly, res judicata cannot bar this lawsuit.[3]

[328 Ga.App. 735] The record reflects that the prior action was brought by Quindarious Fleming and Demarko Moss against Andre Castaing in his official capacity as a staff attorney for the DJJ for alleged violations of the Open Records Act regarding the same record requests at issue here. ...


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