Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

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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

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The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina certified a question of state law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. This wrongful death action arose from the death of a minor. The deceased was a young child experiencing seizures; the treating physician sent the child's DNA to Defendants' genetic testing laboratory for the purpose of diagnosing the child's disease or disorder. The allegation against the genetic testing laboratory was that it failed to properly determine the child's condition, leading to the child's death. Defendants argued the genetic testing laboratory was a "licensed health care provider" pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. 38-79-410 (2015). Defendants further contended Plaintiffs' claims concerned medical malpractice, thereby rendering the medical malpractice statute of repose applicable. The district court asked whether the federally licensed genetic testing laboratory acted as a "licensed health care provider" as defined by S.C. Code Ann.38-79-410 when, at the request of a patient's treating physician, the laboratory performed genetic testing to detect an existing disease or disorder. The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative. View "Williams v. Quest" on Justia Law

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After Randy Horton won this action seeking the production of documents under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the circuit court awarded him attorneys' fees at a rate of $100 per hour. On appeal, the South Carolina Supreme Court addressed solely the question of whether the court abused its discretion in selecting that hourly rate. "When a trial court's decision is made on a sound evidentiary basis and is adequately explained with specific findings—as the law requires—we defer to the trial court's discretion. Here, however, there is no evidence in the record that supports the circuit court's reduction of the hourly rate." Rather than remand, the Court reversed the trial court and awarded Horton $35,611.50 in attorneys' fees and $1,096.56 in costs. View "Horton v. Jasper County School District" on Justia Law

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The circuit court ruled Appellant Kim Murphy was not qualified to be a candidate for election to a Richland County seat on the District 5 Richland-Lexington School Board of Trustees (School Board). The circuit court based this ruling on its conclusion that Murphy resided in Lexington County. Upon review, the South Carolina Supreme Court first found the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction over Respondents' declaratory judgment action challenging Murphy's qualifications. Second, the Court held there was probative evidence in the record supporting the circuit court's conclusion that Murphy resided in Lexington County. Therefore, the Court affirmed the circuit court's ruling that Murphy is not qualified to be a candidate for election to a Richland County seat on the School Board. View "Gantt v. Selph" on Justia Law

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At issue before the South Carolina Supreme Court in this appeal was a question of whether Appellant Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) was subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) due to its receipt and expenditure of certain funds designated for promoting tourism ("accommodation tax funds"). The Chamber's receipt and expenditure of these funds was pursuant to, and governed by, the Accommodations Tax (A-Tax) statute and Proviso 39.2 of the Appropriation Act for Budget Year 2012–2013. Respondent DomainsNewMedia.com, LLC (Domains) filed a declaratory judgment action, seeking a declaration and corresponding injunctive relief on the basis that the Chamber's receipt of these funds renders the Chamber a "public body" pursuant to FOIA, thus subjecting the Chamber to all of FOIA's requirements. The Chamber countered that FOIA did not apply, for the receipt, expenditure, and reporting requirements concerning these funds were governed by the more specific A-Tax statute and Proviso 39.2. The trial court held that the Chamber was a public body and, thus, was subject to FOIA's provisions. The Supreme Court, however, reversed, holding as a matter of discerning legislative intent, that the General Assembly did not intend the Chamber to be considered a public body for purposes of FOIA as a result of its receipt and expenditure of these specific funds. View "DomainsNewMedia.com v. Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce" on Justia Law

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This cross-appeal primarily concerned the amount of compensation owed to Petitioner-respondent Edward Sullivan as personal representative (PR) of Marion Kay's estate. Sullivan filed a petition to settle the estate and sought probate court approval for his commissions as PR together with fees and costs. In response, Respondents-petitioners Martha Brown and Mary Moses, cousins of the deceased and two of multiple beneficiaries under the will, challenged his compensation as excessive, and the probate court agreed, reducing Sullivan's commissions, disallowing certain fees and costs, and awarding attorney's fees to Brown and Moses. The circuit court affirmed, and both sides appealed. In a 2-1 opinion, the court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the probate court. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' decision to uphold the award of $51,300 in commissions for Sullivan's services as personal representative and the determination that Brown and Moses were responsible for their own attorney's fees. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' conclusion that Sullivan is not entitled to recover necessary expenses, including reasonable attorney's fees, incurred at the settlement hearing under section S.C. Code 62-3-720, and remanded this case back to the probate court for that determination. View "Kay v. Sullivan" on Justia Law

