The Georgia Supreme Court has announced it will hear an appeal from a Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy in the case of a resident whose dogs were euthanized while he was hospitalized six years ago.
Mitchell Greenway filed suit seeking damages after the incident against then-Sheriff Ted Paxton, Deputy Terry Roper, Northside Hospital and NALAA, which runs the county animal shelter.
Greenway, a county resident, was hospitalized for an emergency in January 2007. He contends a deputy demanded he sign a form releasing ownership of his two dogs, citing an animal control shelter policy to hold them for a certain number of days.
Three days after his hospitalization, however, Greenway’s dogs were euthanized.
The case was heard in Forsyth County Superior Court and summary judgment was granted to all defendants, which stopped the case before a trial.
The Georgia Court of Appeals, however, reversed that decision in July for Roper, Northside and the shelter, finding that a case against those defendants should continue to trial.
The appeals court decision states: “Greenway’s assertions that Deputy Roper told him, ‘Just sign this damn form,’ and that Deputy Roper did so when [Greenway] was ‘out of it’ and ‘under medication’ create genuine issues of material fact as to whether he breached a ministerial duty.”
A ministerial act, according to the appeals court decision, is one that is “requiring merely the execution of a specific duty.” A discretionary act, however, “calls for the exercise of personal deliberation and judgment.”
The court’s order, issued last week, states arguments will be heard in April as to whether the appeals court “erred in finding the existence of a ministerial duty.”
The difference in the deputy’s actions in this case is the “lynchpin” of the arguments to be heard by the state Supreme Court, said Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard, who represents Roper.
“The court of appeals, obviously, found that they believe the act that resulted in the lawsuit was more of a ministerial sort of function, and therefore simple negligence can overcome it to expose the county to liability,” Jarrard said. “We’re not sure we agree with that.”
Ministerial acts require only proof of negligence, he said, while discretionary acts would require criminal recklessness to determine liability.
Bob McFarland, who represents Greenway, said the rest of the case will remain pending until this issue is decided by the state Supreme Court.
“Mr. Greenway is doing OK. He’s anxious to get this case resolved,” McFarland said.
A reversal of the appeals court decision could mean the trial court’s granting of summary judgment would stand and Roper wouldn’t have to stand trial, McFarland said.
Roper is still employed with the sheriff’s office, where he started in April 2003.