Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Comparative negligence does not apply in crashworthiness cases, and that South Carolina's public policy does not bar a plaintiff, allegedly intoxicated at the time of the accident, from bringing a crashworthiness claim against the vehicle manufacturer. This case concerned the applicability of comparative negligence to strict liability and breach of warranty claims in a crashworthiness case brought by Plaintiff Reid Donze against Defendant General Motors ("GM"). The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina certified two questions to the South Carolina Supreme Court Court addressing the defenses available to a manufacturer in crashworthiness cases brought under strict liability and breach of warranty theories. View "Donze v. General Motors" on Justia Law

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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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The University of South Carolina and the university's booster club, known as the Gamecock Club (Petitioners), and several Gamecock Club members (Respondents) fought over parking spaces. As part of the bargain Respondents struck with Petitioners, Respondents were entitled to "assigned reserved parking" at home football games. Respondents claimed Petitioners violated this contract provision when USC discontinued parking on the "apron" around the football stadium and failed to give Respondents first priority in the selection of new parking spaces. Petitioners claimed the parking provision had no priority requirement and it was satisfied when Respondents were assigned reserved parking spaces in an adjacent lot. The issue for the South Carolina Supreme Court’s resolution was whether this was an appropriate case for the use of equitable estoppel: the trial court held it was not, but the court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and reversed the court of appeals. View "Rosarte v. USC" on Justia Law
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Justin B. was found delinquent for committing criminal sexual conduct with a minor in the first degree. The family court imposed the mandatory, statutory requirement that he register as a sex offender and wear an electronic monitor, both for life. Justin B. claimed the mandatory imposition of lifetime registration and electronic monitoring on juveniles was unconstitutional. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the family court. View "In the Interest of Justin B." on Justia Law

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Respondent Walter Smith was injured in December 2012 following a motor vehicle accident. Smith settled with respondent Corbett Mizzell for the policy limits of Mizzell's liability coverage in exchange for a covenant not to execute. Smith then sued Appellants Norman Tiffany, Individually, Brown Trucking Company and Brown Integrated Logistics, claiming Appellants' negligence was a proximate cause of the accident. The issue before the South Carolina Supreme Court stemmed from Appellants' efforts to have Mizzell added as a defendant. In the South Carolina Contribution Among Joint Tortfeasors Act (Act), the legislature abrogated pure joint and several liability for tortfeasors who were less than fifty percent at fault. The Act directed the fact-finder to apportion one-hundred percent of the fault between the plaintiff and "each defendant whose actions were the proximate cause of the indivisible injury." The trial court rejected Appellants' various arguments and, in granting Mizzell summary judgment, applied the Act as written. In affirming the trial court, the Supreme Court was “likewise constrained by the plain meaning of the unambiguous language in the Act. While we appreciate the equity-driven argument of Appellants, we must honor legislative intent as clearly expressed in the Act, lest we run afoul of separation of powers.” View "Smith v. Tiffany" on Justia Law

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Defendant Carus Corp. (Carus) was an international company that developed and sold chemical products for municipal and industrial applications. Defendant's products included a chemical called Totalox, which essentially, was designed as a deodorizer for sewer systems. The Town of Lexington (Town) used Totalox in its sewer treatment plants. In 2010, Plaintiff John Machin, a Town employee, was exposed to Totalox when a storage container valve broke during the delivery of Totalox to one of the Town's wastewater stations. Plaintiff suffered reactive airways syndrome, which was also known as chemically induced asthma or obstructive lung disease. As a result of his injuries, Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim and was awarded workers' compensation benefits. The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted four certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina: (1) Under South Carolina law, when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the jury hear an explanation of why the employer is not part of the instant action?; (2) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may a defendant argue the empty chair defense and suggest that Plaintiff's employer is the wrongdoer?; (3) In connection with Question 2, if a defendant retains the right to argue the empty chair defense against Plaintiff's employer, may a court instruct the jury that an employer's legal responsibility has been determined by another forum, specifically, the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission?; and (4) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the Court allow the jury to apportion fault against the nonparty employer by placing the name of the employer on the verdict form? The South Carolina Supreme Court answered these questions in the abstract, without any suggestion as to the resolution of the post-trial motion before the federal court: Questions 1, 2, and 3 "yes," provided a defense seeks to assign fault to the plaintiff's employer. The Court answered Question 4, "no." View "Machin v. Carus Corporation" 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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Bobby Stone shot and killed Charlie Kubala of the Sumter County Sheriff's Office. After the Supreme Court affirmed his murder conviction and death sentence, Stone filed an application for post-conviction relief (PCR) alleging he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The PCR court denied relief. Finding no reversible error in the PCR court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Stone v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Appellant Retail Services owned and operated three separate liquor store locations in Charleston, Greenville, and Columbia, South Carolina. SCDOR was charged with the administration of South Carolina's statutes concerning the manufacturing, sale, and retail of alcoholic liquors. Retail Services petitioned SCDOR to open a fourth store in Aiken, however, SCDOR refused to grant Retail Services a fourth liquor license under sections 61-6-140 and -150 of the South Carolina Code, which limited a liquor-selling entity to three retail liquor licenses. Additionally, ABC Stores lobbied the General Assembly on behalf of its members who are owners and holders of retail dealer licenses. Therefore, Retail Services brought this action against SCDOR and ABC Stores seeking a declaratory judgment that these provisions of the South Carolina Code were unconstitutional. The trial court found the provisions constitutional because: (1) they were within the scope of the State's police power; and (2) they satisfied the rational basis test, which, because they did not infringe on a fundamental right or implicate a suspect class, was all that was required. Therefore, the circuit court granted Respondents' motions for summary judgment. Appellant appealed the circuit court's decision. The Supreme Court reversed. "Not only is there no indication in this record that these provisions exist for any other reason than economic protectionism, the provisions themselves and statutory scheme to which they belong lend further support to Appellant's position. As Appellant points out, the provisions do not limit the number of liquor stores that can be licensed in a certain area-only the number than can be owned by one person or entity. Another provision governs the specific placement of retail establishments away from churches, schools and playgrounds. Therefore, Respondents' contention that the provisions advance the safety and moral interests of the State, no doubt a legitimate State interest, is unavailing with respect to sections 61-6-140 and -150." View "Retail Services & Systems, Inc. v. SDCOR" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Henton Clemmons, Jr. injured his back and neck while working at Lowe's Home Center in Columbia. Although all the medical evidence indicated Clemmons had lost more than fifty percent of the use of his back, the Workers' Compensation Commission awarded him only permanent partial disability. The court of appeals affirmed. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether a claimant's ability to work could affect his entitlement to disability benefits under the scheduled-member statute of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act (the Act). The Court reversed and held evidence of a claimant's ability to hold gainful employment alone cannot preclude a determination of permanent disability under the scheduled-member statute. View "Clemmons v. Lowe's Home Centers" on Justia Law