Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

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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

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The merits of this appeal centered on three parcels of land, serving as links in a chain necessary to satisfy contiguity requirements of annexation. The first link, the Ten-Foot Strip, was a ten-foot wide, 1.25 mile-long parcel of land in the National Forest, which was managed by the United States Forest Service. The second link was property owned by the Mt. Nebo AME Church (Church Tract), and the third link was approximately 360 acres of unimproved real estate surrounded by the National Forest on three sides (Nebo Tract). In the fall of 2003, the Town of Awendaw sought to annex the Ten-Foot Strip, which required a petition signed by the Forest Service. The Town's representatives sent the Forest Service four letters from November 2003 through February 2004 in an effort to obtain its approval. The sole question before the South Carolina Supreme Court was whether Petitioners Lynne Vicary, Kent Prause, and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League possessed standing to contest the Town’s annexation of land within the Francis Marion National Forest (Ten-Foot Strip). Because the Town allegedly acted nefariously in using a decade-old letter as a petition for annexation, the circuit court found Petitioners had standing and reached the merits. The court of appeals reversed, finding Petitioners lacked standing. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding Petitioners had standing to challenge the annexation of the Ten-Foot Strip. View "Vicary v. Town of Awendaw" on Justia Law

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McCormick County voters elected Clarke Anderson Stearns as their Sheriff in the November 8, 2016, general election. After the election, Appellants brought this action alleging "Stearns does not possess the necessary qualifications to be Sheriff of McCormick County." Based on that claim, Appellants "specifically request[ed]" the circuit court issue an order "enjoining the Defendant Stearns from serving as Sheriff of McCormick County." Before the circuit court action was filed, however, the losing candidate in the general election, J.R. Jones, filed a Title 7 election protest with the McCormick County Board of Canvassers. Jones filed the challenge on November 16, 2016. The county board held a hearing on November 21. By a vote of 3-to-3, the county board took no action on Jones's protest. Jones did not appeal the county board's decision. Jones then filed this action in circuit court on December 7, 2016, joined as plaintiff by the South Carolina Democratic Party and the McCormick County Democratic Party. This appeal presented two issues for the South Carolina Supreme Court's resolution: (1) whether a challenge to an elected official's legal qualifications to serve in the office to which he has just been elected must be brought pursuant to the administrative provisions of Title 7 of the South Carolina Code, or whether such a challenge may be brought in circuit court; and (2) whether the "certified law enforcement officer" requirement to serve as sheriff, found in subsection 23-11- 110(A)(5) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2018), required the certification to come from South Carolina authorities, as opposed to authorities in another state. The Supreme Court determined the plaintiffs in this case were permitted to bring the action in circuit court, but the necessary certification to serve as sheriff need not come from South Carolina authorities. The Court affirmed the result of the circuit court's decision, which did not remove the elected McCormick County Sheriff from office. View "Jones v. South Carolina Republican Party" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari on the narrow question of whether a creditor may execute on a judgment more than ten years after its enrollment when the time period has expired during the course of litigation. In 2001, Rudolph Drews, the now-deceased uncle of Petitioner Donald Lancaster, was found liable in a civil action for violating securities laws in an investment scheme for a new business venture in Charleston. Judgment was enrolled against Drews in 2002; in August of 2006, Respondent Frank Gordon, a creditor on the 2002 judgment, filed a petition at circuit court for supplemental proceedings. After a hearing, Gordon's counsel became suspicious that Drews' wife and Lancaster were complicit in shielding Drews' assets from creditors. The hearing was continued when Drews failed to produce tax and financial documents. In 2007, Rudolph Drews died, and his estate was opened shortly thereafter. Gordon sought to continue supplemental proceedings, but delays in administering the estate arose. In 2010, Lancaster was deposed as part of supplemental proceedings, which confirmed Gordon's suspicions that he and Drews' wife were involved in shielding Drews' assets. Soon after, one day before her scheduled deposition, Drews' wife died. In November 2010, Gordon filed this action, asserting Lancaster assisted Drews in hiding assets from creditors in violation of the Statute of Elizabeth. In November 2011, Drews' estate confessed judgment of $293,703.43, and his wife's estate settled with Gordon for $60,000. Both estates assigned their interests to him. A two-day bench trial occurred in June 2013, wherein Lancaster moved for a directed verdict based on Gordon's prior concession that this suit was based on the 2001 judgment. According to Lancaster, because more than ten years had elapsed from the date the judgment was entered, the judgment's "active energy" had expired. The court disagreed and denied the motion, finding in favor of Gordon for $211,677.30. Lancaster appealed to the court of appeals, and in a split decision, the majority, held the trial court correctly determined section 15-39-30 did not bar satisfaction of the 2001 judgment because Gordon had timely filed this action within the ten-year window and continued to pursue it. The Supreme Court’s resolution of this case required it to revisit Linda Mc Co. v. Shore, 703 S.E.2d 499 (2010), which the court of appeals broadly interpreted as extending a judgment's life beyond the statutory ten-year limit merely by filing the action within ten years. The Supreme Court reversed and overruled Linda Mc. View "Gordon v. Lancaster" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved the South Carolina Home Builders Self Insurers Fund (Fund), which was created by the Home Builders Association of South Carolina, Inc. "for the purpose of meeting and fulfilling an employer's obligations and liabilities under the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act." The dispute arose after the Fund's Board of Trustees announced plans to wind down the Fund and use the Fund's remaining assets to finance a new mutual insurance company. Petitioners, who were members of the Fund, disagreed with that decision and challenged the Board's authority to use the Fund's assets in such a way. The trial court twice dismissed Petitioners' suit, first on the basis that it involved the internal affairs of a trust and therefore should have been filed in probate court, then in a subsequent proceeding, on the basis that the lawsuit was a shareholder derivative action and that the complaint failed to comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 23(b)(1), SCRCP. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of Petitioners' complaint, finding the trial court properly concluded (1) the Fund was not a trust; (2) Petitioners' claims were derivative in nature; and (3) that Petitioners' complaint was properly dismissed as it did not properly allege a pre-suit demand as required by Rule 23(b)(1). The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding Petitioners satisfied the pleading requirements of Rule 23(b)(1), irrespective of whether the Fund was properly characterized as a trust. View "Patterson v. Witter" on Justia Law

