The Fulton County Daily Report today reports on a rule change to allow assignment of cases to the Business Case Division without consent of all parties.  Having had a small role in this, I can’t resist the temptation to write about it.

The "Business Court" idea developed several years ago when the big banks took their major business litigation among themselves to North Carolina, which already had a statewide Business Court.  The idea was that a specialized court without the burden of routine criminal, domestic, tort and small business litigation could more efficiently handle larger business cases.  My friend Ray Fortin, general counsel at Suntrust, spearheaded the effort and educated me about it in the back of the room at Boy Scout meetings while our sons (both of whom made Eagle this year) were otherwise engaged.

While the Fulton County Superior Court proceeded with its pilot project Business Case Division, cases could be assigned only with consent of the parties.  If one party suggested transfer to that division, all too often the other party was suspicious and resisted. Last year, the judges proposed a rule change to allow assignment of business cases without consent of all parties, but did not touch base with some of the bar sections that could have been concerned.  The Supreme Court wanted the rule change to go before the State Bar Board of Governors before acting upon the proposal.  When it came up in January, the stuff hit the fan because the rule, as worded, could have allowed assignment of some products liability and consumer cases to the Business Case Division.

When we got to Savannah for the January meeting of the Board of Governors, the Superior Court was under time pressure to get the rule change in a hurry due to a deadline on renewal of a grant to pay staff.  My friends in the plaintiffs’ bar were up in arms about the potential for the Business Court to become a graveyard for products and consumer cases.  I quickly cobbled together a proposed amendment to exclude non-consensual assignment of cases involving claims for personal injury, wrongful death, employment discrimination and consumer claims under $1 million.  

It was a strange day as I huddled with the corporate counsel of a major corporation and a business litigator from one of the megafirms, and stood up to argue the opposite side of the debate from my good friends in the plaintiffs’ bar.  The motion was tabled that day because board members did not like the fact that the proposal had not been submitted in advance to any bar sections other than the corporate folks.

Soon thereafter, the chief judge met with the president of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and me to iron out the glitches.  At our suggestion, the court submitted the rule change for comment by every bar section and bar-related organization that could possibly have had any interest in it.  The rule change was approved at the April meeting of the Board of Governors, which I was unable to attend due to a family medical situation out of state, and now has been approved by the Supreme Court.

The final rule includes the language I drafted in Savannah on a Friday night  in January, with just a little polishing of the "consumer claims" provision, as follows:

(b) Notwithstanding anything contained herein to the contrary, cases that include the following claims shall not be classified as a Business Case without the consent of all parties:

(i) Personal injury;

(ii) Wrongful death;

(iii) Employment discrimination; and

(iv) Consumer claims in which each individual plaintiff’s claims are in the aggregate less than $1,000,000.

The Shigley Law Firm  represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.