January 8, 2014, Maria Matta-Troncoso and her husband, Mario
Matta ("the Mattas"), sued Michael and Lakeisha
Thornton, alleging that the Thorntons were liable under OCGA
§ 51-2-7 for injuries that Matta-Troncoso sustained
when the Thorntons' dogs attacked her as she was walking
her own dogs approximately two blocks away from the
Thorntons' rental house. On August 20, 2014, the Mattas
amended their complaint by adding Gregory B. Tyner, the
Thorntons' landlord, alleging that he was liable under
OCGA § 44-7-14 for failing to keep the rental property in
repair. Specifically, they alleged that Tyner failed to
repair a broken gate latch that allowed the Thorntons'
dogs to escape the property and attack Matta-Troncoso. Tyner
filed a motion for summary judgment,  and the trial court
determined that although Tyner breached his duty to keep the
premises in repair by failing to repair the broken gate
latch, summary judgment was nevertheless warranted in his
favor because the Mattas made no showing that the
Thorntons' dogs had ever displayed vicious propensities
or that Tyner had knowledge of such tendencies. On appeal,
the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling
that Tyner was entitled to summary judgment. It concluded
that the trial court erred in its analysis of whether Tyner
had knowledge of the dogs' vicious propensities. Citing
OCGA § 51-2-7, the Court of Appeals reasoned that
because there was evidence that the dogs were unleashed in
violation of a local ordinance, the Mattas were not required
to produce evidence that "Tyner [was] aware of the
dogs' vicious propensities." Matta-Troncoso v.
Tyner, 343 Ga.App. 63, 66-68 (806 S.E.2d 10) (2017). The
Court of Appeals further concluded that Tyner could be liable
under OCGA § 44-7-14 because that statute did not limit
a landlord's liability to injuries occurring on a leased
premises, and that there existed a genuine issue of material
fact as to whether Matta-Troncoso's injuries "arose
from" Tyner's failure to repair the gate latch.
Id. at 68-70 (referencing portion of OCGA §
44-7-14 that provides that a "landlord is responsible
for damages arising from defective construction or for
damages arising from the failure to keep the
premises in repair") (emphasis supplied).
granted Tyner's petition for certiorari and posed a
single question: Did the Court of Appeals err by reversing
the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of
Tyner? We answer that question in the affirmative, and
therefore reverse the Court of Appeals.
appeal from a ruling on a motion for summary judgment, we
conduct a de novo review, viewing the evidence in the record
and all inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to
the nonmoving party. See Steagald v. Eason, 300 Ga.
717, 718 n.1 (797 S.E.2d 838) (2017); Toyo Tire N. Am.
Mfg., Inc. v. Davis, 299 Ga. 155, 161 (787 S.E.2d 171)
(2016). So viewed, the evidence shows the following. Tyner
leased his house to the Thorntons in 2008. Both the original
lease and a subsequent lease allowed the Thorntons to keep
pets without any restrictions, and the record shows that
Tyner was aware that the Thorntons had a Labrador retriever
dog when they first moved into the rental house.
backyard of the house was enclosed by a wooden privacy fence.
The front gate of the fence initially had a latch on it that
prevented the gate from opening. Some time after moving in,
the Thorntons discovered that a pest-control or lawn-service
provider had broken the latch on the front gate. Although the
parties presented contradictory evidence about whether the
Thorntons ever notified Tyner about the broken latch, Tyner
concedes that his knowledge of the broken latch must be
assumed for purposes of summary judgment and for this appeal.
Tyner never repaired the latch or ordered it to be repaired.
Because the latch was broken, the Thorntons began securing
the front gate with a tightly tied dog leash and with weights
and a cement block at the base of the gate. Some years later,
the Thorntons' Labrador retriever escaped from the
backyard and was struck and killed by a car. The Thorntons
then acquired two pit bull terriers and kept them outside in
the backyard during the day and in the home at night. Because
there is at least some record evidence indicating that Tyner
may have known about the Thorntons' pit bulls, we assume
at this stage that Tyner was aware of the dogs'
existence. However, there is no record evidence that the
Thorntons' pit bulls displayed aggressive behavior before
they attacked Matta-Troncoso, or that Tyner knew the pit
bulls had any kind of aggressive temperament or propensity.
October 24, 2013, Michael Thornton secured the gate as he
usually did before leaving the two dogs unattended in the
backyard. Matta-Troncoso, who lived a few blocks away from
the Thorntons, was walking her two small dogs in the
neighborhood when the Thorntons' two pit bulls attacked
her dogs. One of her dogs fled. While Matta-Troncoso
attempted to defend the other, the Thorntons' dogs
knocked Matta-Troncoso to the ground and began attacking her.
