Addition of parties. Fulton State Court. Before Judge Edlein.
Stephen F. Humphreys, for appellant.
Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, C. McLaurin Sitton, Bryan K. Webb, Senior Assistant Attorneys General, for appellees.
BOGGS, Judge. Phipps, C. J. and Doyle, P. J., concur.
Dezso Benedek, a professor at the University of Georgia, appeals from the trial court's order dismissing his complaint against the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, Michael Adams, and the University of Georgia (" the original defendants" ) that alleged wrongdoing in connection with disciplinary actions taken against him. He contends the trial court erred by: (1) " denying amendment of [his] complaint to add Georgia RICO claims and parties and instead dismissing the action" based upon allegations in his original complaint; (2) finding that his proposed RICO claims were barred by sovereign immunity; (3) dismissing tort claims allowed by the Georgia Tort Claims Act; and (4) denying his motion for sanctions under OCGA § 9-15-14. For the reasons explained below, we reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.
A summary of the procedural history of this case from Fulton County State Court to federal court and back again would not only be lengthy, but also unnecessary to the resolution of the issues before us. The relevant facts show that Benedek initially filed a complaint against the original defendants, which he later amended on multiple occasions to add additional claims following the filing of a motion to dismiss by the original defendants. Benedek also simultaneously sought the trial court's permission to add an additional plaintiff, as well as individual defendants, through various motions and amended motions seeking leave to file his amended complaints. On March 24, 2014, Benedek filed his last amended complaint titled " Second Amended Complaint for Damages." After considering the pending motions, the trial court issued an order in which it overlooked the [332 Ga.App. 574] effectiveness of Benedek's last amended complaint against the original defendants. Instead, it concluded as follows:
Based on Plaintiff's statements regarding the purpose of his proposed amended pleadings, the Court finds that Plaintiff has abandoned his tort claims. Out of an abundance of caution, however, and because it appears that Plaintiff's voluminous pleadings nevertheless continue to assert causes of actions sounding in tort, the Court also finds that any tort claims asserted by Plaintiff are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. ... Having determined that Plaintiff's tort claims are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the question becomes whether Plaintiff can circumvent the [Georgia Tort Claims Act] and avoid dismissal by amending his pleadings to assert claims under Georgia RICO. The Court concludes that he cannot. ... Plaintiff's tort claims are barred by the [Georgia Tort Claims Act] and the doctrine of sovereign immunity. For this reason, Defendant[s'] Motion to Dismiss those claims is GRANTED. Because Plaintiff may not circumvent the [Georgia Tort Claims Act] by amending his pleadings to bring claims under Georgia RICO[ ] statute instead of tort claims, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend, Amended Motion to Amend, and Motion to Substitute Amended Complaint for Damages are DENIED.
1. In a compound enumeration of error, Benedek asserts that the trial court erred by denying amendment of his complaint to add RICO claims and also to add additional parties. As the law governing each of these claims is different, we analyze them separately.
(a) OCGA § 9-11-15 (a) provides:
A party may amend his pleading as a matter of course and without leave of court at any time before the entry of a pretrial order. Thereafter the party may amend his pleading only by leave of court or by written consent of the adverse party. Leave shall be freely given when justice so requires. ...
Our Supreme Court has held: " The right to amend is properly broad, and there is no prohibition against pleading a new cause of action. [Cit.]" Hutto v. Plagens, 254 Ga. 512, 514 (2) (330 S.E.2d 341) (1985). And a pending dispositive motion will not preclude a party from amending his or her pleading. See Skylake Property Owners Assn. v. Powell, 281 Ga.App. 715, 720 (3) (637 S.E.2d 51) (2006). Finally, a [332 Ga.App. 575] motion for leave to amend a complaint to add ...