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Overland, Inc., filed this lawsuit against Lara Nance, Bank of America, SunTrust Banks, and other defendants seeking damages arising out of Nance's embezzlement of $1,282,000 from the Land Rover dealership Overland operated in the city of Greenville. Nance pled guilty in federal court to wire fraud for stealing the money and was sentenced to 46 months in prison. Overland's theory of liability against Bank of America and SunTrust was that allowing Nance to deposit forged checks into fraudulent accounts she created breached duties the banks owed to Overland. The banks made motions for summary judgment on the ground they owed no duty to Overland, who was not a customer of either bank. The circuit court granted the motions for summary judgment, stating, "Overland [was] unable to demonstrate that [the banks] owed it any duty . . . ." The circuit court denied Overland's Rule 59(e) motion. Overland filed a notice of appeal, which the court of appeals dismissed in an unpublished opinion. Though the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment, the Supreme Court emphasized that a trial court does not have the power to alter or amend a final order if more than ten days passes and no Rule 59(e) motion has been served, nor does a trial court have any power to grant the moving party an extension of time in which to file a Rule 59(e) motion. The failure to serve a Rule 59(e) motion within ten days of receipt of notice of entry of the order converts the order into a final judgment, and the aggrieved party's only recourse is to file a notice of intent to appeal. View "Overland v. Nance" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority, d/b/a Carolinas Medical Center-Fort Mill sought a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision in Amisub of South Carolina, Inc. v. South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control, Op. No. 2017-UP-013 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Jan. 11, 2017). In 2005, four hospitals, Petitioner, Respondent Amisub, Presbyterian Healthcare System, and Hospital Partners of America, applied for a certificate of need (CON) to construct and operate an acute-care hospital in Fort Mill. In May 2006, the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) determined the acute-care hospital was necessary, and granted a CON to Amisub, but denied a CON to Petitioner and the others. DHEC's decision to award the CON to Amisub was based in part on its interpretation of the language of the South Carolina Health Plan that only existing health care providers in York County were eligible for additional hospital beds. Petitioner filed a contested case at the ALC, contending DHEC had erroneously interpreted the language of the Health Plan. Alternatively, Petitioner argued that if DHEC's interpretation was correct, the Health Plan violated the dormant Commerce Clause because it improperly restricted interstate commerce. The ALC found DHEC's interpretation of the Health Plan was not correct, reversed, and remanded to DHEC. The ALC's determination made it unnecessary for the ALC to reach the alternative dormant Commerce Clause claim. On remand, DHEC granted a CON to Petitioner, but denied a CON to the others. Amisub filed a second contested case at the ALC, which again reversed, this time ordering a CON be granted to Amisub and denied to Petitioner. The court of appeals affirmed, finding "the record does not show [Petitioner] presented to the ALC any argument that [Amisub]'s positions on adverse impact and outmigration, if adopted by the ALC, would violate the Dormant Commerce Clause. [Petitioner] waited until filing its Rule 59(e) motion to present this argument, which is too late." If Petitioner had reason to believe this issue was actually being litigated before the ALC in the second contested case, and yet remained silent, the South Carolina Supreme Court would have agreed with the court of appeals. However, the dormant Commerce Clause issues arising out of the language of the Health Plan were resolved in Petitioner's favor in the first contested case. Thus, Petitioner could not reasonably have foreseen the ALC would craft its order in a fashion to revive those issues. Therefore, Petitioner had no reason to raise the dormant Commerce Clause challenge in the second contested case until the ALC issued its order. “No party should be penalized for not addressing an issue as to which it had previously prevailed, and which it did not reasonably contemplate would yet be the basis of the court's ruling.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' finding that the dormant Commerce Clause issue was not preserved for appellate review, and remanded the case to the court of appeals for a ruling on the merits of the issue. View "Amisub v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of South Carolina law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. Sarah Hartsock was killed in an automobile crash on Interstate 26 in Calhoun County, South Carolina. Her personal representative, Theodore Hartsock, Jr., brought a survival and wrongful death action asserting claims under South Carolina law for negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. Hartsock alleged that the vehicle in which Mrs. Hartsock was riding was struck head-on by another vehicle. That vehicle had crossed the median after suffering a blowout of an allegedly defective tire that Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America Ltd. and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company [collectively "Goodyear"] designed, manufactured, and marketed. The federal court had subject-matter jurisdiction based upon complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and damages alleged to be greater than $75,000. During pretrial discovery a dispute arose between the parties over certain Goodyear material relating to the design and chemical composition of the allegedly defective tire. Goodyear objected to producing this material, asserting that it constituted trade secrets. The district court eventually found, and Hartsock did not dispute, that the material did, in fact, constitute trade secrets. However, the court ordered Goodyear to produce the material subject to a confidentiality order. In doing so, the court applied federal discovery standards, rejecting Goodyear's contention that South Carolina trade secret law applied. The federal appellate court asked the South Carolina Supreme Court whether South Carolina recognized an evidentiary privilege for trade secrets. The South Carolina Court responded yes, but that it was a qualified privilege. View "Hartsock v. Goodyear" on Justia Law