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By: Jacob Daly
The Georgia Court of Appeals has just ruled against your client, and so you’re considering whether you should file a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Georgia Supreme Court. Your client wants to know the likelihood of your petition being granted and, if it is granted, what the possible outcomes are likely to be. You have a vague understanding that most petitions are denied and that the odds of reversal are good when a petition is granted, but you do not know the exact numbers to tell your client. Now you do.
Between 2017 and 2020, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled on 1,883 petitions, 1,166 of which were filed in civil cases. It granted only 174 of all petitions and only 119 that were filed in civil cases. In 2017, the Court ruled on 516 petitions (289 in civil cases) and granted 52 (35 in civil cases). In 2018, the Court ruled on 407 petitions (251 in civil cases) and granted 47 (33 in civil cases). In 2019, the Court ruled on 464 petitions (300 in civil cases) and granted 43 (31 in civil cases). In 2020, the Court ruled on 496 petitions (326 in civil cases) and granted 32 (20 in civil cases). Thus, the overall odds of a petition being granted were 10.08% in 2017, 11.55% in 2018, 9.27% in 2019, and 6.45% in 2020, for a 4-year rate of 9.24%. In civil cases, the odds of a petition being granted were 12.11% in 2017, 13.15% in 2018, 10.33% in 2019, and 6.13% in 2020, for a 4-year rate of 10.21%. Until the numbers for future years are available, it is impossible to know whether the down numbers for 2020 represent a shift in the Court’s (un) willingness to grant petitions or just an anomaly related to COVID-19.
Once you tell your client the odds of a petition being granted are only about 10%, the next question is likely to be about the expected outcome if your petition happens to be among the lucky few that are granted. In the 174 total cases in which the Court granted a petition between 2017 and 2020, there were 12 different outcomes. And in the 119 civil cases in which the Court granted a petition between 2017 and 2020, there were 10 different outcomes. These various outcomes are reflected in the chart below.
From the standpoint of the petitioner, the goal is to obtain a change to the ruling of the lower court. An outright reversal is the best possible outcome for the petitioner, and it is also the most frequent outcome (this is not surprising because the Court can “affirm” the lower court’s decision by denying the petition. If the Court wants to reverse the lower court’s decision, it must first grant the petition). An outright reversal was the outcome in 65 of 174 cases (37.36%) in which the Court granted a petition, including 50 of 119 civil cases (42.02%). But an outright reversal is not the only favorable outcome for the petitioner. The outcomes listed in the chart above that would be at least partially favorable for the petitioner are reversed, vacated, vacated and reversed, affirmed in part and reversed in part, reversed in part and vacated in part, affirmed in part and vacated in part, reversed summarily, and vacated summarily. Including all of these outcomes together yields a favorable outcome rate for the petitioner of 64.37% in all cases (112 of 174 cases decided wholly or partially in favor of the petitioner) and 66.39% in civil cases (79 of 119 cases decided wholly or partially in favor of the petitioner).
In contrast, the outcomes that would be completely negative for the petitioner are affirmed and dismissed as improvidently granted. Combining these outcomes yields a completely negative outcome rate for the petitioner of 29.89% in all cases (52 of 174) and 29.41% in civil cases (35 of 119). The only other outcomes are cert dismissed on motion and no decision yet, which represent only 5.75% of all cases (10 of 174) and 4.20% of civil cases (5 of 119). These outcomes cannot be characterized as favorable or unfavorable for the petitioner because (1) a petition that is dismissed pursuant to a motion probably means that the case settled, and (2) a case that has not yet been decided can still be decided either way. When the Court decides the 5 undecided cases (4 criminal and 1 civil), these numbers will change slightly, but not enough to alter any conclusions that may be drawn from them.
In conclusion, an analysis of the petitions decided by the Court between 2017 and 2020 and the outcomes in the cases in which the petition was granted confirms what most attorneys probably assume. That is, there is a very low chance of the Court granting a petition and a very good chance of at least a partially favorable outcome for the petitioner in those few cases. For attorneys handling civil cases, the odds of the Court granting your petition are only 10.21%, but once your petition has been granted, the odds of success greatly increase, depending on how you define success. If you define success as nothing less than an outright reversal, you have a 42.02% chance of achieving that goal. However, if you define success as any outcome that has some negative impact on the lower court’s decision, then you have a 66.39% chance of success.
For questions, please contact Jake Daly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (770) 818-1431.
 There was one civil case in 2018 and one civil case in 2019 in which a petition was filed and granted with a note indicating that the case would be treated as a direct appeal rather than as a cert case. Those two cases are not included in this analysis.