Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

by
Zachariah and Amie Lord Cooper, and Arlene Palazzo were foster parents of three sibling children placed in their care by the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS). The Coopers fostered one of the children, and Palazzo fostered the other two children. DSS initiated removal actions in the family court. The Coopers and Palazzo filed private actions seeking termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption of their respective foster children. This consolidated appeal stemmed from the family court's order denying several motions made by Foster Parents. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the family court's denial of Foster Parents' motions for joinder. The Supreme Court reversed the family court's denial of Foster Parents' motions to intervene. The matter was remanded for further consideration of Foster Parents' motions for consolidation. View "Cooper v. SCDSS" on Justia Law

by
Stacey and Tammie Bazen married in 1999 and lived in Myrtle Beach. The marriage was unstable, with frequent separations and accusations that Stacey was unfaithful. Their first daughter was born in 2004. In 2008, they had twin girls. At the time of Stacey's death in 2013, he and Tammie were again separated. Stacey was living at the home of his parents, Laverne and Pansy Bazen, in Pamplico, South Carolina, approximately fifty miles from where the children lived with Tammie in Myrtle Beach. The grandparents saw the children frequently until Stacey died, mostly in Myrtle Beach. During the periods of Stacey and Tammie's separation, including at the time of Stacey's death, the children would visit with Stacey at the grandparents' home. The grandparents developed a positive, loving relationship with the children. The children were 9 and 5 at the time of Stacey's death. The family court found Tammie and the grandparents "had a great amount of animosity between them." Tammie's relationship with the grandparents soured when the twins were very young. Soon after Stacey died, Tammie had a dispute with the grandparents over Stacey's estate. The dispute carried over into their communication about the grandparents seeing the children. The grandparents filed suit in family court in July 2016 seeking an order pursuant to subsection 63-3-530(A)(33) requiring Tammie to allow visitation. The case went to trial in October 2017. The family court entered an order on November 17, 2017, granting visitation. Tammie appealed the November 2017 order. The South Carolina Supreme Court rejected the mother's argument the subsection was unconstitutional, and found the grandparents satisfied the requirements of the subsection and were entitled to have some visitation. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed. However, the Court found it necessary to accommodate reasonable restrictions the mother sought to impose on visitation. In light of this finding, the Supreme Court modified the visitation schedule. View "Bazen v. Bazen" on Justia Law

by
Korey Love moved at the outset of his PCR hearing to amend his application for relief to add four additional grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. The appeal before the South Carolina Supreme Court focused primarily on one of those additional grounds: that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to a portion of the State's closing argument. The State objected to the amendments, and the PCR court denied Love's motion to amend, finding the State would be unfairly prejudiced by allowing Love to amend his PCR application upon such short notice. The Supreme Court granted Love a writ of certiorari to address whether the PCR court erred by not allowing him to amend his application to add the ground concerning the State's closing argument. And, after review, the Court reversed the PCR court's denial of Love's motion to amend to add that one ground, and remanded this matter for the PCR court to consider the merits of this additional ground. View "Love v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

by
The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Scott Ledford’s petition for review of the Court of Appeals’ decision to affirm the outcome of a Workers’ Compensation Commission hearing. Ledford was a former lance corporal with the South Carolina Highway Patrol. While employed as a highway patrolman, Ledford was injured in two separate work-related accidents: in July 2010, Ledford sustained injuries to his spine after being tasered during a training exercise; and in March 2012, Ledford was involved in a motorcycle accident while attempting to pursue a motorist. Ledford settled the 2010 claim with Respondents. Following the second accident, Ledford filed two separate claims for workers' compensation benefits. The Workers' Compensation Commission Appellate Panel declined to find Ledford suffered a change of condition; however, she found Ledford was entitled to medical benefits for injuries to his right leg and aggravated pre-existing conditions in his neck and lower back due to the motorcycle accident. Neither party appealed the Commission’s order. Months later, Ledford reached maximum medical improvement ("MMI"). Commissioner Susan Barden held a hearing on Ledford’s Form 21 in August 2014. Following the hearing, but prior to the issuance of a final order, Ledford filed a motion to recuse Commissioner Barden. According to Ledford's motion, Commissioner Barden requested a phone conference with the parties a month after the hearing during which she allegedly threatened criminal proceedings against Ledford if the case was not settled; indicated that she engaged in her own investigation and made findings based on undisclosed materials outside the record; suggested Ledford used "creative accounting" in his tax returns; and questioned Ledford's credibility regarding his claims of neck pain. Ledford contended any one of these grounds was sufficient to warrant recusal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission, finding: (1) Commissioner Barden was not required to recuse herself; (2) substantial evidence supported the Appellate Panel's decision to reverse Commissioner Barden's permanency determination; and (3) substantial evidence supported the Appellate Panel's findings that Ledford was not credible and his landscaping business remained lucrative following the injury. The Supreme Court held the Court of Appeals erred in finding Commissioner Barden was not required to recuse herself. The Court was “deeply concerned” by the Commissioner’s conduct in this matter. “Ledford's counsel provided an opportunity for Commissioner Barden to right her wrong by moving for recusal. Instead of stepping aside, Commissioner Barden became more abusive and strident in both her ruling on the recusal motion and her final order.” The Commission’s orders were vacated and the matter remanded for a new hearing before a different commissioner. View "Ledford v. DPS" on Justia Law

