Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Patel v. Georgia Lottery Corp.

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Second Division

June 25, 2019


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

          Coomer, Judge.

         Ramilaben Patel sued the Georgia Lottery Corporation (the "GLC") in the State Court of Fulton County for breach of contract after it denied her claim for a $5, 000, 000 lottery prize. The GLC filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that venue was improper in state court. The state court denied the GLC's motion to dismiss but transferred the case to the Superior Court of Fulton County. Patel filed a motion for summary judgment, and the GLC filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds of sovereign immunity. After a hearing, the trial court denied both Patel's motion for summary judgment and the GLC's motion to dismiss. The trial court issued a certificate of immediate review for its consolidated order and the GLC timely filed an application for interlocutory review, which we granted. The GLC appealed.[1]Patel cross-appeals from the superior court's order denying summary judgment and from the state court's order transferring the case to superior court, arguing that the superior court erred in denying her motion for summary judgment on the basis that genuine issues of material fact remain and in denying her claim for statutory interest. She also contends that the state court erred in transferring her case to superior court. For the following reasons, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         1. Summary judgment is proper only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." OCGA § 9-11-56 (c). "[A]t the summary judgment stage, courts are required to construe the evidence most favorably towards the nonmoving party, who is given the benefit of all reasonable doubts and possible inferences." Smith v. Tenet HealthSystem Spalding, Inc., 327 Ga.App. 878, 879 (1) (761 S.E.2d 409) (2014) (footnote and punctuation omitted). "And because summary judgment is a matter of law, we review the issue de novo." Norfolk Southern R. Co. v. Zeagler, 293 Ga. 582, 583 (1) (a) (748 S.E.2d 846) (2013) (citation omitted).

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the GLC, the record shows that on June 28, 2016, Patel went to the GLC's office in Dalton, Georgia, and presented a winning $5, 000, 000 ticket. On June 30, 2016, the GLC interviewed Patel, the manager of the Neighborhood Food Mart in Dublin, Georgia, regarding the ticket. The interview was conducted through one of Patel's English-speaking friends, who was provided by Patel as her English-Gujarati interpreter. In a letter dated August 16, 2016, Joseph J. Kim, Senior Vice-President and General Counsel for the Georgia Lottery Commission, informed Patel that he had directed the GLC's Prize Validation Department to decline to pay the $5, 000, 000 lottery ticket which she had submitted on June 28, 2016. The reason given for the denial was that Patel's "misrepresentations regarding the facts surrounding [her] purchase of the ticket has led us to conclude that [she is] not the actual purchaser of the ticket and that [she is] actually cashing the ticket for an undisclosed third party." The letter explained that "the GLC cannot allow prize applicants to submit winning tickets on behalf of third parties to assist them to unlawfully circumvent setoffs for unpaid taxes, unpaid child support or unpaid obligations for which winnings are reduced pursuant to OCGA 50-27-50 et seq."

         After Patel filed suit for breach of contract, the GLC conducted an investigation of her $5, 000, 000 prize claim. The investigator in charge of Patel's claim determined that an unusually high number of Georgia lottery ticket packs were activated at the Neighborhood Food Mart in Dublin on June 12, 2016. Specifically, he determined that during a two-minute period, 34 packs containing a total of 460 lottery tickets were activated in rapid succession, including the pack containing the $5, 000, 000 winning lottery ticket. The investigator found that throughout the next three days, the tickets from these 34 packs were scanned at lottery terminals in Decatur, Scottsdale, Clarkston, Lilburn, Macon, and Dublin, and that over $6, 500 in prizes, each with a value of $600 or less, were cashed. Surveillance video at one of the locations where the tickets were scanned and cashed showed that Patel's son, who was a part-time employee at the Neighborhood Food Mart, was the person cashing the tickets. Based on his investigation, the investigator determined that Patel's son obtained the 34 packs of activated lottery tickets, including the $5, 000, 000 winning ticket. At his deposition, Patel's son testified that he had never bought a whole pack of tickets at once because he does not have that much money. The GLC contends that Patel's son took the 34 packs of tickets, worth $10, 200, without making the required up-front cash payment required by OCGA § 50-27-10 (2).

