Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit certified a question of South Carolina law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. The underlying case was an insurance bad faith action against an insurance company for its failure to defend its insured in a construction defect action. The insured settled the construction defect action and brought a bad faith tort action. When the insurer asserted it acted in good faith in denying coverage, the insured sought to discover the reasons why the insurer denied coverage. According to the insurer, the discovery requests included communications protected by the attorney-client relationship. The federal district court reviewed the parties' respective positions, determined the insured had established a prima facie case of bad faith, and ordered the questioned documents to be submitted to the court for an in camera inspection. The insurer then sought a writ of mandamus from the Fourth Circuit to vacate the district court's order regarding the discovery dispute. In turn, the Fourth Circuit asked the South Carolina Supreme Court whether state law supported the application of the "at issue" exception to attorney-client privilege such that a party may waive the privilege by denying liability in its answer. The South Carolina Supreme Court found that the parties, especially the insured, contended the certified question did not accurately represent the correct posture of the case. In fact, the insured conceded the narrow question presented required an answer in the negative. The Supreme Court agreed, finding “little authority for the untenable proposition that the mere denial of liability in a pleading constitutes a waiver of the attorney-client privilege.” The Court elected to analyze the issue narrowly in the limited context of a bad faith action against an insurer, and felt constrained to answer the certified question as follows: "No, denying liability and/or asserting good faith in the answer does not, standing alone, place the privileged communications 'at issue' in the case." View "Mt. Hawley Insurance Company v. Contravest Construction" on Justia Law

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In October of 2007, Petitioner Otha Delaney bought a 2003 Chevrolet pick-up truck from Coliseum Motors pursuant to a retail installment sales contract. The dealership subsequently assigned the contract to Respondent First Financial of Charleston, Inc., which acquired a security interest under the UCC. After Delaney failed to make payments, First Financial lawfully repossessed the truck, and on May 2, 2008, it sent Delaney a letter entitled, "Notice of Private Sale of Collateral." Over seven months later, on December 15, 2008, First Financial sold the truck. On October 3, 2011, more than three years after sending notice but less than three years from the sale of the truck, Delaney filed suit against First Financial, seeking to represent a class of individuals who had received notice that allegedly failed to comply with certain requirements in Article 9. After a hearing, the trial court found: (1) the remedy Delaney sought pursuant to section 36-9-625(c)(2) South Carolina Code (2003) was a statutory penalty; (2) the six-year Article 2 limitations period did not apply because Delaney failed to plead breach of contract, the claim solely concerned deficient notice under Article 9, and even if Article 2 applied, the more specific limitations period on penalties governed; and (3) under either limitation period, Delaney's claim was time-barred as his action accrued upon receipt of the allegedly deficient notice. To this last point, the South Carolina Supreme Court determined the trial court erred, holding the notice of disposition of collateral did not accrue until First Financial disposed of the collateral. Accordingly, because Delaney filed this action within three years from that date, the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Delaney v. First Financial" on Justia Law

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The parties, Stone and Thompson, met in 1983 and began a romantic relationship. Thompson was married to another man at the time and obtained a divorce in 1987. Later that year, Stone and Thompson had their first child. After Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, South Carolina in 1989, the parties had their second child and started living together. They continued to live, raise their children, and manage rental properties together for approximately 20 years, but ultimately ended their relationship after Thompson discovered Stone was having an affair with a woman in Costa Rica. In 2012, Stone filed an amended complaint in family court alleging, inter alia, he was entitled to a declaratory judgment that the parties were common-law married, a divorce, and an equitable distribution of alleged marital property. Thompson contended the parties were not common-law married, asserted several counterclaims, and sought dismissal of the case. If the trial court would not dismiss the case, Thompson sought to bifurcate the issues to first determine whether the parties were common-law married. After a hearing, the family court denied Thompson's motion to dismiss but granted her motion to bifurcate, ordering a trial on the sole issue of whether a common-law marriage existed between the parties. The court reasoned that, should it determine no marriage existed, it would not need to address the other issues in the case. The issue this appeal presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court’s review was whether the trial court order finding a common-law marriage, was immediately appealable under the general appealability statute, S.C. Code Ann. 14-3-330. The court of appeals held the order was interlocutory because it did not end the case, and further, that it was not immediately appealable under the statute. The Supreme Court concluded that because the order involved the merits of the causes of action, it reversed. View "Stone v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Pamela Russell injured her back in 2009 while working at a Wal-Mart store in Conway, South Carolina. The worker’s compensation commission found Russell suffered a 7% permanent partial disability, and awarded her twenty-one weeks of temporary total disability compensation. In 2011, Russell requested review of her award, claiming there had been a "change of condition caused by the original injury" pursuant to subsection 42-17-90(A) of the South Carolina Code (2015). An appellate panel of the commission remanded Russell's change of condition claim to a single commissioner for what was a third ruling on the same claim. Russell appealed the remand order to the court of appeals, which dismissed the appeal on the ground the order was not a final decision, and thus not immediately appealable. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the remand order was immediately appealable because the commission's unwarranted delay in making a final decision required immediate review to avoid leaving Russell with no adequate remedy on an appeal from a final decision. The Court reversed the court of appeals' order dismissing the appeal, reversed the appellate panel's remand order, and remanded to any appellate panel of the commission for an immediate and final review of the original commissioner's decision. View "Russell v. Wal-Mart" on Justia Law

