Georgia Supreme Court Sets Forth Procedure for Evaluating Motion to Strike “Scandalous” Allegations in Lawsuit Involving Breakup of Medical Practice

It’s been said that “breaking up is hard to do.” While this can certainly be true of romantic relationships, it can also be true of professional Georgia business partnerships. Just as former spouses and romantic partners can go from being in love to holding one another in contempt, business relationships, too, can deteriorate to the point where parting company is the only workable solution. Of course, sometimes one (or both) parties to a breakup holds onto the hostilities and acrimonious feelings, causing the situation to worsen over time.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the “contentious relationship” of two former business partners (doctors, who worked together as partners in an Atlanta medical practice) resulted in litigation that made its way all the was to the state’s highest court. The plaintiff complaint alleged causes of action for (among other things) civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, slander and oral defamation, and tortious interference with business relations.

After the defendants filed a motion to strike matter from the plaintiff’s pleading on the ground that it was “scandalous,” the trial court struck approximately 15 paragraphs of the plaintiff’s complaint. The intermediate court of appeals reversed most of that order, and the defendants appealed.

Ruling of the Georgia Supreme Court

The supreme court granted a writ of certiorari to address the proper procedure for a trial court that is evaluating a motion to strike pursuant to Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 9-11-12(f). According to the court, the trial did not properly evaluate the defendants’ motion. Because the trial court should have the opportunity to exercise its discretion regarding the motion, the supreme court vacated the intermediate court’s judgment in part and remanded the matter with directions to vacate the trial court’s order and remand the case for further proceedings.

Included in the allegations about which the defendants complained in their motion to strike were assertions that one of the business partners had performed surgery while using cocaine, that he had threatened to kill the other doctor and his staff, and that he was a “known racist” who had systematically fired all African Americans from his medical operations.

On remand, the trial court was directed to first evaluate whether each challenged allegation was truly relevant to the case. If an allegation is found to be truly relevant, generally it should not be struck even if it causes prejudice. If the allegation’s relevance is not yet apparent, the court should apply the more liberal “no possible bearing” test (any allegation that has no possible bearing on the lawsuit may be struck). At that point, the court should take a closer look at the remaining challenged allegations, evaluating how likely the allegations are to have a bearing on the case and how prejudicial these allegations are.

Talk to an Atlanta Employment Law Attorney

If you have found yourself “breaking up” with a business partner or a former employer, either willingly or not of your own volition, chances are that you need reliable legal advice. Attorney John L. Mays at Parks, Chesin & Walbert handles many different types of employment law cases. For an appointment to discuss your particular situation, call 404-873-8048.

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