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Heard v. Payne

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

May 28, 2019

HEARD
v.
PAYNE et al.

          DOYLE, P. J., RICKMAN and COOMER, JJ.

          RICKMAN, JUDGE.

         Following Vickie Heard, Michael Bryan Payne ("Bryan"), and Larry Payne's competing claims to a winning lottery ticket, the Georgia Lottery Corporation ("the Corporation") filed a complaint for interpleader seeking a determination as to which party had a right to the lottery funds. The case was tried before a jury, and the jury found that Larry was the rightful owner of the lottery ticket at issue. The trial court entered an order on the verdict, directing the Corporation to pay the prize winnings to Larry. Heard appeals from the trial court's order. Heard contends that the trial court erred by denying her motion to exclude the testimony of a witness, allowing the same witness to testify that Bryan agreed to take a polygraph examination, and by allowing the Paynes to introduce certain evidence. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         We must construe the evidence in favor of the jury's verdict. See Evans v. Cushing Properties, 197 Ga.App. 380 (1) (a) (398 S.E.2d 306) (1990). So construed, the evidence showed that Larry lives in Alabama. On February 13, 2015, Larry and his cousin drove from Alabama to Tennessee to pick up a car. After purchasing the car, Larry stopped in Trenton, Georgia and bought a lottery ticket. When he got home, Larry gave the lottery ticket to his cousin so that his cousin could check the numbers for a winner on his computer. In June 2015, Larry's cousin gave Larry four lottery tickets, including Larry's ticket from February, and told him that he had not checked the numbers for a winner. Larry put the tickets underneath the sun visor in his car.

         Approximately one month later, Larry let Bryan, his nephew, borrow his car to drive to Georgia. Larry eventually remembered that the lottery tickets were in the car, and he called and asked Bryan to redeem them for him in Georgia. In Georgia, Bryan stopped at a gas station to check all four tickets. The gas station clerk informed Bryan that three were worth $7 each and that one was worth more than $600, so he would have to call the Corporation for information about the pay out. Initially, Bryan thought he might keep the money for himself and did not call Larry to update him on the status of his tickets.

         Two days later, Bryan was working at Heard and her husband's auto body shop when he told Heard that he needed to take the next day off of work to cash in the lottery ticket. Bryan asked if someone could accompany him to Georgia, and Heard volunteered her sister to ride with him. After arriving at the Corporation, an employee checked the ticket and informed Bryan and Heard's sister that the ticket was worth $1 million. Upon returning to the body shop, Heard's sister told Heard the value of the ticket, and Bryan stated that he needed to call and tell Larry about the winning ticket. Heard, however, encouraged Bryan to wait and surprise Larry later in the week.

         Later in the week, Heard's husband called Larry, his cousin, and asked him to come to the shop. At the shop, Heard told Larry that Bryan had won $1 million in the lottery but that Bryan had stolen her lottery ticket. Heard told Larry that the numbers on the ticket were the same numbers that she picked every time. But when Heard confronted Bryan, he stated he got the ticket from the sun visor of Larry's car.

         Heard contacted the Etowah County Sheriff's Department about the alleged theft. She told the assigned investigator that she knew the ticket was hers because she always played certain numbers. Although Heard informed the investigator that she purchased the ticket in Trenton, Georgia, she was unsure of which gas station she bought the ticket from. Notably, during one of her many phone calls to the Corporation, Heard repeatedly asked the Corporation employee to tell her which gas station the ticket was purchased from. Ultimately, the investigator determined that no charges should be brought against Bryan. The investigator testified that Bryan agreed to take a polygraph examination and that his agreement to take the examination factored into his decision not to prosecute.

         The investigator for the Corporation testified that Heard also told him that the numbers on the ticket were numbers that she always played. He also testified, however, that the ticket in question was a quick pick lottery ticket, meaning that the computer picked the numbers, which was inconsistent with Heard's statements that she chose the numbers.

         A forensic document examiner testified as an expert that the watermark on the lottery ticket was very faint, which would be consistent with having been left in an automobile in Alabama during the summer.

         Heard's husband testified that on the day the lottery ticket was purchased, he and Heard had "switched phones" and that he stayed at the shop all day. The phone records for the phone that Heard was allegedly using on that date showed that calls were made from Irondale and Moody, Alabama. When asked what Heard would have been doing in Irondale or Moody, Heard's husband responded, "well, if she went, that's the place where we pick up cars." Heard testified that she did not take a phone with her on the date she bought the lottery ticket when she traveled alone from Alabama to Trenton, Georgia. Instead, she "carr[ied] a pistol."

         The Corporation filed a complaint for interpleader seeking a determination as to whether Larry, Bryan, or Heard had a right to the lottery funds. The trial court granted a partial directed verdict against Bryan because he testified at trial that he did not claim any interest in the ticket. The jury found "in favor of Defendant Larry Payne and that he is the rightful owner of the Powerball lottery ticket at issue."

         1. Heard contends that the trial court erred by denying her motion to exclude the Sheriff's Office investigator from testifying. Heard argues that the investigator's testimony was not relevant to any issue in the case.

         "All relevant evidence shall be admissible, except as limited by constitutional requirements or as otherwise provided by law or by other rules. . . . Evidence which is not relevant shall not be admissible." OCGA § 24-4-402. "[T]he term "relevant evidence" means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." OCGA § 24-4-401. "[E]vidence having a tendency to establish facts in issue is relevant and admissible, and no matter how slight the probative value, our law favors admission of relevant evidence." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) City of Atlanta v. Bennett, 322 Ga.App. 726, 728 (1) (746 S.E.2d 198) (2013). "A trial court's ...


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