Wyno v. Lowndes County

Court: Georgia Supreme Court
Case Number: S18A1231
Decision Date: February 18, 2019
Case Type: Immunity - Official
The Supreme Court of Georgia held that county animal control employees could not be held liable for the death of a woman attacked and killed by a neighbor's dog. Jason Wyno's wife, Misty, was mauled by a dog owned by a neighbor in 2011. In the years before the attack a number of complaints had been filed with the county animal control about dogs at that neighbor's address. Following his wife's death, Jason Wyno brought suit challenging the constitutionality of former O.C.G.A. § 4-8-30, which exempted local governments and their employees from liability arising from the enforcement of, or failure to enforce, state and local dog control laws. 

Wyno argued that the statute impermissibly extended official immunity of local government employees. The Court did not reach the constitutional question, however, because it determined that the trial court had erred in determining that the actions of the animal control officers under the law were ministerial in nature. Instead, the Court held that such actions were discretionary and were not done with malice or intent to injure. As a result, the Court held that the statute's protections of official immunity applied.

A concurring opinion by Justice Nahmias, joned by Justices Blackwell, Boggs, and Peterson, addressed an amicus brief submitted by the Georgia Municipal Association. The amicus brief and concurring opinion question the application of Article I sovereign immunity to counties, instead of Article IX immunity. The concurring opinion determined that it may be appropriate to reconsider a number of precedents at some point, but since neither party had asked the Court to do so in this case, there was no need to do so now.