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Botta v. City of Hamilton

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Columbus Division

May 16, 2019

CITY OF HAMILTON, GEORGIA; HARRIS COUNTY, GEORGIA; and MIKE BROWN, in his official capacity, Defendants.



         Eugenia and George Botta crashed while riding their bicycles east on Barnes Mill Road in Hamilton, Georgia where a bridge crosses over Palmetto Creek. They claim a road defect caused the wreck, and they seek to hold the City of Hamilton (the “City”), Harris County (the “County”) and the County public works director, Mike Brown, liable for their injuries. Defendants assert the defenses of sovereign and official immunity and ask the Court to grant summary judgment in their favor based upon these defenses. For the reasons explained in the remainder of this order, the Court grants the motions of the County (ECF No. 17) and Brown (ECF No. 18) but denies the City's motion (ECF No. 30).


         Summary judgment may be granted only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, drawing all justifiable inferences in the opposing party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A fact is material if it is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit. Id. at 248. A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.


         At the time of the accident, George was riding a tandem bicycle with a blind military veteran. His wife, Eugenia, followed behind them. When they reached the western side of the bridge that crossed Palmetto Creek, George steered his bicycle toward the center of the road to avoid some gravel. His front wheel lodged in a substantial crack in the road. He lost control of his bicycle and veered to the right. Eugenia then collided with George's bicycle. All three occupants were hurled over the bridge guardrail onto the rocks, debris, and creek bed.


         I. The City's Summary Judgment Motion

         The City moved for summary judgment based on O.C.G.A. § 32-4-93(b). That provision states: “A municipality is relieved of any and all liability resulting from or occasioned by defective construction of those portions of the . . . county road system lying within its corporate limits . . . unless the municipality constructed or agreed to perform the necessary maintenance of such road.” Id. Palmetto Creek represents the boundary between the City to the east and unincorporated Harris County to the west. For purposes of its motion, the City agrees that the accident occurred inside the city limits. Thus, the only issue presented by the City's motion is whether the relevant portion of the bridge is part of the “county road system.”

         Under Georgia law, the state Department of Transportation (the “Department”) must “prepare and distribute to each county a map showing all the public roads on its county road system including extensions into municipalities” at least every five years. Id. § 32-4-2(a)(1). The Department must also “keep written records of the mileage . . . on all public roads on each of the county road systems.” Id. § 32-4-2(b). The “official record of a county road system” consists of the map and the Department's written mileage record. Id. § 32-4-2(f). Accordingly, the Court looks to the map and written record to determine whether the bridge is part of the municipal or county road system.

         The accident location appears as follows on the Department's official 2016 map:

         (Image Omitted.)

         See Pis.' Resp. Br. in Opp'n to City's Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. IB, Enlarged Shot of 2016 Gen. Highway Map of Harris Cty., ECF No. 46-3. The map does not clearly show whether the accident occurred on road 205 (part of the County road system) or on road 20501 (part of the municipal road system). See Hill Aff. ¶ 8, ECF No. 45-1 (explaining the difference between roads “20501” and “205”). The official map is therefore inconclusive.

         Further, neither party offered any evidence of the Department's “written record of the mileage” of the County road system. But, the Bottas did point to the Department's written records of the City road system, which indicate that the City owns .576 miles of Barnes Mill Road. See Hood Dep. Pls.' Ex. 8, Email from B. Stephens to R. Hood (Sept. 6, 2017), ECF No. 39 at 190-91. And based on the Bottas' expert's calculations, that distance includes the area of the bridge where the accident occurred. Hill Dep. Def.'s Ex. 14, Photos 51-52, ECF No. 49-2 (showing Bottas' expert standing at .576-mile mark). Thus, a reasonable jury could conclude that the “official record” of the County road system does not include the portion of the bridge where the accident occurred. Accordingly, it is not part of the “county road system lying within [the] corporate limits” of the City so as to confer immunity under O.C.G.A. § 32-4-93(b). Therefore, a genuine factual dispute exists as to whether the portion of the bridge was part of the “county road system” within the City's limits, and the ...

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