Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Central to this case was a dispute between two daughters and a stepdaughter of the testatrix, Jacquelin Stevenson, who died in 2007. She was survived by six children: four from her marriage to Thomas Stevenson, a son by a former marriage, and a stepdaughter. The testatrix's two sons by Stevenson, Thomas and Daniel, stole millions from the estate while co-trustees from 1996 to 2006, thereby forfeiting any rights they had to take under their mother's will and leaving Jacquelin and Kathleen as the personal representatives. The theft by Thomas and Daniel left the estate with insufficient monies remaining to fund specific bequests of $400,000 each to the two stepchildren of the marriage. Further, the bequest of a Lake Summit property to the two sons failed, sending it to the residuary, and because no amendment by codicil preceded the testatrix's demise, after acquired properties passed through the residuary as well. The residuary clause provided that "[a]ll the rest, residue and remainder of my property and estate . . . I give, devise and bequeath to Kathleen S. Turner, Jacquelin S. Bennett, Thomas C. Stevenson, III, Daniel R. Stevenson, James Kelly King, and Genevieve S. Felder in equal shares." The probate court, the circuit court, and the court of appeals all interpreted this to mean in equal ownership interests rather than equal monetary values. Just as the language of the residuary clause was relevant to the resolution of this dispute, so was section 10 of the will, which set forth the powers of the personal representatives and expressly stated the testatrix's intention to give broad discretion and flexibility to her personal representatives. The probate judge, the circuit court, and the court of appeals all determined the broad powers did not govern distributions of the residual estate. Also, the court of appeals affirmed the probate court's finding that the personal representatives' conduct constituted a breach of fiduciary duty. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the court of appeals erred and reversed. View "Bennett v. Estate of James Kelly King" on Justia Law

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A church entity became the legal or beneficial owner of certain real and personal property after The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina (Disassociated Diocese) and thirty-six individual Episcopal Parishes (Parishes) disassociated from The Episcopal Church in the United States of America (National Church). The dispute presented two broad questions to the South Carolina Supreme Court: (1) who owned the real estate long-owned and occupied by the individual Parishes; and (2) who was the beneficiary of a statutorily-created trust controlled by the Trustees of The Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina (Trustees). The National Church and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (Associated Diocese) contended the South Carolina Supreme Court made a final decision as to who owned all the disputed property when the Court heard the case in 2015 and each Justice sitting on the Court in 2015 issued a separate opinion in 2017. The Parishes disagreed the Court made a final decision as to the real property occupied by twenty-nine Parishes, and contended the Court left much to be decided by the circuit court as to these Parishes. The Disassociated Diocese and the Trustees agreed the Supreme Court made a final decision as to real and personal property the Trustees formerly held in trust for the Lower Diocese—the second question—but they disagree what that decision was. To the second question presented, the Supreme Court agreed with the National Church and the Associated Diocese that the 2017 Court decided the real and personal property held in trust by the Trustees was held for the benefit of the Associated Diocese. As to the first question, the Supreme Court determined the 2017 Court did not make a final decision as to the real property owned by the twenty-nine Parishes. As to some Parishes, the Court held the circuit court correctly ruled the individual Parish retained ownership of its property. As to other Parishes, those Parishes created an irrevocable trust in favor of the National Church and its diocese, now the Associated Diocese. As to the Parishes that created a trust, the Court directed that appropriate documentation be filed in the public record indicating the National Church and the Associated Diocese now owned that real estate. From its decision here, there will be no remand. "The case is over." View "The Protestant Episcopal Church v. The Episcopal Church" on Justia Law

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Justin Jamal Warner was convicted by jury of murder, attempted armed robbery, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. The court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Warner's petition for a writ of certiorari to address: (1) whether the trial court was correct to deny Warner's motion to suppress cell-site location information (CSLI) seized from his cell phone service provider; and (2) whether an out-of-court viewing by Warner's probation officer of a crime-scene video and the officer's identification of Warner as the man in the video required a hearing under Neil v. Biggers, 409 U.S. 188 (1972). The Supreme Court found the trial court correctly ruled the identification made from the video did not require a Biggers hearing. As to the CSLI, the Court held the warrant the trial court found invalid because the warrant sought information stored in another state was not - at least for that reason - invalid. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals as to the Biggers issue and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings as to Warner's motion to suppress CSLI. View "South Carolina v. Warner" on Justia Law

