Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Appellant James Harrison, a former state legislator, was convicted and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment in a public corruption probe. The case was prosecuted by David Pascoe, Solicitor of the First Judicial Circuit, who was serving as the acting Attorney General. As recognized in prior case law, Solicitor Pascoe's authority to pursue the corruption probe was bestowed on him by South Carolina's then-current Attorney General, Alan Wilson. Appellant contended Solicitor Pascoe's authority did not grant the solicitor the power to investigate or prosecute Appellant. Conversely, Solicitor Pascoe dismissed any suggestion that his authority was limited, contending he had the authority to prosecute public corruption wherever the investigation led. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined Solicitor Pascoe had the authority to prosecute Appellant for perjury, but did not have the authority to prosecute Appellant for misconduct in office. Consequently, the Court affirmed Appellant's conviction and eighteen-month sentence for perjury, but reversed the statutory and common law misconduct in office charges, and remanded to the presiding judge of the State Grand Jury for further proceedings. View "South Carolina v. Harrison" on Justia Law

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Jose Reyes Reyes was convicted by a jury of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor. The court of appeals affirmed the conviction. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Reyes's petition for a writ of certiorari to address two questions: (1) whether the trial court improperly ruled in the jury's presence that the child victim (Minor) was competent to testify; and (2) whether the solicitor improperly bolstered Minor's credibility by phrasing questions to Minor in the first person. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' judgment. View "South Carolina v. Reyes" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit certified a question of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. John Harley Wickersham Jr. was seriously injured in an automobile accident. After months of severe pain from the injuries he received in the accident, he committed suicide. His widow filed lawsuits for wrongful death, survival, and loss of consortium against Ford Motor Company in state circuit court. She alleged that defects in the airbag system in Mr. Wickersham's Ford Escape enhanced his injuries, increasing the severity of his pain, which in turn proximately caused his suicide. She included causes of action for negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. Ford removed the cases to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. Ford then filed a motion for summary judgment in the wrongful death suit, arguing Mrs. Wickersham has no wrongful death claim under South Carolina law because Mr. Wickersham's suicide was an intervening act that could not be proximately caused by a defective airbag. The district court denied Ford's motion. 194 F. Supp. 3d at 448. The court ruled Mrs. Wickersham could prevail on the wrongful death claim if she proved the enhanced injuries Mr. Wickersham sustained in the accident as a result of the defective airbag caused severe pain that led to an "uncontrollable impulse" to commit suicide. Ford renewed the motion during and after trial, but the district court denied both motions. A jury ultimately returned a verdict in favor of Mrs. Wickersham on all claims. Ford appealed, and the Fourth Circuit asked: (1) whether South Carolina recognized an "uncontrollable impulse" exception to the general rule that suicide breaks the causal chain for wrongful death claims; and (2) did comparative negligence in causing enhanced injuries apply in a crashworthiness case when the plaintiff alleges claims of strict liability and breach of warranty and is seeking damages related only to the plaintiff's enhanced injuries? The Supreme Court responded that (1) South Carolina did not recognize a general rule that suicide was an intervening act which breaks the chain of causation and categorically precludes recovery in wrongful death actions. "Rather, our courts have applied traditional principles of proximate cause to individual factual situations when considering whether a personal representative has a valid claim for wrongful death from suicide." With respect to the federal court's second question, the Supreme Court held a plaintiff's actions that do not cause an accident but are nevertheless a contributing cause to the enhancement of his injuries, are not necessarily a legally remote cause. "Mr. Wickersham's non-tortious actions that were not misuse are not relevant to Ford's liability for enhancement of his injuries in terms of the defense of comparative negligence or fault." View "Wickersham v. Ford Motor Company" on Justia Law

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The issue presented in this declaratory action before the South Carolina Supreme Court in its original jurisdiction was a challenge to the constitutionality of Governor Henry McMaster's allocation of $32 million in federal emergency education funding for the creation of the Safe Access to Flexible Education ("SAFE") Grants Program. Petitioners contended the program violated South Carolina's constitutional mandate prohibiting public funding of private schools. The Supreme Court held the Governor's decision constituted the use of public funds for the direct benefit of private educational institutions within the meaning of, and prohibited by, Article XI, Section 4 of the South Carolina Constitution. "Even in the midst of a pandemic, our State Constitution remains a constant, and the current circumstances cannot dictate our decision. Rather, no matter the circumstances, the Court has a responsibility to uphold the Constitution." View "Adams v. McMaster" on Justia Law

