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Georgia Lottery Corp. v. Patel

Court of Appeals of Georgia, First Division

March 14, 2019

GEORGIA LOTTERY CORPORATION
v.
PATEL

          BARNES, P.J., MCMILLIAN and COOMER, JJ.

          COOMER, JUDGE.

         Ramilaben Patel sued the Georgia Lottery Corporation (the "GLC") for breach of contract after it denied her claim for a lottery prize. The GLC filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court denied. The GLC appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in denying its motion to dismiss because a Georgia lottery ticket is not an express, written, signed contract and therefore Patel's suit is barred by sovereign immunity. Whether a Georgia lottery ticket constitutes a written contract which waives the GLC's sovereign immunity is an issue of first impression. For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court's denial of the GLC's motion to dismiss.

          "We review de novo a trial court's ruling on a motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity grounds, which is a matter of law." Driscoll v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. System of Ga., 326 Ga.App. 315, 315 (757 S.E.2d 138) (2014).

         In 2016, Patel presented a scratched off lottery ticket to the GLC, claiming a $5, 000, 000 prize. On its face, the ticket contained the words "Georgia Lottery," provided a ticket price of "$20," and stated "Match any of YOUR NUMBERS to any of the eight SERIAL NUMBERS, win prize shown for that number. Get JUMBO and win 5 times that prize. Get a "[symbol omitted]" symbol, instantly win ALL 20 PRIZES shown!" On the back, the ticket provided as follows:

• Ticket price is $20. Overall Odds: 1:3.01. Sign ticket and claim prizes as soon as possible, but no later than 90 days after end of game. To claim prizes up to and including $600, present the ticket to any Georgia Lottery retailer or office. To claim prizes over $600, present the ticket to any Georgia Lottery office, along with a valid government issued photo ID and social security card. Prizes can also be claimed by mailing signed ticket to: Georgia Lottery, P.O. Box 56966, Atlanta, GA 30343. Date of claim is date of receipt by GLC.
• All tickets, transactions and winners are subject to Lottery Rules and applicable State Law. Prizes, including top prizes, are subject to availability at time of ticket purchase. Ticket purchasers must be at least 18 years old. Tickets are void if they fail to meet requirements of game rules or are altered or defective in any manner. Liability for void ticket is limited to replacement of ticket or refund of retail sales price.
• Players winning a free ticket in this game are entitled to a free ticket valued at $20.
• For more information, visit our website at www.galottery.com or call 1-800-GA-LUCKY (1-800-425-8259).

         The GLC denied Patel's prize claim. When the GLC informed Patel that it was denying her claim, Patel filed a complaint against the GLC, asserting that the GLC breached its contractual obligation by failing to pay the $5, 000, 000 prize. The GLC filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of sovereign immunity. After a hearing, the trial court denied the GLC's motion to dismiss, finding that the lottery ticket was a contract between the GLC and Patel, which resulted in a waiver of sovereign immunity. The trial court issued a certificate of immediate review and the GLC timely filed an application for interlocutory review, which we granted. This appeal followed, in which the GLC asserts as its sole enumeration of error that Patel's suit is barred by sovereign immunity. We disagree.

         (a) The GLC argues that its defense of sovereign immunity was not waived because a lottery ticket is not an express, written, signed contract. "The doctrine of sovereign immunity, also known as governmental immunity, protects all levels of governments from legal action unless they have waived their immunity from suit." Watts v. City of Dillard, 294 Ga.App. 861, 862 (1) (670 S.E.2d 442) (2008) (punctuation omitted). Sovereign immunity applies to the GLC. In Kyle v. Ga. Lottery Corp., 290 Ga. 87, 88 (1) (718 S.E.2d 801) (2011), the Supreme Court held that the GLC was an instrumentality of the State and was therefore protected from suit from sovereign immunity. The Georgia Constitution, however, waives sovereign immunity in breach-of-contract claims based upon written contracts. Layer v. Barrow County, 297 Ga. 871, 871 (1) (778 S.E.2d 156) (2015); see Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. I, Sec. II, Par. IX (c). The burden of demonstrating a waiver of sovereign immunity rests with the person asserting it. See Watts, 294 Ga.App. at 863 (1). The GLC argues that Patel did not meet her burden because she failed to show that she has an express, written, signed contract with the GLC.

         "To constitute a valid contract, there must be parties able to contract, a consideration moving to the contract, the assent of the parties to the terms of the contract, and a subject matter upon which the contract can operate." OCGA § 13-3-1. "An offer and an acceptance are essential prerequisites to the creation of every kind of contract. Thus, the law requires that the parties consent to the formation of a contract. Until each has assented to all the terms, there is no binding contract[.]" Southeast Grading, Inc. v. City of Atlanta, 172 Ga.App. 798, 800 (2) (324 S.E.2d 776) (1984) (citations and punctuation omitted). "Assent to the terms of a contract may be given other than by signatures." Cochran v. Eason, 227 Ga. 316, 318 (1) (180 S.E.2d 702) (1971).

         In Georgia, there has been no express determination made that lottery tickets constitute written contracts. The GLC argues that the trial court erred in relying on dicta in Talley v. Mathis, 265 Ga. 179, 179 (1) (453 S.E.2d 704) (1995) and Ga. Lottery Corp. v. Sumner, 242 Ga.App. 758, 762 (3) (529 S.E.2d 925) (2000) in finding that a lottery ticket is a contract between the GLC and the holder of the ticket. In Talley, our Supreme Court, in considering the validity of an agreement to split proceeds of a lottery ticket purchased in Kentucky, referred to the lottery ticket as a "gambling contract" between the State of Kentucky and the holder of the winning lottery ticket, the enforceability of which was recognized "through [that state's] agreement to pay the lottery proceeds to appellees in their capacities as holders of the winning ticket." In Sumner, which was decided on other grounds, we stated that "whether a lottery player is entitled to prize winnings under the terms printed on the ticket is governed by the principles of contract law. The GLC offers the chance to win a prize, and the player accepts the offer by buying the ticket." 242 Ga.App. at 762 (3). Moreover, we acknowledged that the terms on the back of the ticket were indeed contractual terms. Id. The GLC maintains that a lottery ticket could not be a contract without being signed, but Sumner can be read to reject this theory.

         Although Sumner is not binding precedent on the issue of whether a Georgia lottery ticket is a contract, our analysis in that case was correct. The GLC issues written lottery tickets. By buying a lottery ticket, a lottery player accepts the GLC's offer of a chance to win a prize under the terms printed on the ticket. By issuing and selling the ticket, the GLC assents to the terms of the contract. Thus, the elements of offer, acceptance, and assent of both parties to the terms of the contract are present. See OCGA § 13-3-1; see also Southeast Grading, Inc., 172 Ga.App. at 800 (2). As discussed below, the GLC has the ability to contract as required by OCGA § 13-3-1. The consideration for the contract, which is required by OCGA § 13-3-1, is the purchase price of the ticket. The terms of the contract between the holder of the ticket and the GLC are written on the ticket, including the ticket price, how to win a prize, and the process for claiming prizes. Thus, the subject matter of the contract, an essential element of a contract under OCGA § 13-3-1, is stated on the ticket. Consequently, a Georgia lottery ticket is a valid contract under Georgia law. Furthermore, a Georgia lottery ticket is an express written contract because the ...


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