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McCumber v. Petroleum Services Group, LLC

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

July 14, 2015

McCUMBER et al.
v.
PETROLEUM SERVICES GROUP, LLC. McCUMBER et al.
v.
K. C. PETROLEUM, INC

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is Uncorrected and subject to revision by the court.

MCFADDEN, Judge. Dillard, J., concurs; Ellington, P. J., concurs in the judgment only.

OPINION

McFadden, Judge.

These cases arise out of leakage of fuel from underground storage tanks on the property of Coastal Retail Management, LLC -- which is owned by appellants Andrew McCumber and Rajendra Patel. Coastal's claims arising out of that occurrence have been resolved in earlier litigation. In these cases, McCumber and Patel now seek personal damages arising out of the same occurrence. The trial court granted summary judgment against McCumber and Patel on the basis of collateral estoppel, and they appeal.

As to the claims resolved in the earlier litigation against Coastal, we agree with the trial court that McCumber's and Patel's claims are barred by collateral estoppel. As to the negligence claim resolved in favor of Coastal, we pretermit the issue of collateral estoppel and hold that McCumber and Patel have shown no duty owed to them as individuals. We therefore affirm.

Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. OCGA § 9-11-56 (c). On appeal from a grant of summary judgment, we apply a de novo standard of review and view the evidence, and all reasonable conclusions and inferences drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Matjoulis v. Integon Gen. Ins. Corp., 226 Ga.App. 459 (1) (486 S.E.2d 684) (1997).

So viewed, the record shows that Coastal filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Screven County, Georgia, against K. C. Petroleum, Inc. and Petroleum Services Group, LLC, seeking damages arising from the leakage of fuel from underground storage tanks on Coastal's property. The suit asserted claims of negligence and fraud against K. C. Petroleum, which had installed the tanks, and negligence against Petroleum Services, which had monitored the tanks. The case proceeded to a non-jury trial, after which the trial court entered judgment finding that Petroleum Services was not liable for negligence, that K. C. Petroleum was not liable for fraud, but that K. C. Petroleum was liable for negligence in the amount of $425,170. Coastal appealed, and this court affirmed the judgment in an unpublished opinion.

In the meantime, McCumber and Patel, the owners of Coastal, filed a separate lawsuit in Liberty County, Georgia against K. C. Petroleum, its employee Loy Sanders, and Petroleum Services, seeking personal damages arising from the leaking fuel tanks. The complaint set forth claims of negligence and fraud against K. C. Petroleum, fraud against Sanders and negligence against Petroleum Services. K. C. Petroleum, Sanders and Petroleum Services moved for summary judgment on the grounds of res judicata and collateral estoppel based on the final judgment from the Screven County lawsuit. The trial court granted the motions, issuing one order granting summary judgment to Petroleum Services and another order granting summary judgment to K. C. Petroleum and Sanders. These appeals followed: in Case No. A15A055, McCumber and Patel challenge the summary judgment order in favor of Petroleum Services; and in Case No. A15A0056, they challenge the summary judgment in favor of K. C. Petroleum and Sanders.

Case No. A15A0055

1. Negligence claim against Petroleum Services.

Contrary to the arguments of McCumber and Patel, their negligence claim against Petroleum Services is barred by collateral estoppel. That doctrine

precludes the re-adjudication of an issue that has previously been litigated and adjudicated on the merits in another action between the same parties or their privies. Like res judicata, collateral estoppel requires the identity of the parties or their privies in both actions. However, unlike res judicata, collateral estoppel does not require identity of the claim -- so long as the issue was determined in the previous action ...

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