Atlanta National League Baseball Club v FF & Ors (2014) H&FLR 2014-43

Atlanta National League Baseball Club v FF & Ors (2014) H&FLR 2014-42

Georgia Court of Appeals

11 July 2014

Coram: Barnes PJ, Boggs and Branch JJ

Appearing for the Appellant: The Hon Leah Ward Sears and Mr Ronald Gaither (of Schiff Hardin LLP) and Mr Bradley Wolff and Ms Pamela Lee (of Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers LLP)
Appearing for the Respondent: Mr Matthew Dwyer (of Dwyer Law Group), Messrs Peter Law and Michael Moran (both of Law & Moran) and Ms Amanda Evans.

Catchwords: Georgia – baseball – infant plaintiff – foul ball – injury – baseball rule – declaratory judgment – negligence

Facts: The plaintiff, a six year old girl, attended a baseball game at the home ground of the Atlanta Braves. While sitting in a part of the stadium behind the visitors’ dugout, she was hit in the head by a foul ball, suffering serious injuries. By her litigation guardian, she issued proceedings against the defendant for negligence.

The defendant applied for a declaratory judgment as to the applicable standard of care under Georgia’s Declaratory Judgment Act, which relevantly provides (OCGA §9-4-2) that –

(a) In cases of actual controversy, the … superior courts of this state shall have power, upon … appropriate pleading, to declare rights and other legal relations of any interested party petitioning for such declaration …; and the declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment … and be reviewable as such.

(b) In addition …, the … superior courts of this state shall have power, upon … appropriate pleading, to declare rights and other legal relations of any interested party petitioning for the declaration … in any civil case in which it appears to the court that the ends of justice require that the declaration should be made; and the declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree and be reviewable as such.

The court denied the application: FF v Atlanta National League Baseball Club (Fulton County State Court, Porter J, 3 January 2013, unreported). The defendant sought interlocutory review of the denial, arguing that the trial court should have declared that the ‘baseball rule’* formed part of the law of Georgia.

Held: Dismissing the application, that a party seeking a declaratory judgment must show that it is necessary in order to relieve the party of the risk of taking action that, without direction, would jeopardise their interests. It is not available where the parties rights and liabilities have already accrued. In this case, the event giving rise to the defendant’s putative liability had already occurred. The declaratory judgment process would not be an appropriate means of testing the defence that their duty of care was met by observing the requirements of the ‘baseball rule’.

Thomas v Atlanta Casualty Co, 253 Ga. App. 199, 588 SE.2d 432 (2001) and Porter v Houghton, 273 Ga. 407, 542 SE.2d 491 (2001), followed.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.

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* As to which, see South Shore Baseball LLC v DeJesus (2014) H&FLR 2014-39 and Coomer v Kansas City Royals (2014) H&FLR 2014-41