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Lawskills.com Georgia Caselaw
WILLIAMS v. DOUGHERTY COUNTY.
37968.
Action for damages. Dougherty Superior Court. Before Judge Crow. August 27, 1959.
NICHOLS, Judge.
Where a plaintiff seeks to recover from a defendant because of alleged fraudulent misrepresentations and there is no fiduciary relationship between the parties, though the plaintiff be ignorant and the defendant exceptionally well educated, if the only alleged misrepresentation is as to law or as to a matter of law no actionable fraud is set forth.
Fannie Belle Williams filed suit against Dougherty County, Georgia, seeking damages in the sum of $75,000 for the taking of her property without first paying just and adequate compensation because of certain alleged fraudulent representations made to her by one Buck Geer, while he was acting for the defendant and the State Highway Department. The State Highway Department was served with a copy of the plaintiff's petition as provided by Code, Ann., 95-1710. It was alleged that the plaintiff became the owner of described property on December 15, 1935, that in April, 1954, Buck Geer approached her while he was acting for the defendant and the State Highway Department and was attempting to secure a deed from the plaintiff for right-of-way purposes for a State-aid road, that Geer, while so acting, told the plaintiff: "They did not pay for this type deed and would give her a great deal of trouble if she did not sign the right-of-way deed which he presented to the plaintiff. That plaintiff was and is an uneducated woman, unfamiliar with such matters, and she believed the said Geer in the representations that he made to her and did sign the deed which had been prepared by the defendant and which was presented to plaintiff by said Geer on April 13, 1954, believing at the time that she signed said deed that she would be forced to sign it by the Government and that great trouble would come to her if she did not sign the paper so presented to her by the said Geer. That said representations made to plaintiff by the said Geer were false, and were fraudulently made to plaintiff for the purpose of getting her to sign over said valuable property without any consideration flowing to the plaintiff in return for such deed. The false statements made to the plaintiff by the said Geer were known to him to be false at the time that he made them, and that at the time he made said false and fraudulent statements, the said Geer was acting as the agent of the defendant and the State Highway Department of Georgia, and that said statements were made by the said Geer for the purpose of misleading and deceiving the plaintiff and said statements of the said Geer were relied upon by the plaintiff and she sustained her damages as the proximate result of the false and misleading statements made to her by the said Geer. That plaintiff was induced to sign the deed to the State Highway Department by the said false and fraudulent statements made to her by the said Geer, and although said deed recites the consideration of one dollar, plaintiff was paid nothing for her signature to said deed, and was induced to sign a deed to the State Highway Department of Georgia, conveying her valuable property without any consideration whatsoever being paid to the plaintiff, and that at the time he secured the plaintiff's signature to said deed, the said Geer, acting as agent for the defendant and the State Highway Department of Georgia, well knew that in order to secure a right-
of-way over the property of the plaintiff the defendant and the State Highway Department of Georgia would have to pay the plaintiff the value of her property for such right-of-way and that the defendant and the State Highway Department of Georgia were prepared to purchase rights-of-way in order to relocate Highway Number 19, but that plaintiff was ignorant of such facts, and had she known them, she would not have signed away her valuable property for no consideration whatsoever, and she did so sign the right-of-way deed because she was induced to do so by the fraudulent statements aforesaid made to her by the said Geer, acting for the defendant and the State Highway Department of Georgia. . . . That the plaintiff is an ignorant and uneducated woman, and there is great disparity between her mental capacity and that of the said Geer, and that the said Geer, acting for the defendant and the State Highway Department of Georgia, took advantage of this disparity in mental ability in inducing the plaintiff to sign said right-of-way deed, which she would not have signed except for the fraud practiced upon her by the said Geer as aforesaid." The defendant, Dougherty County, and the State Highway Department for the county, filed various demurrers, both special and general, to the petition as amended. On August 27, 1959, the trial court sustained all the demurrers to the plaintiff's petition and it is to this judgment adverse to her that the plaintiff now excepts.
