BARNES, P. J., MCMILLIAN and MERCIER, JJ.
long-standing insurance coverage case once again appears
before this Court - this time to answer the question of the
effect of this Court's prior decision in Georgia
Casualty & Surety Co. v. Valley Wood, Inc., 336
Ga.App. 795 (783 S.E.2d 441) (2016) ("Georgia
Casualty I") and whether the trial court properly
entered judgment on remand. Because we find that the trial
court exceeded its authority under the Declaratory Judgment
Act, we vacate the order below and remand the case with
the relevant facts are set forth in our prior opinion, we
will briefly summarize them here for context. In 2002 and
2003, Richard Ramey, co-owner of Valley Wood, Inc.
("Valley Wood"), obtained insurance coverage with
Georgia Casualty & Surety Co. ("Georgia
Casualty") through Valley Wood's insurance agent, J.
Smith Lanier. Georgia Casualty I, 336 Ga.App.
at 795-96. In 2005, Valley Wood submitted a claim to Georgia
Casualty for losses allegedly caused by forgery and fraud
committed by a Valley Wood employee and demanded coverage
under the Policy. In 2006, Georgia Casualty filed a
declaratory judgment action, seeking a declaration that there
was no coverage because the policy definitions and exclusions
did not provide coverage for Valley Wood's claim. Over
eight years later and shortly before trial, Georgia Casualty
amended its complaint, further seeking a declaration that the
Policy was void because Valley Wood made misrepresentations
in its applications for coverage.
case went to jury trial in November 2014. At trial, Georgia
Casualty presented evidence that the policy applications
submitted by Lanier to Georgia Casualty were not signed, and
Ramey testified that he had never seen the applications until
just prior to trial and had never given anyone permission to
answer the questions in the applications. Georgia
Casualty I, 336 Ga.App. at 796. A Georgia Casualty
underwriter testified that he received the application via
email from Lanier and that he would have rejected the
application for crime coverage if the application had stated
that Valley Wood did not audit with a certified public
accountant and did not require countersignatures on checks.
Id. Ramey admitted that Valley Wood did not perform
such audits every year or require countersignatures. At the
close of evidence, Georgia Casualty moved for directed
verdict on its declaratory judgment claims, which was denied.
appeal, this Court reversed the denial of a directed verdict
in favor of Georgia Casualty on the issue of whether the
policy was void based on misrepresentations in the
application, relying on OCGA § 33-24-7
Georgia Casualty I, 336 Ga.App. at 795. Valley Wood
moved for reconsideration on the grounds that Georgia
Casualty was estopped from seeking a declaration that the
policy was void, which was denied, but with the addition of
an explanation for the denial. See Georgia Casualty
I, 336 Ga.App. at 799.
remand, the trial court entered an order on December 21,
2017, adopting this Court's order as the judgment below.
However, Valley Wood thereafter filed a motion entitled
"Motion for an Entry of Final Judgment Consistent With
the Court of Appeals' Decision." Georgia Casualty
opposed this motion, and in February 2017, the trial court
conducted a hearing on Valley Wood's motion. In April
2017, the trial court entered Valley Wood's proposed
order, which declared the policy void because of material
misrepresentations in the application, but further stated
Georgia Casualty has the right to elect whether to rescind
the policy as of the date of the application or to affirm the
policy and provide coverage. Since there has not been a
finding or allegation of an actual fraud with a willful
purpose to deceive on the part of Valley Wood, . . . if
Georgia Casualty elects to rescind the policy, it must
restore all of the premiums paid with interest of 7% per year
to Valley Wood.
latest appeal followed.
its second enumeration of error, Georgia Casualty asserts
that the trial court violated the Declaratory Judgment Act by
issuing a coercive declaratory judgment. We agree.
Declaratory Judgment Act "gives superior courts the
power to declare rights and other legal relations of any
interested party in cases of actual controversy . . . and in
any civil case in which it appears to the court that the ends
of justice require that the declaration should be made."
(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Georgiacarry.Org,
Inc. v. Atlanta Botanical Garden, Inc., 299 Ga. 26, 28
(1) (785 S.E.2d 874) (2016). "The distinctive
characteristic of a declaratory judgment is that the
declaration stands by itself and does not seek execution or
performance by the defendant." (Citation and punctuation
omitted.) Gelfand v. Gelfand, 281 Ga. 40, 40 (635
S.E.2d 770) (2006) (wife may not use declaratory judgment
action to compel husband to provide additional funds). Thus,
"[t]he proper scope of declaratory judgment is to
adjudge those rights among parties on which their
future conduct depends." (Citation and
punctuation omitted; emphasis added.)
Georgiacarry.Org, Inc., 299 Ga. at 28 (1).
And any relief, if granted, must be fashioned as "simply
a declaration of rights [that] requires no action on the part
of the [defendant] or anyone else." Id. at 31
the trial court did more than simply declare the Policy void
due to Valley Wood's misrepresentations, it also found
that Georgia Casualty was required to make an election -
either affirm the Policy and provide coverage or rescind the
policy and repay the premiums - based on that declaration.
However, the Declaratory Judgment Act does not permit this
type of relief. Rather, it merely permits a trial court to
"simply declare the rights of the parties or express
its opinion on a question of law, without ordering anything
to be done." (Citation and punctuation omitted.)
Agan v. State, 272 Ga. 540, 542 (2) (533
S.E.2d 60) (2000). See also Burgess v. Burgess, 210
Ga. 380, 382-83 (2) (80 S.E.2d 280) (1954) ("The
legislative intent and purpose of our declaratory judgment
act is to relieve against uncertainty and insecurity; to
declare rights, status, and legal relations, but not to
execute remedies or grant coercive relief.") (citation
and punctuation omitted).
The object of the declaratory judgment is to permit
determination of a controversy before obligations are
repudiated or rights are violated. Its purpose is to
permit one who is walking in the dark to ascertain where
he is and where he is going, to turn on the light before
he steps rather than after he has stepped in a hole.
and punctuation omitted.) Slaughter v. Faust, 155
Ga.App. 68, 69 (1) (270 S.E.2d 218) (1980). Having
illuminated Georgia Casualty's steps by declaring the
Policy void, the declaratory judgment action is now complete.
Accordingly, the order of the trial court is vacated and this
case is remanded. On remittitur, the trial court is directed
to enter an order granting Georgia Casualty's motion for
directed verdict on the ...