Court of Appeals Affirms Summary Judgment for Newnan Hospital

Houston v. Newnan Hospital, Georgia Court of Appeals
Civil Action File No. A09A0688
Newnan Hospital Motion for Summary Judgment Affirmed May 5, 2009

The Plaintiff was a patient at Newnan Hospital where he was treated and discharged the same day. He had been given narcotic medication and was told not to drive for a certain number of hours. Plaintiff denied anyone gave him such an instruction. Soon after being discharged, Plaintiff drove from the hospital. A nurse called the Newnan police department to inform them that Plaintiff was driving under the influence of prescription drugs. The City of Newnan police arrested Plaintiff for DUI. In the subsequent criminal trial, Plaintiff was found not guilty. He then brought suit against the hospital and the nurse for a number of claims, including malicious prosecution.

Levy Pruett Cullen filed the Answer on behalf of the hospital and the nurse and proceeded to defend the case.  We had all of the Plaintiff’s claims except malicious prosecution dismissed based on the applicable statutes of limitations. We then filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the remaining claim of malicious prosecution. In the motion, we argued that the Plaintiff had failed to prove the essential elements of the cause of action: he failed to show an absence of probable cause for his criminal prosecution for DUI, he failed to show malice on the part of Defendants, and he failed to show that Defendants instigated his arrest or prosecution.    

We pointed out that at the Plaintiff’s criminal trial, his motion for directed verdict was denied. Under Georgia law, that ruling constitutes a binding determination that probable cause exists. Thus, we argued that it was impossible for Plaintiff to prove an absence of probable cause. We argued that the Plaintiff had failed to prove malice because there was no evidence that the nurse’s actions were motivated by personal spite against Plaintiff or a general disregard directed by chance against Plaintiff.  Finally, we argued that Plaintiff had failed to show the Defendants had instigated his arrest for DUI.  We pointed out that the nurse did nothing more than inform the police that the Plaintiff was driving a vehicle under the influence of narcotics, and that the police officer made his own investigation and independent decision to arrest Plaintiff.  

The Coweta County State Court granted our Motion for Summary Judgment. The trial court found that Plaintiff had failed to prove two essential elements of his claim for malicious prosecution: Plaintiff had failed to show an absence of probable cause for his DUI criminal prosecution, and he had failed to show malice on the part of Defendants. Plaintiff appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of our motion. The Court held that the evidence supported the trial court’s judgment and that there was no reversible error of law.