Star Residential, LLC et al. v. HernandezAnnotate this Case
Manuel Hernandez was shot and seriously injured by unknown assailants as he approached the doorway to his apartment. Hernandez filed suit against the owner of the apartment complex, Terraces at Brookhaven, and the operator of the complex, Star Residential, LLC (collectively “Star Residential”), asserting, among other things, a nuisance claim under the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act (the “Gang Act”). Hernandez claimed that he was entitled to treble damages (i.e., three times the actual damages he sustained in the shooting) and punitive damages under OCGA 16-15-7(c) because his injuries occurred as a result of a criminal street gang creating a public nuisance on Star Residential’s property. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Star Residential's motion to dismiss, holding, in relevant part, that whether to hold a property owner liable under OCGA 16-15-7(c) of the Gang Act for maintaining a public nuisance was always a question for the factfinder to decide, and not for the court. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Star Residential’s petition for a writ of certiorari to determine whether the Court of Appeals properly construed the civil liability provision of OCGA 16-15-7(c). After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals’ interpretation of the statute was incorrect: "there is nothing in the language of subsection (c) to indicate that the General Assembly intended for a jury to usurp the judiciary’s role of determining the meaning of the statute at issue. ... This means only that, once a legally appropriate cause of action is submitted to the factfinder for decision, that factfinder must be instructed on the legislative intent codified in OCGA 16-15-2 in order to determine if the circumstances of the case warrant the imposition of liability under OCGA 16-15-7(c). The statute simply does not say that a factfinder must determine the meaning of subsection (c) in the first instance, which is a role reserved for the courts."