         Patel contends that the $5, 000, 000 lottery ticket was purchased by her daughter, who then gave her the ticket as a gift at a birthday celebration dinner the day before the ticket was scratched. Patel's daughter testified at her deposition that she drove from Brunswick to Dublin on June 12, 2016, with two of her children. When they got to Dublin, she stopped at the Neighborhood Food Mart and bought seven packs of lottery tickets to give to her mother as a gift. Patel's daughter testified that she paid cash for the purchase, which totaled $2, 100 and that she bought the tickets with her own money. Patel's daughter also testified that she and her mother, father, brother, and two of her children drove from Dublin to Atlanta on June 13, 2016, and that on the way to Atlanta, she gave Patel five packs of lottery tickets. When they got to Atlanta, they went to a restaurant to celebrate Patel's birthday. At the restaurant, Patel's daughter gave her two more packs of lottery tickets.

         As the evidence outlined above demonstrates, fact questions remain regarding who obtained the lottery ticket at issue, whether it was paid for at the time it was obtained, and whether Patel is the lawful holder of the lottery ticket. Consequently, the trial court did not err in denying Patel's motion for summary judgment.

         2. Patel contends that the trial court erred in denying her claim for statutory interest. We agree.

         In her complaint, Patel alleged that "[b]y denying [her] claim and refusing to pay the $5, 000, 000.00 prize, Defendant GLC has breached its contractual obligations" and that she had "suffered damages proximately caused by Defendant GLC's breach of the agreement in the amount of $5, 000, 000.00, plus interest accrued from the date of Defendant GLC's initial refusal to honor the terms of the winning ticket." Also in her complaint, she specifically requested that "judgment be entered in [her] favor . . . in the amount of $5, 000, 000.00 . . . [and] [t]hat [she] be awarded costs of the suit, plus interest accrued on the $5, 000, 000.00 winning ticket[.]"

         OCGA § 13-6-13, which applies to contracts, provides that "[i]n all cases where an amount ascertained would be the damages at the time of the breach, it may be increased by the addition of legal interest from that time until the recovery." OCGA § 7-4-15 provides that "[a]ll liquidated demands, where by agreement or otherwise the sum to be paid is fixed or certain, bear interest from the time the party shall become liable and bound to pay them[.]"

         On appeal, the GLC argues that Patel is not entitled to recover prejudgment interest because there is no waiver of sovereign immunity for prejudgment interest. We disagree.

         "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) (citation and 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 contends that because there is no language in OCGA § 7-4-15 or OCGA § 13-6-13 specifically waiving sovereign immunity, an award of prejudgment interest against the GLC is not allowed as a matter of law. We have consistently rejected similar arguments. "The constitutional waiver of sovereign immunity in contract actions against the state is not limited to a waiver of only certain elements of recoverable compensatory damages." Dept. of Transp. v. Fru-Con Constr. Corp., 206 Ga.App. 821, 826 (5) (426 S.E.2d 905) (1992). In State Highway Dept. v. Knox-Rivers Constr. Co., 117 Ga.App. 453, 462 (5) (160 S.E.2d 641) (1968), we held that because sovereign immunity was not applicable in an action against the State Highway Department based on breach of contract, [2] sovereign immunity did not bar an award of interest under Code § 20-1408 (now OCGA § 13-6-13). In Eastern Air Lines, Inc. v. Fulton County, 183 Ga.App. 891, 892-893 (1) (360 S.E.2d 425) (1987), [3]we held that a taxpayer was entitled to recover prejudgment interest from Fulton County under OCGA § 7-4-15 in an action for a refund of wrongfully collected taxes. Similarly, in Waters v. Glynn County, 237 Ga.App. 438, 440 (3) (514 S.E.2d 680) (1999), the county argued that the plaintiff's claim for attorney fees was "barred by sovereign immunity because there has been no specific statutory waiver allowing the recovery of attorney fees against a county." We held that "no separate statutory waiver of sovereign immunity is required to allow the recovery of such damages against a ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.