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City of Macon v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Georgia

October 20, 2017

CITY OF MACON et al.
v.
BROWN.

          Bethel, Judge.

         James Nathan Brown ("Brown") sued the City of Macon, Mayor Robert Reichart, and the members of Macon's City Council[1] (hereinafter collectively referred to as the "City Defendants") alleging that the City Defendants were liable for damages for failing to maintain a public roadway which caused a collision involving Brown. The trial court denied the City Defendants' motion for summary judgment by concluding that photographs of the defect offered by Brown, which were taken two weeks after his accident, created a question of fact as to whether the City Defendants had constructive notice of the alleged defect. Because these photographs alone are insufficient as a matter of law to establish a question of fact as to the City Defendants' constructive knowledge of the alleged defect, we reverse.

Summary judgment is proper when the moving party shows that no genuine issue of material fact exists, and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We apply a de novo standard of review to an appeal from a grant or denial of summary judgment and construe the evidence most favorably to the nonmovant.

Welch v. Ga. Dept. of Transp., 283 Ga.App. 903, 903 (642 S.E.2d 913) (2007) (footnotes omitted).

However, summary judgment cannot be avoided based on speculation or conjecture; once the pleadings are pierced with actual evidence, the plaintiff must point to admissible evidence showing a genuine issue of fact. As our Supreme Court explained, while the evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor, that does not mean that a plaintiff may defeat a defendant's properly supported motion for summary judgment without offering any concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could, return a verdict in his favor and by merely asserting that the jury might, and legally could disbelieve the defendant's denial of wrongdoing.

McManus v. Taylor, 326 Ga.App. 477, 485 (756 S.E.2d 709) (2014) (citations and punctuation omitted).

         So viewed, the evidence shows that Brown was traveling on Hollingsworth Road in the City of Macon when he was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Brown alleged that accident occurred because his vehicle ran over an area of broken pavement around a manhole that caused his vehicle to veer into oncoming traffic and strike another vehicle head-on. Brown sued the City Defendants for damages arising out of the collision, alleging negligence for the City Defendants' failure to maintain a public roadway in accordance with OCGA § 32-4-91. The City Defendants moved for summary judgment pursuant to OCGA § 32-4-93 (a), arguing that Brown failed to present any evidence that the City Defendants had actual or constructive notice of the alleged defect. In response thereto, Brown proffered photographs of the roadway taken approximately two weeks after the accident as the only evidence of the City Defendants' alleged notice of the defect.

         In its order denying the City Defendants' motion, the trial court concluded that although Brown presented no evidence of negligent construction, negligent maintenance, or that the City Defendants had actual knowledge of the alleged defect, the photographs alone created a question of fact as to whether the broken pavement around the manhole existed for a sufficient length of time for notice to be inferred. The trial court issued a certificate of immediate review, and this Court granted the City Defendant's application for interlocutory appeal. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, the City Defendants contend that the trial court erred in denying their motion for summary judgment because the photographic evidence presented by Brown is insufficient as a matter of law to create a genuine issue of fact as to the length of time the alleged defect existed prior to Brown's accident. We agree.

         As an initial matter, we note that Brown has never contended that the City Defendants were negligent in constructing or repairing the allegedly defective manhole. Additionally, Brown does not contend the City Defendants had actual knowledge of the alleged defect. The sole issue before this Court is whether photographs of the alleged defect, taken approximately two weeks after the event giving rise to this suit, created a question of material fact as to whether the alleged defect existed for a significant period of time before the accident.

         OCGA § 32-4-93 (a) provides that

[a] municipality is relieved of any and all liability resulting from or occasioned by defects in the public roads of its municipal street system when it has not been negligent in constructing or maintaining the same or when it has no actual notice thereof or when such defect has not existed for a sufficient length of time for notice thereof to be inferred.

         "If the defect had existed only a short time so that the municipality could not reasonably have had knowledge then actual notice must be shown. However, if the street defect existed for such a length of time as by reasonable diligence in the performance of its duty, the defect ought to have been known by the municipal authority then notice will be presumed." Andrews v. City of Macon, 191 Ga.App. 745, 747 (2) (382 S.E.2d 739) (1989) (citation and punctuation omitted). "Constructive notice of a defect may be imputed through the knowledge of the city's employees or agents, or may be shown by testimony as to how long the defect existed prior to the injury, objective evidence that the defect existed over time, or evidence that others were injured as a result of the same condition over a period of years." Clark v. City of Atlanta, 322 Ga.App. 151, 153 (744 S.E.2d 122) (2013) (citing Crider v. City of Atlanta, 184 Ga.App. 389, 389 (1) (361 S.E.2d 520) (1987)). "The question of constructive notice ordinarily is for the jury, except in the absence of any evidence of constructive notice that could create a fact question, and in such an instance, the issue of negligence is a matter of law." Id.

         In the instant case, approximately two weeks after his accident, Brown took photographs of the area surrounding the allegedly defective manhole. The photographs show a manhole encased in uneven concrete surrounded by asphalt with large cracks and broken sections. The trial court concluded that an objective observation of the photographs show that the condition of the roadway was such that a jury could conclude that the defect ...


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