Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

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The South Carolina Supreme Court answered two certified questions of South Carolina law, posed by the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. These questions arose from two sets of litigation (“Fullbright” and “Chenard”) at the federal district court involving individuals (collectively, Plaintiffs) who entered into contracts with developers (collectively, Defendants) to purchase interests in vacation time sharing plans (timeshare plans) for real estate on Hilton Head Island. The federal court asked the Supreme Court whether: (1) the South Carolina Real Estate Commission had exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether there was a violation of the state Vacation Time Sharing Plans Act; (2) whether the Commission’s determination of a violation of the Timeshare Act was a condition precedent to a purchaser suing to enforce the Act; and (3) whether the Commission’s determinations as to whether the Timeshare Act was violated was binding on courts. The Supreme Court answered the first two questions in the negative; the Court answered the third question “no” too, provided the Commission’s decision had not bee subjected to judicial review. View "Fullbright v. Spinnaker Resorts" on Justia Law

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Petitioner LeAndra Lewis sought workers' compensation benefits for injuries she suffered following a shooting in a night club operated by L.B. Dynasty. In a previous opinion, the South Carolina Supreme Court held Lewis was an employee of L.B. Dynasty, entitling her to workers' compensation benefits. The Court remanded the matter to the court of appeals to review the commission's order awarding benefits to Lewis. Ultimately, the court of appeals affirmed the commission's award of $75 per week. Lewis appealed, arguing the court of appeals erred in holding the commission's findings were supported by substantial evidence. The Supreme Court agreed, and remanded this case back to the commission for a de novo hearing to determine the amount of benefits to which Lewis is entitled. View "Lewis v. L.B. Dynasty" on Justia Law

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Hampton Hall Club, Inc. was a nonprofit organization in Beaufort County. Respondent Brad Lightner was a member of Hampton Hall, and filed this action individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated against Defendants, alleging Defendants wrongfully collected and retained an admissions tax on its members' club and golf dues. After Respondent filed a motion for class certification, the State and the SCDOR ("Petitioners") filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP, or, in the alternative, to strike pursuant to Rule 12(f), SCRCP, to dismiss the State as a party and to stay discovery. In so moving, Petitioners asserted, inter alia, Respondent was required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the South Carolina Revenue Procedures Act ("Act") and was prohibited from proceeding as a class action against the SCDOR. The circuit court determined the Act was inapplicable to this case because the General Assembly intended to limit the Act's application to disputes with the SCDOR concerning property taxes, which both parties conceded were not at issue. Thus, contrary to Petitioners' assertions, Respondent was not required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the Act in order to proceed individually against all Defendants. The court, however, granted Petitioners' motion to dismiss the class action allegations, finding the Act, which it determined was inapplicable to this dispute, nevertheless prohibited Respondent from bringing a class action lawsuit against Petitioners. In sum, we hold the circuit court erred in finding the Act's application is limited to disputes with the SCDOR concerning property taxes. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. Because the Act was applicable to this case, Respondent was required to follow the administrative remedies under the Act and was prohibited from proceeding as a class action against Petitioners. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Lightner v. Hampton Hall Club, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Thomas Hilton suffered an admittedly compensable injury as the result of an insect or spider bite. The present dispute centered on whether he required further medical treatment to reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). The single commissioner agreed with Hilton on the merits, finding he had not reached MMI, and further that any misrepresentations he had made during the life of his claim were a result of a serious cognitive deficit from a previous brain injury. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari to review an order of the Court of Appeals dismissing Hilton's appeal of an admittedly interlocutory order of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission's Appellate Panel (the Commission). Hilton argued the Commission's interlocutory order vacating and remanding the Workers' Compensation Commission's single commissioner's order was immediately appealable pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A) (Supp. 2015). The Supreme Court agreed, under these unusual facts, that review of the final agency decision would not provide Hilton with an adequate remedy, and he was therefore entitled to an immediate appeal. Determining whether review of the final agency decision would give Hilton an adequate remedy required the Court to reach the underlying merits of the Commission's order, and since it concluded that the order could not stand, the Court of Appeals' order was vacated and the case remanded back to the Commission. View "Hilton v. Flakeboard America Limited" on Justia Law