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On May 16, 2010, seventy pounds of copper wire and fifty pounds of aluminum tie wire were stolen from Aiken Electric Cooperative, Inc. In total, the stolen wire was worth $463.19. The following day, Mark Goss, Aiken's Loss Control and Safety Coordinator, and Deputy Maurice Huggins viewed a surveillance video from Aiken that depicted an unidentified black male removing copper and aluminum wiring from Aiken trucks. An Aiken employee also reported seeing a white Ford truck driving out of Aiken's parking lot around the time of the theft. As was Goss's typical practice when Aiken suffered a loss of this nature, Goss checked with local metal recyclers to see if the thief tried to sell the copper and aluminum. Following her arrest for receiving stolen goods, Meredith Huffman filed a complaint against the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Department (the Sheriff's Department), Sunshine Recycling, LLC (Sunshine), and Aiken Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Aiken), for negligence, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. Huffman later settled her claims against the Sheriff's Department, and the two parties filed a stipulation dismissing the Sheriff's Department from the action. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Sunshine and Aiken. The court of appeals reversed. Both Sunshine and Aiken filed petitions for writs of certiorari to review the court of appeals' opinion. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the petitions, and reversed the court of appeals' opinion as to Sunshine, and affirmed as to Aiken. View "Huffman v. Sunshine Recycling" on Justia Law

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Virginia Marshall and her husband filed a medical malpractice claim against Dr. Kenneth Dodds (a nephrologist), Dr. Georgia Roane (a rheumatologist), and their respective practices, alleging negligent misdiagnosis against both Dodds and Roane. The circuit court granted Dodds' and Roane's motions for summary judgment, ruling these actions were barred by the statute of repose. The Marshalls appealed, and the court of appeals reversed and remanded the cases for trial. The South Carolina Supreme Court held the Marshalls' claims for negligent acts that occurred within the six-year repose period were timely. View "Marshall v. Dodds" on Justia Law

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Denise Wright was abducted and robbed at gunpoint by two unknown assailants in a common area of an apartment complex (Wellspring) in which she resided. Wellspring was owned by Respondent Franklin Pineridge Associates and operated by Respondent PRG Real Estate Management, Inc. Respondent Karen Campbell was Wellspring's property manager and an employee of PRG at the time of the incident. Wright sued Respondents for negligence, alleging Respondents voluntarily undertook a duty to provide security to residents of Wellspring and breached this duty, thereby causing her damages. She also alleged Respondents were negligent in failing to properly maintain shrubbery and lighting on the premises. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Respondents on Wright's negligence claim. A divided court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Wright's petition for a writ of certiorari to review: (1) whether Respondents voluntarily undertook a duty to provide security services to residents; (2) if such a duty existed under the facts of this case, whether there was a genuine issue of material fact that Respondents breached the duty; and (3) whether there was a genuine issue of material fact that any such breach proximately caused Wright's damages. The Supreme Court concluded the court of appeals erred in affirming the circuit court’ grant of summary judgment in favor or Respondents. The matter was remanded back to the circuit court for trial. View "Wright v. PRG Real Estate Management" on Justia Law

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Skydive Myrtle Beach, Inc. brought this lawsuit alleging Horry County, the Horry County Department of Airports, and several of their individually named employees improperly attempted to remove Skydive from the space it leased at Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The circuit court dismissed Skydive's claims against the individually named employees pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, without allowing Skydive leave to amend its complaint. The court of appeals affirmed in an unpublished opinion. Finding that the circuit court should have allowed Skydive an opportunity to amend its complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a), the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded the case to the circuit court to allow Skydive an opportunity to file its amended complaint. View "Skydive v. Horry" on Justia Law

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Edward Sloan and the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation (collectively, Appellants) filed suit alleging Act 275 of 2016 violated article III, section 17 of the South Carolina Constitution (the One Subject Rule). Appellants claimed Act 275's title was insufficient and its provisions related to more than one subject, thus violating the Rule. The trial court dismissed the complaint on numerous grounds. The South Carolina Supreme Court did not address all of these issues on certiorari review, but elected to resolve the appeal on the merits. While it has not hesitated to strike down legislation that violates the One Subject Rule, the Supreme Court has also respected the separation of powers doctrine and upheld legislation where a close question is presented. The constitutional challenge to Act 275 did not present a close question—Act 275 manifestly complied with the One Subject Rule. The trial court's dismissal of the complaint was affirmed. View "SC Public Interest Foundation v. SC House" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted a certified question of South Carolina law from the federal district court, which stemmed from the construction of a home near Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Mark Lawrence constructed his home using structural insulated panels manufactured by General Panel Corporation. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are a structural alternative to traditional wood-frame construction. Lawrence claims faulty installation of the General Panel SIPs used in constructing his home allowed water intrusion, which in turn caused the panels to rot, damaging the structural integrity of his home. He brought a claim in federal district court alleging General Panel was liable for providing defective installation instructions to the subcontractor installing the SIPs. General Panel filed a motion for summary judgment, based on a South Carolina statute of repose: 15-3-640. The statute provided "No actions to recover damages based upon or arising out of the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to real property may be brought more than eight years after substantial completion of the improvement." General Panel's relief depended on the date of "substantial completion." The subcontractor completed the installation of the SIPs in Lawrence's home by March 2007. The home was not finished, however, until over a year later. Charleston County issued a certificate of occupancy on December 10, 2008. Lawrence filed his lawsuit against General Panel on December 8, 2016, more than eight years after installation of the SIPs, but less than eight years after the certificate of occupancy was issued. The federal district court asked whether South Carolina Act 27 of 2005 amended section 15-3- 640 (Supp. 2018) so that the date of "substantial completion of the improvement" is measured from the date of the certificate of occupancy (unless the parties establish a different date by written agreement), thereby superseding the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision in Ocean Winds Corp. of Johns Island v. Lane, 556 S.E.2d 377 (2001). The Supreme Court responded in the negative: the 2005 amendments did not supersede Ocean Winds. View "Lawrence v. General Panel Corp." on Justia Law