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PCS Nitrogen sought insurance coverage for liability arising from contamination of a fertilizer manufacturing site in Charleston, South Carolina, claiming its right to coverage stemmed from an assignment of insurance benefits executed by Columbia Nitrogen Corporation in 1986. Respondents, the insurance carriers who issued the policies at issue, claimed they owed no coverage because Columbia Nitrogen Corporation executed the assignment without their consent. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Respondents, and the court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted PCS's petition for a writ of certiorari, finding Columbia Nitrogen Corporation executed a valid post-loss assignment of insurance rights in 1986. "PCS cannot be denied coverage on the basis that Respondents did not consent to the assignment." The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "PCS Nitrogen, Inc. v Continental Casualty Company, et al." on Justia Law

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This case arose from the armed robbery and shooting death of a convenience store clerk, James Mahoney, at Nikki's Speedy Mart in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, in the early morning hours of September 16, 1999. Richard Moore petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus to challenge the proportionality of the death sentence that was imposed for his murder conviction. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Moore's motion to argue against the precedent of South Carolina v. Copeland, 300 S.E.2d 63 (1982). After review of the record and applicable law and consideration of the parties' arguments, the Supreme Court clarified Copeland and noted the Court was not statutorily required to restrict its proportionality review of "similar cases" to a comparison of only cases in which a sentence of death was imposed. The Supreme Court concluded, however, that Moore did not establish he was entitled to habeas relief. View "Moore v. Stirling" on Justia Law