by
An industrial park was built in an unincorporated area in Laurens County, South Carolina, between the City of Laurens (Laurens) and the City of Fountain Inn (Fountain Inn). Both municipalities provided natural gas service beyond their respective borders, and each sought to serve the industrial customers in the new industrial park. However, Laurens -through its subsidiary, the Laurens Commission of Public Works (LCPW) - claimed Fountain Inn could not compete for the industrial customers' business because LCPW had established a designated service area and therefore was the sole authorized natural gas provider to the industrial park. Fountain Inn believed the industrial park was not part of a designated service area, and thus LCPW did not have an exclusive right to provide natural gas to customers in the industrial park. In support of its claim, LCPW asserted it had satisfied the requirements of S.C. Code section 5-7-60 (2004) by providing natural gas in the general vicinity for twenty years pursuant to a 1992 boundary line that was informally agreed to by Laurens and Fountain Inn. Agreeing with LCPW that it had properly created a designated service area, the circuit court enjoined Fountain Inn from providing natural gas service to the industrial park, and the court of appeals affirmed. Because there was no reasonable interpretation of section 5-7-60 that would permit LCPW to claim a designated service area over the industrial park, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed. View "Commissioners of Public Works v. City of Fountain Inn" on Justia Law

by
Wadette Cothran incurred approximately $40,000 in medical expenses from injuries she received in an automobile accident. Her employer's workers' compensation carrier paid all of her medical expenses. She was also covered by her automobile insurance policy issued to her and her husband Chris by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. The State Farm policy provided PIP coverage with a limit of $5,000. However, State Farm refused to pay her any PIP benefits for medical expenses based on a "Workers' Compensation Coordination" provision in the policy. This appeal requires presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court's consideration whether Section 38-77-144 of the South Carolina Code (2015) prohibited an automobile insurance carrier from reducing its obligation to pay PIP benefits to its insured by the amount of workers' compensation benefits the insured received for medical expenses. The Court held that it did: "[w]hen an insurer seeks to reduce its obligation to pay benefits based on a third party's previous payment for the same claim, it is a setoff. Because that is the precise effect of State Farm's "Coordination" provision, section 38-77-144 prohibits the provision from reducing State Farm's obligation to pay PIP benefits to the Cothrans." the Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the summary judgment in the Cothrans' favor. View "Cothran v. State Farm" on Justia Law

by
Vladimir Pantovich killed his former girlfriend, Sheila McPherson, with a baseball bat during an argument in his home. He hit her with the bat more than ten times, breaking ribs, damaging internal organs, and causing lacerations on her head that exposed her bare skull. Pantovich wrapped her dead body in a blanket, tied it with a rope, obscured her head with a garbage bag, and put the body and the bat in the trunk of his car. He then left his home in Georgetown County and drove toward his son's home in Taylorsville, North Carolina. On the way, he called his son to reveal what he had done. The son alerted law enforcement, and an officer stopped Pantovich as he approached Taylorsville. McPherson's body was still in the trunk in the same condition. At trial in 2008, he admitted he beat McPherson to death, but claimed he did so in self-defense. In this post-conviction relief (PCR) matter, the issue presented to the South Carolina Supreme Court for consideration centered on South Carolina's longstanding good character charge, and whether the PCR court erred when it found appellate counsel for Pantovich ineffective for failing to raise a meritorious issue on direct appeal. The PCR court granted relief based on appellate counsel's failure to argue that the trial court erred by refusing to give such a charge, which counsel had requested at trial. While the Supreme Court agreed that a portion of the charge Pantovich requested is improper, it nonetheless affirmed because of the retrospective nature of PCR review. View "Pantovich v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

by
In November 2008, the Anderson County, South Carolina Council (2008 Council) approved a $1.1 million Severance Agreement for county administrator Joey Preston (Preston). In January 2009, a new county council (2009 Council) was sworn in, and filed suit seeking to invalidate the Severance Agreement. The circuit court ruled that, despite tainted votes, the Severance Agreement was valid and also held: (1) public policy rendered neither the Severance Agreement nor the vote adopting it void; (2) Preston did not breach a fiduciary duty because he owed no duty to disclose Council members' personal conflicts of interest; (3) the County failed to prove its claims for fraud, constructive fraud, and negligent misrepresentation; (4) the 2008 Council's approval of the Severance Agreement was neither unreasonable or capricious nor a product of fraud and abuse of power; (5) the County's constructive trust claim no longer remained viable; (6) rescission was unavailable as a remedy; (7) the County had unclean hands; (8) adequate remedies at law barred the County from invoking the court's equitable jurisdiction; (9) the County breached the covenant not to sue in the Severance Agreement by bringing this lawsuit; and (10) the issue concerning the award of attorney's fees should be held in abeyance pending the final disposition and filing of a petition. Pertinent here, a panel of the Court of Appeals found the trial court erred in refusing to invalidate the 2008 Council's approval of the Severance Agreement based upon the absence of a quorum, and reversed. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined this judgment was made in error: the County lacked a quorum. The matter was remanded to the circuit court to determine the exact amount Preston had to refund the County. View "Anderson County v. Preston" on Justia Law

by
A jury convicted Antrell Felder of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. Following a hearing on Felder's application for post-conviction relief ("PCR"), the PCR court issued an order denying and dismissing Felder's application. The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded the PCR court erred in determining trial counsel was not ineffective. Accordingly, it reversed the PCR court's decision and remanded this matter to the court of general sessions for a new trial. View "Felder v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

by
This case arose from the post-conviction relief (PCR) court's denial of relief to Derrick Fishburne. Because the PCR court's order contained no findings of fact as to one of Fishburne's primary PCR claims, the South Carolina Supreme Court remanded this matter to the PCR court for the PCR court to issue an order setting forth adequate findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding Fishburne's unaddressed PCR claim. In doing so, the Court stressed that PCR orders had to be prepared in compliance with section 17-27-80 of the South Carolina Code (2014) and Rule 52(a) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. View "Fishburne v. South Carolina" on Justia Law