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Stevens v. Food Lion, LLC

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Second Division

June 8, 2017

STEVENS et al.
v.
FOOD LION, LLC.

          DOYLE, C. J., MILLER, P. J, and REESE, J.

          Doyle, Chief Judge.

         Adrienne and Roy Stevens ("the plaintiffs") filed a negligence action against Food Lion, LLC, after Adrienne fell at a Food Lion store. Following a jury trial, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. Thereafter, the trial court granted Food Lion's motion to amend the judgment to include attorney fees and costs under OCGA § 9-11-68. The plaintiffs appeal, arguing that the trial court was without authority to amend the judgment. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         The facts relevant to this appeal are undisputed. On November 26, 2012, the plaintiffs sued Food Lion. On November 26, 2013, Food Lion sent plaintiffs' counsel an offer of settlement made pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-68, offering to settle all claims for $25, 000; the plaintiffs rejected the offer. Following a trial, the jury found in favor of Adrienne as to her claims in the amount of $25, 000, but found her 30 percent negligent; it found in favor of Food Lion as to Roy's loss of consortium claim. On July 2, 2015, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Adrienne in the amount of $17, 500, which amount reflects the reduction based upon the jury's finding that she was contributorily negligent.

         On July 30, 2015, Food Lion filed a motion for attorney fees and costs pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-68 (b) (1) and a separate motion to amend the final judgment to add attorney fees and costs.[1] The following day, the plaintiffs filed a motion for new trial; they later dismissed that motion on December 8, 2015. On June 21, 2016, the trial court held a hearing on Food Lion's motions for attorney fees and costs and to amend the judgment.[2] Plaintiffs' counsel argued that the fees were not reasonable, but declined to present evidence or cross-examine Food Lion's witnesses regarding the fees and costs.[3]

         Following the hearing, on June 22, 2016, the trial court entered an order granting Food Lion's motion to amend the June 2015 judgment to add attorney fees and costs pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-68 and awarding to Food Lion attorney fees in the amount of $58, 548 and costs in the amount of $4, 127.70.[4] This appeal follows.

         On appeal, the plaintiffs do not challenge the amount or reasonableness of the fees, nor do they contend that an attorney fees and costs award pursuant to the offer of settlement statute was improper. Instead, the plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred by amending the judgment outside the term of court to include the attorney fees and costs award. We disagree.

         In its motion, Food Lion requested that the trial court amend the judgment pursuant to OCGA § 15-1-3 (6), [5] which provides: "Every court has power . . . [t]o amend and control its processes and orders, so as to make them conformable to law and justice, and to amend its own records, so as to make them conform to the truth."[6]

It is well established that a trial court has no jurisdiction to change or modify a judgment outside the term of court in which the judgment was entered. After the close of the term of court in which the judgment was entered, it is out of the power of the court to modify and revise it in any matter of substance or in any matter affecting the merits.[7]

         In this case, the original judgment was issued during the June 2015 term, and although the order amending the judgment was not entered until the June 2016 term, Food Lion filed the motion to amend in July 2015, during the same term of court as the original judgment.[8] Thus, "the [trial] court . . . had inherent power to amend the judgment because the motion was made in the same term in which the original judgment was entered."[9]

         Judgment affirmed.

          Miller, P. J., and Reese, J., concur.

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