A neighbor called the police and an officer arrived within
minutes. The officer fatally shot both dogs and began
administering first aid to Matta-Troncoso, who was airlifted
to the hospital with serious injuries.
the attack, the police took photographs of the front gate at
the Thornton residence. The leash was still hanging from the
top of the gate and fence where it had been tied. A few
months later, the State charged Michael Thornton with four
counts of violating Henry County's ordinances pertaining
to keeping a vicious animal, failing to provide a collar and
display of current vaccination tag for an animal, failing to
keep an animal under restraint, and allowing an animal to
become a public nuisance. He pled guilty to all charges. The
Mattas now seek to hold the Thorntons' landlord, Tyner,
liable for the injuries inflicted by the Thorntons' dogs.
issue before us on certiorari review is whether the Court of
Appeals erred by reversing the trial court's grant of
summary judgment in favor of Tyner. As an initial matter, the
Court of Appeals erred in its analysis of Tyner's motion
for summary judgment because it applied OCGA § 51-2-7 to
Tyner. By its plain terms, OCGA § 51-2-7 applies only to
"[a] person who owns or keeps a vicious or
dangerous animal." OCGA § 51-2-7 (emphasis
supplied). Because there is no contention (let alone
evidence) that Tyner, as an out-of-possession landlord,
either owned or kept the dogs at issue here, OCGA §
51-2-7 does not apply in the Mattas' case against him.
See, e.g., Oertel v. Chi Psi Fraternity, 239 Ga.App.
147, 152 (521 S.E.2d 71) (1999) (affirming summary judgment
in favor of national fraternity chapter in dog-bite case
because there was no evidence that national chapter owned or
kept the dog); see also Martin v. Johnson-Lemon, 271
Ga. 120, 123 (516 S.E.2d 66) (1999) (Court of Appeals erred
by implicitly analyzing an action against an
out-of-possession landlord under an inapplicable code section
and not OCGA § 44-7-14). Indeed, the Court of Appeals
erred when it effectively wrote the phrase "or
landlord" into OCGA § 51-2-7 where no such language
exists. See Conley v. Pate, 2019 WL 1006317, at *2
n.3, 2019 Ga. LEXIS 140, at *4 (Ga. Mar. 4, 2019) ("[W]e
cannot rewrite a statute that 'almost' fits a case to
make it apply where it clearly does not."). And that
error was significant, because the Court of Appeals relied on
OCGA § 51-2-7 to bypass the Mattas' burden to show
that Tyner was aware of the dogs' temperament or
propensity to do harm (see Division 3 below). By extending the
statute to apply not only to pet owners and keepers, but also
to landlords, the Court of Appeals erroneously
presumed Tyner's awareness of the dogs'
allegedly vicious propensity. That application of OCGA §
51-2-7, and the analysis that flowed from it, was erroneous,
as was the Court of Appeals' conclusion that "the
trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the ground
that the plaintiffs failed to produce evidence that the
Thorntons' dogs had ever displayed any vicious
propensities." Matta-Troncoso, 343 Ga.App. at
Identifying this misguided application of OCGA § 51-2-7
does not, however, resolve the question before us today. That
is because the Court of Appeals went on to hold that the
grant of summary judgment in Tyner's favor was erroneous
even under OCGA § 44-7-14 because "there exists a
genuine issue of material fact as to whether
[Matta-Troncoso's] injuries arose from the Thorntons'
dogs escaping their enclosure and then attacking
[Matta-Troncoso] as a result of Tyner's failure to repair
the latch on the fence's front gate."
Matta-Troncoso, 343 Ga.App. at 70. We disagree.
Looking to OCGA § 44-7-14 and the record before us, we
conclude that there was no genuine issue of material fact as
to Tyner's liability because there is no evidence that
Tyner was aware that the Thorntons' dogs had any harmful
tendencies or propensities, and it therefore was not
reasonably foreseeable that Matta-Troncoso's injuries
could "aris[e] from" Tyner's failure to repair
the broken gate latch.
Mattas brought a negligence claim against Tyner under OCGA
§ 44-7-14, a statute that pertains to out-of-possession
landlords and governs claims of negligence for failure to
repair. Assuming that OCGA § 44-7-14 can be used to hold
out-of-possession landlords liable for injuries resulting
from dog bites,  it remains "well established that to
recover for injuries caused by another's negligence, a
plaintiff must show four elements: a duty, a breach of that
duty, causation and damages." Goldstein, Garber
& Salama, LLC v. J.B., 300 Ga. 840, 841 (797 S.E.2d
87) (2017) (citation and punctuation omitted).