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On January 2, 2015, James Daniels entered the Sunhouse convenience store at the intersection of Highway 905 and Red Bluff Road in Longs, South Carolina, on the pretense of buying a bottle of lemonade. James' actual purpose was to scout the store for Jerome Jenkins, Jr. and James' brother McKinley Daniels to rob it. Minutes after James left the store, Jenkins and McKinley entered, masked and armed with pistols. They first encountered Jimmy McZeke, who worked at the store. Jenkins and McKinley fired at McZeke, but both missed. McZeke then ran into the bathroom at the back of the store and locked the door. Jenkins followed McZeke and shot at him through the bathroom door. The gunshots shattered several glass bottles, and the shattered glass cut McZeke on his head. McKinley stayed at the front of the store where the store clerk, Bala Paruchuri, stood behind the cash register. McKinley pointed his pistol at Paruchuri, went behind the counter, and robbed Paruchuri of the money in the register. Jenkins quickly returned to the front of the store. As he and McKinley left the store, both shot Paruchuri. According to the store's video security system that recorded the entire sequence, Jenkins and McKinley were in the store for thirty-seven seconds. Paruchuri died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. Jenkins was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and armed robbery. A jury sentenced Jenkins to death on the murder charge. This opinion consolidated Jenkins' direct appeal and the South Carolina Supreme Court's mandatory review of his death sentence under section 16-3-25 of the South Carolina Code (2015). Judgment and sentence was affirmed. View "South Carolina v. Jenkins" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court granted review of a court of appeals' decision affirming a trial court's finding that Respondents Fred's, Inc. (Fred's) and Wildevco, LLC (Wildevco) were entitled to equitable indemnification from Petitioner Tippins-Polk Construction, Inc. (Tippins-Polk). Respondent Fred's was a Tennessee corporation that operated a chain of discount general merchandise stores in several states, including South Carolina. Respondent Wildevco is a South Carolina limited liability company that owned a tract of undeveloped commercial property in Williston, South Carolina. In February 2005, Wildevco and Fred's entered into a lease agreement in which Wildevco agreed to construct a 16,000-square-foot commercial space located in Williston, South Carolina, according to Fred's conceptual design specifications. In turn, Fred's agreed to lease the property for ten years. In April 2005, Wildevco entered into a contract with general contractor Tippins-Polk for the construction of the Fred's store and adjoining strip center. Pursuant to the lease agreement between Wildevco and Fred's, Wildevco was the party responsible for "keep[ing] and repair[ing] the exterior of the [] Premises, including the parking lot, parking lot lights, entrance and exits, sidewalks, ramps, curbs," and various other exterior elements. Fred's was responsible for maintenance of the interior of the premises. Five years after the Fred's store opened, on a sunny day in March, Martha Fountain went to the Williston Fred's to purchase light bulbs. Her toe caught the sloped portion of the ramp at the entrance of the store, causing her to trip and fall. Fountain sustained serious injuries to her hand, wrist, and arm and has undergone five surgeries to alleviate her pain and injuries. Fountain and her husband filed a premises liability suit against Fred's and Wildevco, alleging Respondents breached their duty to invitees by failing to maintain and inspect the premises and failing to discover and make safe or warn of unreasonable risks. Pertinent to this appeal, Tippins-Polk argued the court of appeals erred in finding a special relationship existed between it and Fred's and in finding Respondents proved they were without fault as to the Fountain premises liability claim. Because the Supreme Court found Respondents failed to establish they were without fault in the underlying action, judgment was reversed. View "Fountain v. Fred's, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Kenneth Taylor was charged with driving under the influence (DUI). The magistrate court dismissed the charge, finding the State failed to comply with subsection 56-5-2953(A)'s requirement that the DUI incident site video recording "show" the defendant being advised of his Miranda rights. The circuit court and court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the State's petition for a writ of certiorari to address two issues: (1) the meaning of the word "show" as it was used in subsection 56-5-2953(A); and (2) whether per se dismissal of a DUI charge was the proper remedy for a video's failure to "show" a DUI defendant being advised of his Miranda rights at the incident site. The Supreme Court concluded the magistrate court correctly interpreted the meaning of the word "show" as used in subsection 56-5-2953(A); however, the Court held that failure to show a DUI defendant being advised of his Miranda rights did not mandate per se dismissal. View "South Carolina v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Before the South Carolina Supreme Court in this appeal was the trial court's dismissal of respondent Jeanne Beverly's claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. Beverly brought claims against Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, LLC. Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina (BCBS) was a mutual insurance company that provided health insurance coverage through Member Benefits Contracts to its Members. Beverly was a BCBS Member. In 2005, Grand Strand and BCBS entered into a contract labeled "Institutional Agreement." The Institutional Agreement contained a clause entitled, "No Third Party Beneficiaries," that provided in part, "This Agreement is not intended to, and shall not be construed to, make any person or entity a third party beneficiary." Grand Strand and BCBS were the only parties to the Institutional Agreement. Grand Strand made two promises to BCBS in the Institutional Agreement that Beverly contended created rights she and other BCBS Members could enforce. Beverly was injured in an automobile accident on September 6, 2012. The same day, she received health care services at a Grand Strand emergency room for injuries she sustained in the accident. Beverly alleges she provided Grand Strand proof of her status as a BCBS Member. Some time later, Beverly received a bill directly from Grand Strand for $8,000. Beverly alleges the $8,000 bill does not reflect the discount Grand Strand promised in the Institutional Agreement. Beverly filed this action on behalf of herself and a class of similarly situated BCBS Members who were denied the right to have their bills processed and discounted according to Grand Strand's promises in the Institutional Agreement. The primary question before the Supreme Court was whether the "no beneficiary" clause in the Institutional Agreement overrode an otherwise manifestly clear purpose of the contracting parties to provide a direct benefit to non-contracting parties. "Mindful that we are reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal order—not an order on the merits—we hold it does not." The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' opinion reversing the 12(b)(6) dismissal. The case was remanded to circuit court for discovery and trial. View "Beverly v. Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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On the evening of May 21, 2014, Denise Garrison went to Target in Anderson, South Carolina with her eight-year-old daughter. Before entering the store, however, Denise retrieved her coupon book from her car, placed it on the hood, and proceeded to examine it. Looking up from the book, her daughter appeared with what looked like a hypodermic needle in her hand. Denise instinctively swatted the syringe out of her daughter's hand. However, in the swatting process, the syringe punctured the palm of her hand. Denise informed Target's store manager, who apologized for what happened. Denise believed the manager assured her that her medical bills would be paid, testifying that the manager said "bring us the bill." Despite Denise's belief that Target would cover her medical costs, Target refused to do so. The case proceeded to a jury trial, in which Target was found negligent, and awarded Denise $100,000 in compensatory damages and $4.51 million in punitive damages. The jury also awarded Clint $3,500 for lost wages and $5,000 for loss of consortium. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the court of appeals erred in: (1) affirming the trial court's denial of Target's motion for JNOV as to liability based on a theory of constructive notice; (2) holding the statutory cap on punitive damages was an affirmative defense; (3) instructing the trial court to consider on remand the potential harm caused by Target's conduct in evaluating the constitutionality of the amount of punitive damages; and (4) refusing to award interest on punitive damages under Rule 68, SCRCP. The Supreme Court determined the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find Target had constructive notice of the syringe in its parking lot and failed to discover and remove it in the exercise of due care. In addition, Court held the statutory cap on punitive damages pursuant was not required to be pled by the defendant as an affirmative defense in order to apply. The court of appeals properly instructed the trial court to consider on remand the potential harm caused by Target's conduct in evaluating the constitutionality of the amount of the Garrisons' punitive damages award. Lastly, the Supreme Court held Denise was entitled to eight percent interest on the entirety of her damages award, including punitive damages, pursuant to Rule 68, SCRCP. View "Garrison v. Target Corporation" on Justia Law