As stated in the brief of the plaintiff: "There is no complaint that she [the plaintiff] did not understand the contents of the deed or understand what she was signing. This case is based on fraud in the procurement of the deed." Emphasis by the plaintiff. The plaintiff relies on Cline v. Nelson, 46 Ga. App. 600 (168 S. E. 70), and similar cases to support her contention that a cause of action is set forth in the petition because she was induced by fraud to part with title to her land. In that case the plaintiff sought to recover because of the fraudulent misrepresentation of a fact. Such is not so in the case sub judice, for the alleged misrepresentation here was as to matters of law. The petition alleged that the agent seeking the right-of-way deed to her property told her that they, the government, wanted the property in question, that they did not pay for this type of deed and would cause her a lot of trouble if she did not sign the deed presented to her when he "well knew that in order to secure a right-of-way over the property of the plaintiff, the defendant and the State Highway Department of Georgia would have to pay the plaintiff the value of her property for such right-of-way." Admittedly these were misrepresentations of law and as was said in the case of Dixon v. Dixon, 211 Ga. 557, 563 (87 S. E. 2d 369). " 'The general rule is well settled that fraud cannot be predicated upon misrepresentations of law or misrepresentations as to matters of law.' 23 Am. Jur. 809, 45; 37 C. J. S. 323, 55; Swafford v. Glaze, 207 Ga. 532, 535 (63 S. E. 2d 342). The basis for this generally is that everyone is presumed to know the law, and therefore cannot in legal contemplation be deceived by erroneous statements of law. It has been held that this principle of law is especially true where there is no confidential relationship between the parties. Hart v. Waldo, 117 Ga. 590 (43 S. E. 998); Manget Realty Co. v. Carolina Realty Co., 169 Ga. 495, 504 (150 S. E. 828); Claxton Bank v. Smith, 34 Ga. App. 265 (129 S. E. 142); Beckmann v. Atlantic Refining Co., 53 Ga. App. 671 (2) (187 S. E. 158)." In that case an exception to the general rule was unsuccessfully sought to be invoked because of a confidential relationship between the parties which would have, if such relationship had existed, placed the case outside the general rule. "A misrepresentation as to a legal liability, which induces the making of a contract, does not constitute actionable fraud if the matter be open to the observation of both parties equally and there is no relation of trust or confidence between them." Salter v. Brown, 5, 6 Ga. App. 792 (1) (193 S. E. 903). In the present case no such contention is made, the plaintiff relying on the allegation that she was "an ignorant and uneducated woman, and that there is great disparity between her mental capacity and that of the said Geer, and that the said Geer, acting for the defendant and the State Highway Department of Georgia, took advantage of
this disparity in mental ability in inducing the plaintiff to sign said right-of-way deed, which she would not have signed except for the fraud practiced upon her by the said Geer as aforesaid." Where there is no fiduciary relationship between the parties there can be no actionable fraud where the alleged misrepresentation is as to a matter of law, and, "it is obvious that the plaintiff by consulting an attorney at law, could have had the question determined, and that he was not obliged to rely on the representations of the agent of the defendant." Beckmann v. Atlantic Refining Co., 53 Ga. App. 671 (3), supra. In the case of Prudential Ins. Co. v. Sailors, 69 Ga. App. 628, 634 (26 S. E. 2d 557), dealing with an action on an insurance policy it was said: "It is the general rule that the insured is chargeable with knowledge of all the conditions imposed upon him by the terms of his policy. Hart v. Waldo, 117 Ga. 590, 596 (43 S. E. 998). There was no trick, or device, or fraud alleged to have been used by the defendant upon the plaintiff, and the mere fact that he was illiterate, had attended school to the fourth grade only, and while he could read to some extent, did not have sufficient education to read and understand the terms of his contract, would not relieve him of the obligation to know all of the conditions imposed by the terms of the policy. Equitable Life Assurance Society v. Adams, 56 Ga. App. 5 (192 S. E. 90); Mutual Benefit Health &c. Association v. Hulme, 57 Ga. App. 876 (197 S. E. 85)." The same duty that rested on the plaintiff in that case to know the terms of the insurance policy rested on the plaintiff here to know the law purportedly misrepresented to her by the defendant's agent. In the present case it cannot be said that there was any actionable fraud used on the plaintiff where she was chargeable with knowing the law and the only misrepresentation allegedly practiced upon her was as to a matter of law. Accordingly, for this reason the trial court did not err in sustaining the defendant's general demurrer and it becomes unnecessary to pass on the other grounds of demurrers successfully urged before the trial court by the defendant.
Farkas, Landau & Davis, Eugene Cook, Attorney-General, Paul Miller, E. J. Summerour, Assistant Attorneys-General, Carter Goode, contra.
J. Neely Peacock, Jr., for plaintiff in error.
DECIDED FEBRUARY 5, 1960.
Saturday May 23 00:26 EDT


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