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This case was one in a string of longstanding disagreements regarding how the practice of physical therapy should be regulated in South Carolina. The South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy (the Board) sided with members of the profession who wanted to prevent physical therapists (PTs) from providing treatment as direct employees of physicians. The Board had long sought to require PTs to provide their services directly to patients or through a practice group of PTs. However, other licensed healthcare professionals in South Carolina, such as occupational therapists, speech pathologists, and nurse practitioners may be employed by physicians. Thus, the PTs stood alone in South Carolina. Physicians' offices could not provide PT services by employing licensed PTs, and PTs could not provide services while employed by a physician or physicians' practice group. Appellants Kristin Joseph, a PT, and two orthopedic surgeons, Doctors Thomas Joseph and William McCarthy appealed a circuit court's order dismissing their claims challenging a 2011 position statement from the Board, which opined that within a group practice, if a PT or physical therapist assistant (PTA) provided services to a patient at the request of another PT or PTA employed within the same practice, the act did not constitute a "referral" under section 40-45-110(A)(1) of the South Carolina Code, as construed in "Sloan v. South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners," (636 S.E.2d 598 (2006)). After review, the Supreme Court overruled its decision in "Sloan," and reversed the circuit court's order in this case. View "Joseph v. SC Dept of Labor, Licensing & Regulation" on Justia Law

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These cases arose out of an on-going South Carolina Law Enforcement Division ("SLED") investigation into the past conduct of certain members of the General Assembly (the "redacted legislators"), and was filed in the South Carolina Supreme Court's original jurisdiction. Petitioner David Pascoe ("Pascoe"), Solicitor of the First Judicial Circuit, asked the Supreme Court to require "the Attorney General" to recuse himself and his Office from the redacted legislators matter, and vest Pascoe with the legal authority to act autonomously as the designee of the Attorney General with the powers of that Office. Pascoe further asked that respondent James Parks ("Parks"), clerk of the state grand jury, be ordered to cooperate with Pascoe's initiation of the state grand jury investigation. Attorney General Alan Wilson appointed Pascoe as the "designated prosecutor" in the investigation. Wilson acknowledged that there might have been "inherent conflicts" between himself and certain members of the house. Chief Deputy General John McIntosh was thereafter made supervising prosecutor. On March 28, 2016, McIntosh sent a letter to Pascoe purportedly terminating all authority delegated to Pascoe "on July 17 and July 24, 2015," because of Pascoe's attempt to "unlawfully" initiate a state grand jury investigation. Pascoe petitioned for a declaration that he was imbued with the powers of the office of Attorney General, which included convening a state grand jury. After review, the Supreme Court granted the petition for declaratory relief and declared that respondent Attorney General Wilson and the Attorney General's Office were recused from the redacted legislators investigation; Pascoe lawfully sought to initiate a state grand jury investigation; and the Attorney General's Office's purported termination of Pascoe's designation was not valid. Recognizing the integrity of the parties involved, the Court declined to formally issue relief in a related mandamus action, "confident that our resolution of the declaratory judgment action makes clear the responsibilities and roles of the parties." View "Pascoe v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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In 2003, William Hueble purchased 220 acres of farming and hunting property in Greenwood County. At the time of closing, the seller informed Hueble that Respondent Eric Vaughn, a corporal for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), had a personal deer stand on the property and had hunted there in the past. The seller indicated it would be a "good idea" to allow Vaughn continued access. Hueble declined the suggestion. During 2004, Hueble received a call from the seller informing him that Vaughn had recently been on the property and left four wheeler tracks. The seller again suggested that it would be in Hueble's "best interest" to allow Vaughn to hunt on the property, and provided Vaughn's phone number to Hueble. Hueble once again declined the suggestion and did not contact Vaughn. Hueble then acquired additional land and invested substantial sums of money to improve and maintain his property for hunting dove. More than one month prior to the opening day of dove season, Hueble believed the field was non-baited and in compliance with all regulations and guidelines. On opening day, Hueble's friends and family joined him for the first hunt of the season. Shortly into the hunt, Vaughn and other DNR officers entered Hueble's property unannounced. Vaughn and the DNR officers gathered the hunters together and began threatening them with fines and confiscation of property for baiting the dove field. Vaughn dug into Hueble's property with a knife blade to produce seeds and claimed that one seed constituted baiting a field. During this interaction, Hueble learned Vaughn was the DNR officer the seller had mentioned. Ultimately, Hueble was the only hunter charged by DNR with baiting the field. Hueble ultimately pled no contest to the baiting charge, believing this would resolve Vaughn's animosity. Hueble was accused of baiting at the start of turkey season too. Based on these encounters with Vaughn, Hueble believed that Vaughn had a "vendetta" against him and that Vaughn's supervisor was fully aware of the alleged threats he was making against Hueble. Because of these concerns, Hueble initiated a complaint with Vaughn's supervisor at DNR. However, the supervisor responded with allegations of Hueble's illegal activity based upon Vaughn's version of the events. Hueble filed a complaint against DNR and Vaughn. He obtained a Rule 68, SCRCP, judgment of $5,100 in his favor at the close of litigation. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether Hueble was a prevailing party within the meaning of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1988 (2006), and was therefore entitled to attorneys' fees. The Court held that he was, and reversed the lower courts' holdings to the contrary, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Hueble v. SCDNR" on Justia Law

