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Darrell Goss was convicted of kidnapping, assault and battery with intent to kill (ABWIK), and armed robbery in connection with the armed robbery of a clothing store in North Charleston. In this post-conviction relief (PCR) matter, the PCR court denied relief, and the court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Goss's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the court of appeals. Under normal circumstances, the Supreme Court would apply its deferential standard of review to the PCR court’s findings. However, several witnesses were present at the PCR hearing and were prepared to testify to certain facts and circumstances. Some of these facts and circumstances were pertinent to evidence Goss claims should have been presented to the trial jury. Some of these facts and circumstances may have been pertinent to the dynamic surrounding trial counsel's alleged deficient failure to interview these individuals and perhaps call them as witnesses at trial. Under ordinary circumstances, once the witnesses testified at the PCR hearing, the PCR court would normally make findings as to their credibility. The Supreme Court determined the PCR court erred in taking judicial notice of the witnesses' testimony and then concluding these witnesses would not have been credible to a jury because of their relationships with Goss. “When a factfinder evaluates the credibility of witnesses, the mental process employed often requires the credibility evaluations to be based upon a consideration of all the evidence, not simply the parts the factfinder chooses to see and hear first-hand. Here, the PCR court's decision to take judicial notice of the substance of witnesses' testimony and then find those witnesses not credible diluted the process to the point where the PCR court's factual findings - and perhaps the legal conclusions arising from those factual findings - were based upon an incomplete consideration of all the evidence.” The matter was remanded back to the circuit court for a de novo PCR hearing. View "Goss v. South Carolina" on Justia Law

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Harold Cartwright, III was convicted of one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC), eight counts of first-degree CSC with a minor, two counts of second-degree CSC with a minor, one count of third-degree CSC, and sixteen counts of committing a lewd act on a minor. He appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in: (1) ruling evidence of his suicide attempt was admissible to show consciousness of guilt; and (2) qualifying a witness and allowing her to testify as an expert in the field of "child sexual abuse dynamics." The Court of Appeals affirmed. On appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court, Cartwright argued the State failed to establish a nexus between the suicide attempt and the charges against him. Cartwright maintains the nexus should involve much more than the defendant merely understanding he has been charged with committing a crime. While acknowledging he was aware of the charges, Cartwright asserts that, because he turned himself in, his subsequent attempted suicide cannot be viewed as relevant evidence of guilt and, therefore, admissible. Furthermore, Cartwright contends suicide is a complex act that, in his case, was caused by not being able to make bond and, as Cartwright maintains, the fact that his own daughter turned on him. The Supreme Court: (1) affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals holding the trial court did not abuse its discretion admitting evidence of the attempted suicide; (2) set forth the framework trial courts must apply in future cases when evidence of a suicide attempt is offered to prove consciousness of guilt; (3) affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals finding the trial court correctly qualified an expert in clinical psychology and allowed her opinion; and (4) affirmed the Court of Appeals determining the expert's testimony did not constitute improper bolstering. View "South Carolina v. Cartwright, III" on Justia Law

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The underlying dispute arose following a deadly motor vehicle accident in Bamberg County, South Carolina in January 2008. At the time of the accident, decedent James Buchanan was driving a tractor trailer traveling northbound on U.S. Highway 321. Heading southbound on U.S. Highway 321 were three vehicles: a logging truck followed by two tractor trailers, one driven by Willie Pelote and the other by his brother Roger Pelote, both of whom were former parties to this action. As the vehicles converged, a set of tandem tires came loose from the logging truck and struck Buchanan's vehicle, breaking the front axle. As a result, Buchanan's truck crossed the center line and struck the second tractor trailer. Buchanan's tractor trailer caught fire, and he died at the scene. Respondents, as co-personal representatives of Buchanan's estate, filed a wrongful death claim against the driver of the logging truck; the owner of the logging truck; Strobel Tire Co., which performed tire maintenance work on the logging truck shortly before the accident; and the Pelotes. On certiorari, the South Carolina Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association (the Guaranty) argued the court of appeals erred in construing the provisions of the South Carolina Property and Casualty Insurance Guaranty Association Act (the Act) and affirming the trial court's finding that the Guaranty's statutory offset of $376,622 should be deducted from the claimant's total amount of stipulated damages of $800,000 rather than the Association's mandatory statutory claim limit of $300,000. The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded the Act was ambiguous, and found the court of appeals correctly construed the Act to require that settlement amounts be offset from the total amount of an injured party's damages rather than from the $300,000 statutory cap. The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals' decision as modified. View "Buchanan v. SC Property and Casualty Insurance" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved the South Carolina Home Builders Self Insurers Fund (Fund), which was created by the Home Builders Association of South Carolina, Inc. "for the purpose of meeting and fulfilling an employer's obligations and liabilities under the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act." The dispute arose after the Fund's Board of Trustees announced plans to wind down the Fund and use the Fund's remaining assets to finance a new mutual insurance company. Petitioners, who were members of the Fund, disagreed with that decision and challenged the Board's authority to use the Fund's assets in such a way. The trial court twice dismissed Petitioners' suit, first on the basis that it involved the internal affairs of a trust and therefore should have been filed in probate court, then in a subsequent proceeding, on the basis that the lawsuit was a shareholder derivative action and that the complaint failed to comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 23(b)(1), SCRCP. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of Petitioners' complaint, finding the trial court properly concluded (1) the Fund was not a trust; (2) Petitioners' claims were derivative in nature; and (3) that Petitioners' complaint was properly dismissed as it did not properly allege a pre-suit demand as required by Rule 23(b)(1). The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding Petitioners satisfied the pleading requirements of Rule 23(b)(1), irrespective of whether the Fund was properly characterized as a trust. View "Patterson v. Witter" on Justia Law

