Rejecting seven different challenges raised by the defendant, the Georgia Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a $700,000 jury verdict for punitive damages and attorneys’ fees that Block Firm partner Max Marks secured for a Georgia peach farmer, Fitzgerald Fruit Farms, following a five-day trial in Meriwether County, Georgia.
In the appellate decision, the court broadly rejected the defendant’s arguments that the jury should not have been able to hear evidence that shed light on the malicious intent driving the defendant’s course of conduct, including a week-long lockout that destroyed Fitzgerald Farms’ entire crop of Baby Gold peaches and gave rise to Fitzgerald Farms’ underlying trespass claim. The appellate court recognized that the “key issue” for the punitive damages trial was whether the defendant’s conduct with respect to “the peaches it so forcefully kept away from Lennon showed its malice towards Fitzgerald Farms, as opposed to a good faith effort to protect its own crops.” And the Georgia Court of Appeals held that all the evidence the trial court allowed the jury to hear was relevant to that key issue of intent.
This is now Fitzgerald Farms’ second appellate win in this same case, following its second trial win. In 2018, a jury awarded Fitzgerald Farms $150,000 in compensatory damages and $400,000 in attorneys’ fees for this same peach harvest—but the judge did not let Fitzgerald Farms seek punitive damages in the first trial. After an appeal, Fitzgerald Farms won across-the-board. In a detailed, published opinion, the Georgia Court of Appeals both upheld the jury verdict in Fitzgerald Farms’ favor and also decided that the first jury should have been allowed to award punitive damages. The court of appeals therefore ordered a second trial only on punitive damages, leading to the additional $700,000 verdict and appeal discussed above.
Through it all, Fitzgerald Farms has also been represented by Nowell Berreth of Alston & Bird.
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