Tyner had a statutory duty to "keep the premises in
repair." OCGA § 44-7-14. Given that Tyner concedes
that his knowledge of the broken gate latch must be assumed
at the summary judgment stage-and because the record shows
that Tyner failed to repair that latch-we assume that Tyner
breached his statutory duty in this case. With the first two
elements of a negligence claim met, we turn to the third:
whether Tyner's failure to repair the broken gate latch
caused the injuries Matta-Troncoso suffered.
point, Tyner argues (among other things) that his failure to
repair the gate latch was not the proximate cause of
Matta-Troncoso's injuries because the Thorntons had
"superior knowledge to their landlord regarding the
dogs' temperament" and because Tyner's failure
to repair the latch did not cause the dogs to escape from the
yard. The Mattas, on the other hand, contend that OCGA §
44-7-14 contains no express knowledge requirement, and it is
therefore "doubtful that Plaintiffs even need to show
evidence of propensity to recover [damages]." According
to the Mattas, the statute requires only that
"Plaintiffs show evidence that Tyner kn[e]w of the
defective condition (that the gate latch was broken and would
not contain the dogs) and that the injuries 'arose
from' the breach (Tyner's failure to repair)."
They also argue that proximate cause "is always a jury
question," so summary judgment should not have been
granted in Tyner's favor. We again disagree.
order to recover for any injuries resulting from the breach
of a duty, there must be evidence that the injuries were
proximately caused by the breach of the duty."
Goldstein, Garber & Salama, LLC, 300 Ga. at 841.
See also Jones v. Campbell, 198 Ga.App. 83, 86 (400
S.E.2d 364) (1990) (to recover under OCGA § 44-7-14,
"a tenant is required to show not only that the landlord
breached his statutory duty to keep the premises in repair,
but that such breach was the proximate cause of [the]
injury") (alterations in original; citation and
punctuation omitted). "Inextricably entwined with
concepts of negligence and proximate cause is a notion of
foreseeability," City of Richmond Hill v. Maia,
301 Ga. 257, 258 (800 S.E.2d 573) (2017) (citation and
punctuation omitted), the idea that a defendant could
reasonably foresee that an injury would result from his act
or omission. Smith v. Finch, 285 Ga. 709, 712 (681
S.E.2d 147) (2009). Georgia courts have applied that general
rule in other cases evaluating negligence claims under OCGA
§ 44-7-14. See, e.g., Gale v. N. Meadow Assoc. Joint
Venue, 219 Ga.App. 801, 803 (466 S.E.2d 648) (1995)
(affirming summary judgment for landlord under "the
landlord's limited liability under OCGA §
44-7-14," because there was no evidence of prior acts
from which the landlord could have "reasonably foreseen
the attack" by a co-worker) (citation and punctuation
omitted) (physical precedent only); Jones, 198
Ga.App. at 85 (in case brought under OCGA § 44-7-14,
affirming summary judgment for landlord for injuries caused
when tenant fell in sinkhole on leased property because
"[t]here was no evidence to show that the [landlords],
any more than the [tenants], should reasonably have foreseen
the creation of such a hole appearing by the continuing
erosion of the stream embankment").
Court of Appeals, moreover, has acknowledged the role of
foreseeability where negligence is alleged in the dog-bite
context, including under OCGA § 44-7-14. For example, in
affirming summary judgment for the out-of-possession landlord
in Griffiths v. Rowe Properties, the Court of
Appeals held that the plaintiff made no showing of defective
construction or repair, but also noted that there was no
evidence that the landlord had any knowledge of the
tenant's dog's "dangerous propensities or
viciousness." 271 Ga.App. 344, 344-345 (609 S.E.2d 690)
(2005). And in Pickard v. Cook, the Court of Appeals
affirmed a grant of summary judgment in an OCGA § 51-3-1
premises-liability case where homeowners were sued after a
neighbor's unleashed dog wandered through an open gate
into the homeowner's backyard during a child's
birthday party and bit a four-year-old child on the face. 223
Ga.App. 595, 595-596 (478 S.E.2d 432) (1996). Critical to
that analysis was that "[p]rior to this incident, to the
[homeowners'] knowledge, the dog had shown no vicious
propensities nor had he growled at or attacked anyone."
Id. at 595-596 (concluding that under OCGA §
51-3-1, the defendant was "still required to come
forward with evidence of the vicious propensity of the . . .
dog in order to show the dangerous condition of which the
premises owner had superior knowledge"). See also
Steagald, 300 Ga. at 719 (quoting Sinclair v.
Friedlander, 197 Ga. 797, 800 (30 S.E.2d 398) (1944),
and noting that in the context of OCGA § 51-2-7, unless
there is an ordinance permitting the statutory presumption
against the dog owner, "knowledge must be shown
'although the Code section [is] silent as to the
necessity of its being shown'"); Custer v.
Coward, 293 Ga.App. 316, 319 (667 S.E.2d 135) (2008)
("In a typical dog bite case, regardless of whether the
cause of action is based on the premises liability statute
(OCGA § 51-3-1) or the dangerous animal liability
statute (OCGA § 51-2-7)," plaintiffs are required
to "produce evidence of the vicious propensity of the
dog in order to show that the owner of the premises ...