Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
by
Petitioners Phillip and Jeanne Ethier appealed a verdict in favor of Respondent Dr. Guy Bibeau, who misdiagnosed a popliteal aneurysm as a probable spider bite. During voir dire, the court asked prospective jurors whether they ever had a "close social or a personal relationship" with either the Ethiers or Dr. Bibeau. After no one indicated they did, the court asked the same question about the list of potential witnesses, which included Jerilyn Wadford and Rhonda Gwynn, two nurses who examined Ethier, and the CEO of Fairfield Memorial, Mike Williams. To this question, juror Teresa Killian informed the court, "I used to work at Fairfield Memorial Hospital with Mike Williams." Killian never disclosed that she also worked with Bibeau or the two nurses. After trial, the Ethiers' counsel learned Killian previously worked with Bibeau and the nurses, and that Killian had discussed her knowledge of them with other jurors. One of the jurors, Sandra Carmichael, attested Killian stated she knew the nurses as well as Bibeau. Carmichael also noted that during jury breaks, Killian repeatedly discussed Bibeau's skills as a doctor. Four jurors said Killian vouched for the skill, proficiency, and truthfulness of all three during jury breaks. Carmichael testified that Killian's statements affected her vote, as she initially believed Bibeau was more negligent. Nevertheless, while the trial court found Killian had engaged in premature deliberations, it found no prejudice. The court also believed Killian did not intentionally conceal that she knew Bibeau and the three nurses through her previous employment, contending the question was ambiguous because it only addressed "close personal or social relationships." Accordingly, the trial court denied the Ethiers' motion for a new trial. Petitioners contended the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court's decision to deny granting a new trial based on intentional juror concealment and premature deliberations. The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded Killian's intentional disregard of the trial court's repeated instructions not to engage in premature deliberations directly affected the verdict. "Killian discussed matters that were not introduced as evidence, and bolstered other evidence that had been admitted. Further, Killian's conduct is egregious, as she repeatedly discussed the case after being instructed not to do so." Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Ethier v. Fairfield Memorial" on Justia Law

by
Danny Crane sought workers' compensation benefits for hearing loss and brain injuries he alleged he suffered in a work-related accident. The workers' compensation commission denied most of Crane's claims, finding he was not entitled to benefits for temporary total disability, permanent impairment, or future medical care. The primary basis for denying these three claims was the commissioner who initially heard the case found Crane was not credible. The court of appeals reversed the commission's denial of temporary total disability benefits, but otherwise affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the commission's denial of permanent impairment and future medical care benefits, finding the commission erred in denying Crane's claims based on credibility without explaining any basis on which credibility could justify ignoring objective medical evidence. The matter was remanded to the commission for a new hearing on all three claims, and before a different commissioner. View "Crane v. Raber's Discount Tire Rack" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners, consisting of several citizens groups and neighborhood associations, sought a contested case hearing in the administrative law court (ALC) to challenge the propriety of state environmental authorizations issued by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) for a project relocating and expanding the passenger cruise facility at the Union Pier Terminal (the Terminal) in downtown Charleston. Petitioners contended they had standing to seek this hearing as "affected persons" under section 44-1- 60(G) of the South Carolina Code (2018). The ALC concluded Petitioners did not have standing and granted summary judgment to Respondents. The ALC terminated discovery and also sanctioned Petitioners for requesting a remand to the DHEC Board. The court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, concluded Petitioners did have standing, and thus reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded the matter to the ALC for a contested case hearing. View "Preservation Society v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

by
This case concerned accreting land along the South Carolina coast that owned by the Town of Sullivan. Petitioners Nathan and Ettaleah Bluestein and Theodore and Karen Albenesius (collectively, Petitioners) bought property in the Town that abutted the accreting land. Petitioners' properties were once considered oceanfront lots only a short distance from the beach, but due to accretion, the properties were now a substantial distance away. The accreting land was subject to a 1991 deed, which set forth certain rights and responsibilities respecting the condition of the property and the Town's duties concerning upkeep of the land. Petitioners were third party beneficiaries of the 1991 deed. Petitioners argued the 1991 deed mandated the Town keep the vegetation on the land in the same condition as existed in 1991, particularly as to the height of shrubs and vegetation. Conversely, the Town contended the 1991 deed granted it unfettered discretion to allow unchecked growth of the vegetation on the accreting land. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined all parties cherrypicked language from the 1991 deed to support their respective interpretations of the deed. But contrary to the holding of the court of appeals and the trial court's findings, the Supreme Court held the deed was “far from unambiguous;” because the 1991 deed is ambiguous in terms of the Town's maintenance responsibilities, the court of appeals erred in affirming the entry of summary judgment for the Town. As a result, the matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Bluestein v. Town of Sullivans Island" on Justia Law

by
Respondents, individually and as members of a putative class, brought a declaratory judgment action against the South Carolina Department of Revenue seeking refunds of amounts garnished from their wages by the Department to satisfy delinquent debts they allegedly owed to other governmental entities. The sole issue on appeal centered on the circuit court's grant of Respondents' motion to strike one defense from the Department's answer to Respondents' second amended complaint: that South Carolina Revenue Procedures Act (RPA) subsection 12-60-80(C) prohibited this action from proceeding as a class action against the Department. The Department appealed the circuit court's order to the court of appeals, and the Supreme Court certified the Department's appeal pursuant to Rule 204(b) of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court and held this case could not proceed as a class action against the Department. View "Aiken v. So. Carolina Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