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This negligence action arose out of a collision involving a train and an automobile at a railroad crossing. Petitioner Willie Stephens, as Guardian ad Litem for his minor granddaughter who suffered a traumatic brain injury while a passenger in her mother's vehicle, filed suit against CSX Transportation, Inc. and the South Carolina Department of Transportation ("SCDOT"). A jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants, and Petitioner appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding the trial judge did not err in admitting certain evidence, charging the jury, and in denying Petitioner's motions for a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("JNOV"). The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Petitioner's request for a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the rulings of the Court of Appeals regarding the denial of Petitioner's JNOV motion and the jury charge issues that it addressed. However, the Court found the Court of Appeals erred in restricting its analysis only to those jury charge issues related to the breach of CSX's and SCDOT's duty of reasonable care. Because portions of the judge's charge were erroneous and prejudiced Petitioner, the case was reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "Stephens v. CSX Transportation" on Justia Law

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Julie Freeman, individually and on behalf of over five-thousand similarly situated car buyers, filed a lawsuit against J.L.H. Investments, LP, a/k/a Hendrick Honda of Easley ("Hendrick"), seeking damages under the South Carolina Dealers Act on the ground that Hendrick "unfairly" and "arbitrarily" charged all of its customers "closing fees" that were not calculated to reimburse Hendrick for actual closing costs. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Freeman in the amount of $1,445,786.00 actual damages. In post-trial rulings, the trial judge: (1) denied Hendrick's motions to overturn or reduce the jury's verdict; (2) granted Freeman's motions to double the actual damages award and to award attorneys' fees and costs; and (3) denied Freeman's motion for prejudgment interest. The South Carolina Supreme Court certified this case from the Court of Appeals, and finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Freeman v. J.L.H. Investments" on Justia Law

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"Appellant and the Respondents are neighbors who obviously do not get along." Appellant Ursula Pallares brought suit alleging five claims against two of her neighbors, respondents Sharon Seinar and Lisa Maseng. Pallares claimed respondents had "mounted a campaign to harass and humiliate" her and to "drive her from her home." Pallares outlined four areas of conduct by one or both Respondents involving: (1) code violations; (2) nuisance animals; (3) a petition for a mental evaluation; and (4) requests for restraining orders, which Pallares averred gave rise to civil tort liability. The circuit court granted partial summary judgment to Respondents on Pallares's claims for malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and civil conspiracy. Pallares appealed, and the Supreme Court certified the case for review. Based on careful consideration of the facts in record, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's grant of partial summary judgment to Respondents on Pallares's claim for malicious prosecution. However, the Court reversed the grant of summary judgment on Pallares's claim for abuse of process. View "Pallares v. Seinar" on Justia Law