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At issue before the South Carolina Supreme Court in this case was an appeal of a circuit court's decision to impose sanctions against Pee Dee Health Care, P.A., and its attorney for conduct that occurred before the circuit court entered summary judgment against it. The issue the Court addressed was whether a motion for sanctions filed nine days after remittitur from Pee Dee Health's unsuccessful appeal of the summary judgment order was untimely under the South Carolina Frivolous Civil Proceedings Sanctions Act (FCPSA) and Rule 11 of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court found the motion was untimely under the FCPSA, but the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in finding the motion timely under Rule 11. View "Pee Dee Health Care v. Estate of Hugh S. Thompson" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted two certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina arising from a dispute over uninsured motorist (UM) coverage: (1) whether a police officer who conducts an investigation of an accident qualifies as a "witness" under Section 38-77-170 of the South Carolina Code; and (2) whether injuries suffered during a drive-by shooting "arise out of" the operation of the vehicle for insurance purposes. Because the Supreme Court answered the first question, "No," it declined to reach the second question. View "Silva v. Allstate" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law

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Respondent David Repko, the owner of two lots in Harmony Phase 2-D-1, commenced this action against the County alleging that the County negligently and grossly negligently failed to comply with or enforce its rules, regulations, and written policies governing its handling of a line of credit granted to a residential land developer in Harmony Township (part of Georgetown County, South Carolina). When the Developer began developing Harmony Phase 2-D-1 in 2006, the County determined it would allow the requirement of a financial guarantee to be satisfied by the Developer's posting of a letter of credit (LOC) to cover the remaining cost of completion of infrastructure. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Georgetown County's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision in Repko v. County of Georgetown, 785 S.E.2d 376 (Ct. App. 2016). Georgetown County argued the court of appeals erred by: (1) construing the County Development Regulations as creating a private duty of care to Respondent David Repko; (2) holding the South Carolina Tort Claims Act1 (TCA) preempted certain language contained in the Regulations; (3) applying the "special duty" test; (4) finding Brady Development Co., Inc. v. Town of Hilton Head Island, 439 S.E.2d 266 (1993), distinguishable from this case; (5) reversing the trial court's ruling that the County was entitled to sovereign immunity under the TCA; and (6) rejecting the County's additional sustaining ground that Repko's claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The Supreme Court addressed only issue (5) and held the court of appeals erred in reversing the trial court's determination that the County was immune from liability under subsection 15-78- 60(4) of the TCA (2005); the Court therefore reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the directed verdict granted to the County by the trial court. View "Repko v. County of Georgetown" on Justia Law

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In 1999, Ronnie and Jeanette Dennis purchased property on Callawassie Island. At that time, the Dennises joined a private club known as the Callawassie Island Club, and paid $31,000 to become "equity members." The Club's bylaws stated "Any equity member may resign from the Club by giving written notice to the Secretary. Dues, fees, and charges shall accrue against a resigned equity membership until the resigned equity membership is reissued by the Club." In 2010, the Dennises decided they no longer wanted to be in the Members Club, so they submitted a "letter of resignation" and stopped making all payments. The Club filed a breach of contract action against the Dennises, alleging the unambiguous terms of the membership documents required the Dennises to continue to pay their membership dues, fees, and other charges until their membership was reissued. The Dennises denied any liability, alleging they were told by a Members Club manager that their maximum liability would be only four months of dues, because after four months of not paying, they would be expelled. The Dennises also alleged the membership arrangement violated the South Carolina Nonprofit Corporation Act. Finding no ambiguity in the Club bylaws, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated summary judgment for all unpaid dues, fees and other charges. View "Callawassie Island Club v. Dennis" on Justia Law

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A restaurant in Goose Creek, South Carolina, was robbed by two males wearing ski masks and gloves while carrying a gun and knife, around midnight on Christmas Eve. During the robbery, an employee was shot by one of the robbers. As a result of law enforcement's investigation, including a traced scent trail, DNA evidence found on a ski mask and gun, an executed search warrant, and a tip that Petitioner Donte Brown confessed to committing the crime with Christopher Wilson, Petitioner and Wilson were arrested and charged with robbery, as well as other crimes stemming from the incident. In addition, during the course of their investigation, law enforcement discovered that Wilson was wearing a GPS ankle monitor at the time of the robbery. Wilson's GPS records reflected that he was at the restaurant during the robbery. Wilson pled guilty prior to Petitioner's trial. At Petitioner's trial, the State connected Wilson to Petitioner, through Wilson's GPS records and otherwise. This appeal was centered on Petitioner's challenge that the State failed to authenticate Wilson's GPS records. The South Carolina Supreme Court held that the State failed to properly authenticate the GPS records, and it was error to admit this evidence. Nevertheless, due to the overwhelming evidence of guilt, the Court affirmed the court of appeals in result because this error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "South Carolina v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Palmetto Mortuary Transport, Inc. sued Knight Systems, Inc. and Robert Knight (collectively, Knight) for breach of an asset purchase agreement executed in connection with the sale of Knight's mortuary transport business to Palmetto. A special referee found Knight breached the agreement by violating both a non-compete covenant and an exclusive sales provision contained in the agreement. Knight appealed, and the court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding the 150-mile territorial restriction in the non- compete covenant was unreasonable and unenforceable. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, holding that under the facts of this case, the territorial restriction in the non-compete covenant was reasonable and enforceable. The Court also found Knight's additional sustaining grounds to be without merit and therefore reinstated the special referee's order. View "Palmetto Mortuary v. Knight Systems" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts