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LLC v. Chappuis

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

December 7, 2017

ORTHO SPORT & SPINE PHYSICIANS SE-054 SAVANNAH, LLC
v.
CHAPPUIS et al.

          DILLARD, C. J., RAY, and SELF, JJ.

          SELF, JUDGE.

         In this interlocutory appeal, Ortho Sport & Spine Physicians Savannah, LLC ("Ortho Savannah") appeals from orders granting James Chappuis, M.D., Orthopaedic & Spine Surgery of Atlanta, LLC ("Ortho Atlanta"), and Jordan Strudthoff's (collectively "appellees") motion to strike portions of Ortho Savannah's complaint and to dismiss Strudthoff as a defendant. For the reasons explained below, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

         Ortho Savannah's complaint alleges that Dr. Chappuis and the principal of Ortho Savannah, Dr. Armin Oskouei, were previously partners in a medical practice and surgery center located in Atlanta, Georgia. After Dr. Chappuis allegedly threatened to kill Dr. Oskouei and hired individuals to stalk Dr. Oskouei and his staff, their professional relationship ended, and litigation ensued that was ultimately settled.

         Dr. Oskouei then established a new medical practice in Savannah, Georgia. Approximately one year later, Chappuis Properties, LLC, a company allegedly controlled by Dr. Chappuis, purchased the medical building in Savannah where Ortho Savannah leased space as one of only two tenants in the building. Around the same time, incidents began occurring that were "reminiscent of the harassing behavior which was well-documented and admitted" in the previous lawsuit. Ortho Savannah's complaint alleged that explicit racial messages appeared on Dr. Oskouei's windshield, "suspicious individuals" frequented its lobby, individuals masquerading as patients attempted to obtain information about its medical practice, individuals attempted to solicit its patients or advise them to use a different doctor, persons stalked and followed Dr. Oskouei, and Chappuis Properties refused to accept Ortho Savannah's lease payments from its previous landlord. Based upon fear for the safety of its staff and patients and the disruption of its business, Ortho Savannah vacated the property. When the remaining tenant in the building inquired about sub-leasing space from Ortho Savannah, the "Defendants refused, stating they fully intended to take over the space itself."

         In short, the complaint alleges that the "Defendants have acted together in a systematic fashion with a deliberate attempt to destroy Ortho [] Savannah's business, as an end in and of itself, as well as for the pecuniary benefit of the Defendants." It asserted causes of action for civil conspiracy, alter-ego liability and piercing the corporate veil, breach of warranty of quiet enjoyment and constructive eviction, intentional infliction of emotional distress, trespass, invasion of privacy, slander per se, slander and oral defamation, tortious interference with a business relationship, and sought punitive damages against all defendants, as well as attorney fees and expenses of litigation under OCGA § 13-6-11.

         The appellees subsequently moved to strike paragraphs 7, 19, 25, 27 and 31 of the complaint because they contain "scandalous statements" or "accusations" that do not add any probative value to the litigation. The trial court granted the motion with regard to paragraphs 7, 17-28, and 31-32, with no explanation of its reasoning. Strudthoff moved to dismiss the complaint against him on the ground that the complaint failed to allege any facts specific to him that would entitle Ortho Savannah to any relief sought. The trial court granted this motion in its entirety, also without explanation.

         1. Ortho Savannah asserts that the trial court erred by dismissing the entirety of its complaint against Strudthoff at the preliminary pleading stage. We agree.

         Under Georgia law,

[a] motion to dismiss pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-12 (b) (6) will not be sustained unless (1) the allegations of the complaint disclose with certainty that the claimant would not be entitled to relief under any state of provable facts asserted in support thereof; and (2) the movant establishes that the claimant could not possibly introduce evidence within the framework of the complaint sufficient to warrant a grant of the relief sought.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) State v. Singh, 291 Ga. 525, 529 (3) (731 S.E.2d 649) (2012). To that end,

minimum pleading requirements are found in OCGA § 9-11-8 (a) (2) (A), which requires that the complaint contain "[a] short and plain statement of the claims showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " and we have held that the touchstone is fair notice - "this short and plain statement must include enough detail to afford the defendant fair notice of the nature of the claim and a fair opportunity to frame a responsive pleading."

(Citations omitted.) Aetna Workers' Comp Access v. Coliseum Medical Center, 322 Ga.App. 641, 651 (4) (746 S.E.2d 148) (2013). While "[a] trial court's ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is subject to de novo review[, ]" Infinite Energy v. Pardue, 310 Ga.App. 355, 356 (1) (713 S.E.2d 456) (2011), we "accept the allegations of fact that appear in the complaint and view those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Bush v. Bank of N.Y.Mellon, 313 Ga.App. 84, 89 (720 S.E.2d 370) (2011).

Under this 'notice' theory of pleading, it is immaterial whether a pleading states 'conclusions' or 'facts'. . . . There are no prohibitions in the rules against pleading conclusions and, if pleaded, they may be considered in determining whether a complaint sufficiently states a claim for relief. It is immaterial whether an ...

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