Alston & Bird recently participated in achieving a favorable ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court for defendants involved in asbestos litigation. In its decision, the Georgia Supreme Court held that statements made by a plaintiff in the sworn information form, filed with the Complaint pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 51-14-7, are treated as admissions in judicio. The case is Georgia-Pac., LLC v. Fields, Case No. S12G1393, 2013 WL 4779544,_____ Ga. _____, ____ S.E.2d ____ (Ga. Sept. 9, 2013).
In Fields, plaintiffs alleged that Mrs. Fields developed peritoneal mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos dust from a number of defendants. Id. at * 1. Defendants remaining in the case as it proceeded to trial filed notices of fault of nonparties under O.C.G.A. § 51-12-33 for purposes of apportioning damages by the jury. Id. Plaintiffs subsequently moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of nonparty fault, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support such notices and, therefore, defendants should be precluded from presenting the issue to the jury. Id. In their response, defendants pointed to, among other things, the statements made by Mrs. Fields in her sworn information form, filed with her Complaint, claiming exposure to various companies’ products. Id. The trial court granted the plaintiffs’ motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the statements contained within the sworn information form were not evidence for purposes of defeating summary judgment, much like allegations contained within a verified complaint. Id. As Mrs. Fields asserted in the sworn disclosure form that her statements were “based on ‘the best of [her] knowledge and belief,’” the court held that the personal knowledge requirement of verification for summary judgment purposes was not fulfilled. Id.
The Georgia Supreme Court disagreed with the analysis of the Court of Appeals, pointing out that the cases relied upon by that court dealt with situations in which the parties wanted to rely upon their own pleadings to defeat an opposing party’s motion. Id. at 2. By contrast, it noted that O.C.G.A .§ 24-8-821 specifically provides that parties may avail themselves of allegations or admissions made in another’s pleadings. Id. The court went on to hold that “[s]uch admissions or allegations appearing in the pleadings are treated as admissions in judicio and, if not withdrawn, are conclusive of the facts contained therein.” Id. Further, while amendments to or withdrawals of original proceedings may have the effect of preventing the original admissions from serving as solemn admissions in judicio, such action does not prevent the use of the admissions for all purposes. Id. If a party avails itself of a stricken pleading of an opposing party, for instance, the availing party can tender the original admission in judicio as an admission against interest, and the opposing party cannot establish as a matter of law that the admission(s) contained therein are untrue; it can only raise an issue of fact for the jury. Id. at * 2-3.
Accordingly, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, holding that defendants should have been permitted to rely upon the pleadings to defeat plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment. Id. at 3-4.