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Petitioners' real property was sold at a delinquent tax sale. They filed an action in circuit court to challenge the sale, and all parties consented to have the case referred to a special referee for trial. Petitioners agreed to allow defendants (respondents here) to present their evidence first. After the testimony of one witness, the county's tax collector, defendants moved to approve the sale. The special referee granted the motion. Petitioners objected, arguing they were not permitted to give their factual presentation of the case. The special referee denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. On appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court, petitioners argued they were deprived of due process, including the right to be heard and the right to present witnesses and other evidence. The Supreme Court granted the petition, dispensed with briefing, reversed the court of appeals, and remanded to the circuit court for a new trial. "The special referee made factual findings and issued judgment in the middle of a trial after hearing from only one witness. ... The law ... does not permit a court to issue judgment against a party before giving that party an opportunity to present evidence in support of her position." View "Halsey v. Simmons" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from Beaufort County, South Carolina's refusal to issue Grays Hill Baptist Church a construction permit to build a fellowship hall adjacent to its existing sanctuary. The court of appeals reversed the master's order and reinstated the Beaufort County Planning Commission's decision to deny the permit because the Church's 1997 development permit did not include the fellowship hall and had expired. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the the court of appeals and ordered Beaufort County to issue the Church a construction permit for the fellowship hall under its original 1997 development permit. The Court found the Planning Commission erred in finding that the Church's original 1997 development permit did not authorize the development of the fellowship hall because the proposed building was clearly indicated in the permit application and plat. "There is no evidence in the record to support the Commission's finding that the original permit only authorized development of the church and that the certificate of compliance closed out the 1997 development permit. Consequently, the County erred in requiring the Church to request a new development permit." View "Grays Hill Baptist Church v. Beaufort County" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was a Public Service Commission order setting rates an electric utility had to pay to solar and other qualifying renewable energy producers for electricity the utility will then sell to its customers. The South Carolina Supreme Court dismissed the appeal because two of the appellants lacked standing to appeal, and the appeal was moot as to the remaining appellant. View "SC Coastal Conservation League v. Dominion Energy" on Justia Law

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William Crenshaw, a tenured professor of English at Erskine College, filed suit claiming he was wrongfully fired. A jury found in favor of Dr. Crenshaw and awarded him $600,000. However, after review of the College's appeal, the South Carolina Supreme Court determined the trial court properly granted Erskine's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict because, as a matter of law, Erskine did not breach its contract with Dr. Crenshaw. View "Crenshaw v. Erskine College" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Sha'quille Washington was indicted for the murder of Herman Manigault and was convicted of the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter. The court of appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted petitioner's petition for certiorari review of the appellate court's judgment. After such review, the Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in giving an accomplice liability instruction, and held petitioner was prejudiced by this error. Therefore, the Court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and reversed in part, and remanded to the circuit court for a new trial on the charge of voluntary manslaughter. View "South Carolina v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Appellant Don Weaver brought a declaratory judgment action to challenge the constitutionality of S.C. Code Ann. section 6-11-271 (2004), which addressed the millage levied in certain special purpose districts. Appellant owned property and was a taxpayer in the Recreation District, a special purpose district created to fund the operation and maintenance of parks and other recreational facilities in the unincorporated areas of Richland County, South Carolina. Appellant first argued section 6-11-271 was unconstitutional because it violated the South Carolina Constitution's prohibition on taxation without representation. Appellant next contended section 6-11-271 did not affect all counties equally and was, therefore, special legislation that was prohibited by the South Carolina Constitution. Appellant lastly argued section 6-11-271 was void because it violated Home Rule as set forth in the state constitution and the Home Rule Act. The circuit court found Appellant failed to meet his burden of establishing any constitutional infirmity. To this, the South Carolina Supreme Court concurred and affirmed judgment. View "Weaver v. Recreation District" on Justia Law