Eshelman v. KeyAnnotate this Case
Lynn Eshleman was employed with the DeKalb County Police Department as a law enforcement officer and dog handler, and in connection with her employment, she took care of Andor, a police dog trained to assist in the apprehension of persons suspected of criminal activity. When Eshleman was off-duty, Andor lived with her at her Walton County home, down the street from Benjamin Key. One day in 2011, Eshleman put Andor into a portable kennel outside her home, but she evidently failed to secure the kennel door. As a result, Andor escaped into the neighborhood, where the dog encountered Key’s eleven-year-old son. According to Key, the dog attacked his son, causing the child to sustain serious injuries to his arm. Key sued Eshleman, alleging that she failed to restrain Andor, and Eshleman moved for summary judgment on the ground of official immunity. The trial court denied her motion, Eshleman appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of summary judgment. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. In this case, there was no evidence that DeKalb County gave specific direction to Eshleman about the extent to which she was to keep Andor restrained when she was not working. Key argued that the law imposed an absolute and sufficiently specific duty upon Eshleman to keep the dog under restraint, and in support of this contention, pointed to OCGA 51-2-7 and a Walton County ordinance. The statute recognized that "the keeper of an animal known to have vicious or dangerous propensities owed a duty of care with respect to the management and restraint of the animal for the protection of those who may come into contact with it." But the question, in the context of official immunity, was not merely whether an officer owed a duty of care, but rather, whether the official owed a duty that was particularized and certain enough to render her duty a ministerial one. "The duties that Eshleman was alleged to have violated were not ministerial ones because, although the duties reflected in OCGA 51-2-7 and the county ordinance may be definite, they do not require merely the carrying out of a specified task. [. . .] They require, instead, an exercise of personal deliberation and judgment about what is reasonable in the particular circumstances presented." The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred when it denied the motion for summary judgment on the ground of official immunity, and the decision of the Court of Appeals affirming that denial was also reversed.