DOUGLAS et al.
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE.
DILLARD, C. J., DOYLE, P. J., and MERCIER, J.
Douglas and Rosie Greene, parents of T. R. D., appeal from
the dismissal of their personal injury suit against the
Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice ("the
Department") seeking damages arising from injuries
sustained by T. R. D. while he was detained at a youth
detention facility operated by the Department. The parents
contend that the trial court erred by (1) concluding that the
parents failed to establish a waiver of sovereign immunity
because their ante litem notice was deficient under the
Georgia Tort Claims Act ("GTCA"), (2) ruling on the
Department's motion to dismiss without allowing
discovery, and (3) concluding that the Department was not
barred from asserting its immunity based on laches.
Discerning no error, we affirm.
review de novo a trial court's ruling on a motion to
dismiss based on sovereign immunity grounds, which is a
matter of law. Factual findings are sustained if there is
evidence supporting them, and the burden of proof is on the
party seeking the waiver of immunity."
record shows that the parents sued the Department, seeking
damages for alleged negligence based on an injury to T. R. D.
while he was a minor in custody at the Bill E. Ireland Youth
Development Campus ("the Detention Facility") in
2009. The complaint alleged that on September 25, 2009, T. R.
D. was injured when a Department employee "negligently
closed an automatic steel door in a manner that caused [T. R.
D.'s] finger to be traumatically amputated." The
complaint also stated that as a result of the injury, T. R.
D. required surgery, and the parents incurred expenses and
missed work facilitating his medical care. It is undisputed
that the Department paid T. R. D.'s immediate medical
one month of the injury, the parents provided an ante litem
notice to the Department, the Department of Administrative
Services, and the Detention Facility. That notice described
the injury and identified the parents' claims for
negligence, among other claims. With respect to the amount of
loss claimed, the notice did not specify any amount, instead
stating as follows:
As a result of [the] traumatic amputation, [T. R. D.]
required surgery. [T. R. D.] is still receiving treatment for
his injury, and he is still experiencing pain today. . .
Rosie Greene has on numerous occasions had to transport [her
son] . . . for medical treatment [causing her to miss work].
Because of these trips . . . Rosie Green would have
additional claims for monetary loss and mileage. Please
advise if this ante litem notice is not sufficient to apprise
you of the claims which Rosie Green has individually and as
mother of [T. R. D.] against the entities that you represent
for which she is seeking relief and damages.
December 2009, the Department completed its investigation of
the allegations and disputed liability, contending that
"[t]his injury was caused when [T. R. D.] put his hand
at the top of the door to prevent it from closing."
Accordingly, the Department made an offer to settle the
dispute for $1, 000. The parents did not accept the offer and
instead demanded $20, 000; after the parties were unable to
agree on a settlement amount, the parents filed the instant
suit in January 2015.
February 2015, the Department answered the complaint, denying
liability, and moved to dismiss the suit, arguing that the
parents' ante litem notice failed to include the amount
of loss claimed as required by the GTCA. The next month, the
parents filed a motion to defer a ruling on the
Department's motion to dismiss until the parents could
conduct discovery. Following a hearing at which all parties
appeared, the trial court denied the parents' motion to
defer a ruling and granted the Department's motion to
dismiss based on the parents' deficient ante litem
notice. The parents now appeal.
parents contend that the trial court erred by dismissing
their claim because, they argue, their ante litem notice
satisfied the requirements of the GTCA. We disagree.
The GTCA provides for a limited waiver of the State's
sovereign immunity. In order to effectuate this waiver,
certain prerequisites must be met. The GTCA requires a party
with a potential tort claim against the State to provide the
State with notice of the claim prior to filing suit thereon.
[Among other things, t]he notice must identify, to the extent
of the claimant's knowledge and belief and as may be
practicable under the circumstances, . . . the nature and
amount of the loss suffered. . . .
[The] ante litem requirements ensure that the State receives
adequate notice of the claim to facilitate settlement before
the filing of a lawsuit. . . If the ante litem notice
requirements are not met, then the State does not waive
sovereign immunity, and therefore, the trial court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction.
while courts should not apply a "hyper-technical
construction" to the GTCA, "strict compliance with
[the] ante litem notice requirements is necessary, and
substantial compliance is insufficient."
it is undisputed that the parents' ante litem notice did
not state the amount of loss suffered, merely describing the
injury to [T. R. D.] and stating that his mother "would
have additional claims for monetary loss and mileage."
As argued by the Department and stated by the trial court in
its order, this is not sufficient. For ...