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At issue before the South Carolina Supreme Court in this case was an appeal of a circuit court's decision to impose sanctions against Pee Dee Health Care, P.A., and its attorney for conduct that occurred before the circuit court entered summary judgment against it. The issue the Court addressed was whether a motion for sanctions filed nine days after remittitur from Pee Dee Health's unsuccessful appeal of the summary judgment order was untimely under the South Carolina Frivolous Civil Proceedings Sanctions Act (FCPSA) and Rule 11 of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court found the motion was untimely under the FCPSA, but the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in finding the motion timely under Rule 11. View "Pee Dee Health Care v. Estate of Hugh S. Thompson" on Justia Law

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In 1999, homeowners Renaul and Karen Abel contracted with Gilliam Construction Company, Inc. for the construction of a house in an upscale Landrum subdivision. In constructing the house, Gilliam used windows manufactured by Eagle & Taylor Company d/b/a Eagle Window & Door, Inc. (Eagle & Taylor). Sometime after the home was completed, the Abels discovered damage from water intrusion around the windows. The Abels brought suit against Gilliam for the alleged defects and settled with Gilliam and its insurer, Nationwide Mutual, for $210,000. Nationwide and Gilliam (collectively Respondents) then initiated this contribution action seeking repayment of the settlement proceeds from several defendants, including Eagle, alleging it was liable for the obligations of Eagle & Taylor. The narrow question presented by this case on appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court was whether Eagle Window & Door, Inc. was subject to successor liability for the defective windows manufactured by a company who later sold its assets to Eagle in a bankruptcy sale. The Court determined answering that question required a revisit the Court's holding in Simmons v. Mark Lift Industries, Inc., 622 S.E.2d 213 (2005) and for clarification of the doctrine of successor liability in South Carolina. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's holding that Eagle is the "mere continuation" of the entity. The Supreme Court reversed because both the trial court and court of appeals incorrectly applied the test for successor liability. View "Nationwide Mutual Insurance v. Eagle Window & Door" on Justia Law

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At issue before the South Carolina Supreme court was the propriety of the grant of partial summary judgment in a condemnation action. The court of appeals affirmed the circuit court's ruling that the landowner, David Powell, was not entitled to compensation for any diminution in value of his remaining property due to the rerouting of a major highway which previously was easily accessible from his property. South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) condemned a portion of Powell's 2.5 acre property in connection with its upgrade to U.S. Highway 17 Bypass (the Bypass) near the Backgate area of Myrtle Beach. His unimproved parcel, located on the corner of Emory Road and Old Socastee Highway, was originally separated from the Bypass by a power line easement and a frontage road; access to that major thoroughfare was via Emory Road, which intersected with the Bypass. Because Powell's property was zoned "highly commercial," his easy access to the Bypass significantly enhanced its value. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial. The record contained evidence the condemnation of Powell's property, the closure of the intersection, and the curving of the frontage road over the condemned parcel were all integrally connected components of the project, creating a material issue of fact as to which of these acts was a direct and proximate cause of the taking, thus rendering summary judgment improper. Employing the clear language of our just compensation statute, the Court held that a jury should have been permitted to hear evidence on the diminution in value to the remaining property. View "SCDOT v. Powell" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina certified a question of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. Jack Poole and his wife, Jennifer, were riding in a vehicle owned by Doris Knight, Jennifer's mother, when a drunk driver crossed the center line and struck them. The Pooles were both seriously injured in the collision; although Jack survived, Jennifer's catastrophic injuries resulted in her death several days later. In contrast with the substantial bodily injuries, the Pooles sustained minimal property damage because they did not own the vehicle. The at-fault driver's liability carrier tendered its policy limits. Farm Bureau, the insurer on Knight's vehicle, then tendered its underinsured motorist (UIM) policy limits for bodily injury to Jack individually and to Jack as the representative of Jennifer's estate. The Pooles then sought recovery from their own insurer, Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO), which provided them a split limits UIM policy with bodily injury coverage of up to $100,000 per person and $50,000 for property damage. GEICO tendered the UIM bodily injury limits of $100,000 each for Jack and Jennifer's estate. The Pooles requested another $50,000 from the UIM policy's property damage coverage in anticipation of a large punitive damages award, but GEICO refused. GEICO then initiated a declaratory judgment action with the federal district court to establish that it was not liable to pay any amounts for punitive damages under the property damage provision of the UIM policy because the source of the Pooles' UIM damages was traceable only to bodily injury. The federal court asked the South Carolina Supreme Court whether, under South Carolina law, when an insured seeks coverage under an automobile insurance policy, must punitive damages be apportioned pro rata between those sustained for bodily injury and those sustained for property damage where the insurance policy is a split limits policy? The Supreme Court answered the question, "No." View "Government Employees Insurance Company v. Poole" on Justia Law