by
Kenneth and Angela Hensley filed suit against the South Carolina Department of Social Services on behalf of their adopted minor child BLH and a class of approximately 4000 similarly situated adopted children. The central allegation of the lawsuit was that DSS breached an Adoption Subsidy Agreement with the parents of each member of the class by reducing each parent's adoption subsidy by $20 a month, beginning in 2002. The circuit court issued an order finding the Hensleys satisfied the requirements of Rule 23(a) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, and certifying the proposed class. The court of appeals reversed. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the circuit court's order was not immediately appealable, and vacated the court of appeals' opinion and dismissed the appeal. View "Hensley v. SCDSS" on Justia Law

by
Horry County, South Carolina filed an action in magistrates court to eject Skydive Myrtle Beach, Inc., from a hangar at the Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach. The magistrates court found Skydive did not have any right to occupy the hangar, and ejected Skydive. The circuit court affirmed. Skydive appealed to the court of appeals, which dismissed the appeal on the ground it was moot. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Skydive's petition for a writ of certiorari and reversed the court of appeals because the Court held the appeal was not moot. On the merits, it agreed with the magistrates court and the circuit court that Skydive had no right to occupy the hangar. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Skydive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County" on Justia Law

by
Zachariah and Amie Lord Cooper, and Arlene Palazzo were foster parents of three sibling children placed in their care by the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS). The Coopers fostered one of the children, and Palazzo fostered the other two children. DSS initiated removal actions in the family court. The Coopers and Palazzo filed private actions seeking termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption of their respective foster children. This consolidated appeal stemmed from the family court's order denying several motions made by Foster Parents. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the family court's denial of Foster Parents' motions for joinder. The Supreme Court reversed the family court's denial of Foster Parents' motions to intervene. The matter was remanded for further consideration of Foster Parents' motions for consolidation. View "Cooper v. SCDSS" on Justia Law

by
The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Scott Ledford’s petition for review of the Court of Appeals’ decision to affirm the outcome of a Workers’ Compensation Commission hearing. Ledford was a former lance corporal with the South Carolina Highway Patrol. While employed as a highway patrolman, Ledford was injured in two separate work-related accidents: in July 2010, Ledford sustained injuries to his spine after being tasered during a training exercise; and in March 2012, Ledford was involved in a motorcycle accident while attempting to pursue a motorist. Ledford settled the 2010 claim with Respondents. Following the second accident, Ledford filed two separate claims for workers' compensation benefits. The Workers' Compensation Commission Appellate Panel declined to find Ledford suffered a change of condition; however, she found Ledford was entitled to medical benefits for injuries to his right leg and aggravated pre-existing conditions in his neck and lower back due to the motorcycle accident. Neither party appealed the Commission’s order. Months later, Ledford reached maximum medical improvement ("MMI"). Commissioner Susan Barden held a hearing on Ledford’s Form 21 in August 2014. Following the hearing, but prior to the issuance of a final order, Ledford filed a motion to recuse Commissioner Barden. According to Ledford's motion, Commissioner Barden requested a phone conference with the parties a month after the hearing during which she allegedly threatened criminal proceedings against Ledford if the case was not settled; indicated that she engaged in her own investigation and made findings based on undisclosed materials outside the record; suggested Ledford used "creative accounting" in his tax returns; and questioned Ledford's credibility regarding his claims of neck pain. Ledford contended any one of these grounds was sufficient to warrant recusal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission, finding: (1) Commissioner Barden was not required to recuse herself; (2) substantial evidence supported the Appellate Panel's decision to reverse Commissioner Barden's permanency determination; and (3) substantial evidence supported the Appellate Panel's findings that Ledford was not credible and his landscaping business remained lucrative following the injury. The Supreme Court held the Court of Appeals erred in finding Commissioner Barden was not required to recuse herself. The Court was “deeply concerned” by the Commissioner’s conduct in this matter. “Ledford's counsel provided an opportunity for Commissioner Barden to right her wrong by moving for recusal. Instead of stepping aside, Commissioner Barden became more abusive and strident in both her ruling on the recusal motion and her final order.” The Commission’s orders were vacated and the matter remanded for a new hearing before a different commissioner. View "Ledford v. DPS" on Justia Law

by
The federal district court for the District of South Carolina certified a question of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. The Supreme Court was asked to construe section 38-77-350(C) of the South Carolina Code (2015) and determine whether, under the facts presented, an insurance company was required to make a new offer of underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage when an additional named insured is added to an existing policy. In 2012, Wayne Reeves acquired an insurance policy from Progressive Direct Insurance Company (Progressive) covering his motorcycle. When the policy was issued, Wayne declined optional UIM coverage. In 2015, Wayne's wife (Jennifer) and son (Bryan) were added to the policy as "drivers and household residents," because they also drove motorcycles. In 2017, Bryan sold his motorcycle and purchased another motorcycle, a 2016 Harley Davidson, which was added to the policy. At the time, Wayne had Bryan added as named insured to the policy. Progressive did not offer Bryan any optional coverages. Later in 2017, Bryan was involved in an accident while driving his 2016 Harley Davidson. Bryan ultimately made a claim against Progressive to reform the policy to include UIM coverage based on Progressive's failure to offer him the optional coverage. Progressive contended that adding Bryan as a named insured was a change to an existing policy, and as a result, Progressive was not required to offer Bryan UIM coverage. Based on the undisputed facts, the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The Supreme Court concluded under South Carolina law, Progressive was not required to make an additional offer of UIM coverage to Bryan. View "Progressive Direct v. Reeves" on Justia Law