Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Respondent Tommie Rae Brown sought to establish she was the survivor of the late entertainer James Brown, who died in 2006. An issue arose in the context of Respondent's claims for an elective or omitted spouse's share of Brown's estate. There was uncertainty as to Respondent's marital status because she did not obtain an annulment of her first recorded marriage until after her marriage ceremony to Brown. In January 2004, Brown filed an action to annul his marriage to Respondent, indicating the parties had recently separated. Brown alleged he was entitled to an annulment because Respondent never divorced her first husband, so their purported marriage was void ab initio. Brown asked that Respondent "be required to permanently vacate the marital residence" and noted the parties had executed a prenuptial agreement that resolved all matters regarding equitable division, alimony, and attorney's fees. Respondent's omitted spouse claims were transferred to the circuit court, which granted her motion for partial summary judgment, and denied a similar motion by the Limited Special Administrator and Trustee (LSA). The circuit court found that as a matter of law, Respondent was Brown's surviving spouse. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari review of claims made by several of Brown's children, and after such review, concluded Respondent was not Brown's surviving spouse. Consequently, the court of appeals' decision affirming the circuit court was reversed, and the matter remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. The circuit court was directed upon remand to promptly proceed with the probate of Brown's estate in accordance with his estate plan. View "Brown v. Sojourner" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina certified a question of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. Plaintiff Johnny Thomerson alleged Defendants, the former owners of Lenco Marine (a manufacturer of boat products), failed to give him a three-percent ownership interest in Lenco that was promised to him as part of his compensation package. Plaintiff was hired by Lenco no later than May 2007. Defendant Samuel Mullinax was the CEO of Lenco and Defendant Richard DeVito was its president. Lenco was sold in December 2016 to Power Products, LLC. In his complaint, Plaintiff asserted claims against Defendants for: (1) breach of contract and the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (2) promissory estoppel; (3) quantum meruit and unjust enrichment; (4) negligent misrepresentation; (5) constructive fraud; and (6) amounts due under the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing the claims were time-barred. The federal court asked whether the three-year statute of limitations of S.C. Code Ann. 15-3-530 applied to claims for promissory estoppel. The Supreme Court took the opportunity to clarify state law in this regard, and held that the statute of limitations did not apply to promissory estoppel claims. View "Thomerson v. DeVito" on Justia Law

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Several insurance companies (the Insurers) appealed the denial of their motions to intervene in a construction defect action between a property owners' association (the Association) and a number of construction contractors and subcontractors (the Insureds). The underlying construction defect action proceeded to trial, resulting in a verdict for the Association. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court determined the Insurers were not entitled to intervene as a matter of right, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying them permissive intervention. However, the Court held the Insurers had a right to a determination of which portions of the Association's damages are covered under the commercial general liability (CGL) policies between the Insurers and the Insureds. The Court also recognized that the Insurers had the right and ability to contest coverage of the jury verdict in a subsequent declaratory judgment action. "In that action, the Insurers and the Insureds will be bound by the existence and extent of any jury verdict in favor of the Association in the construction defect action. However, they will not be bound as to any factual matters for which a conflict of interest existed, such as determining what portion of the total damages are covered by any applicable CGL policies." View "Builders Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Michael Landry's petition for a writ of certiorari to determine whether the court of appeals erred in affirming the family court's denial of his motion under Rule 60(a), SCRCP, to correct an alleged clerical error in a final order. Michael Landry (Husband) filed an action against Angela Landry (Wife) seeking a divorce on the ground of one year's continuous separation. On the morning of trial, the parties drafted and signed a handwritten agreement resolving all of the issues between them except for the divorce. Thereafter, the parties informed the court they had reached a final agreement, marked the agreement as Plaintiff's Exhibit 1, and submitted it to the court for approval. The agreement consisted of three pages and seventeen paragraphs, resolving issues of alimony, equitable distribution of property, child support, custody and visitation of the minor child, and attorney's fees. The terms of the agreement were not read into the record; instead, the court questioned both parties about their general understanding of the agreement and whether they entered into it freely and voluntarily. Satisfied, approved and made it the final order of the court. Thereafter, Husband's attorney drafted the order, incorporating the handwritten agreement by typing its terms into the final order. After sending it to opposing counsel for his approval, Husband submitted the order to the family court judge, who signed it on January 18, 2017. Nine weeks later, Husband noticed the order contained a provision requiring him to pay Wife one-half of his military retirement benefits - the focal point of this appeal. believing the addition of paragraph 2 to be a mistake - albeit one made by his own attorney in drafting the order - Husband moved for relief under Rule 60(a), SCRCP, based upon a clerical mistake "arising from oversight or omission." the court denied the motion, finding Husband should have requested relief pursuant to Rule 59(e), SCRCP, rather than through Rule 60(a), SCRCP, and accordingly, the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the merits of the motion. Alternatively, the court found the parties had agreed that one-half of Husband's military retirement benefits would be paid to Wife. Husband appealed to the court of appeals, which affirmed the family court's decision in an unpublished per curiam opinion pursuant to Rule 220(b), SCACR. The Supreme Court concluded the court of appeals erred in affirming the family court's denial of Husband's Rule 60(a) motion based on lack of jurisdiction. The matter was remanded for an evidentiary hearing to determine what the parties actually agreed to with respect to Husband's military retirement benefits and whether Husband was entitled to relief. View "Landry v. Landry" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Phillip and Jeanne Ethier appealed a verdict in favor of Respondent Dr. Guy Bibeau, who misdiagnosed a popliteal aneurysm as a probable spider bite. During voir dire, the court asked prospective jurors whether they ever had a "close social or a personal relationship" with either the Ethiers or Dr. Bibeau. After no one indicated they did, the court asked the same question about the list of potential witnesses, which included Jerilyn Wadford and Rhonda Gwynn, two nurses who examined Ethier, and the CEO of Fairfield Memorial, Mike Williams. To this question, juror Teresa Killian informed the court, "I used to work at Fairfield Memorial Hospital with Mike Williams." Killian never disclosed that she also worked with Bibeau or the two nurses. After trial, the Ethiers' counsel learned Killian previously worked with Bibeau and the nurses, and that Killian had discussed her knowledge of them with other jurors. One of the jurors, Sandra Carmichael, attested Killian stated she knew the nurses as well as Bibeau. Carmichael also noted that during jury breaks, Killian repeatedly discussed Bibeau's skills as a doctor. Four jurors said Killian vouched for the skill, proficiency, and truthfulness of all three during jury breaks. Carmichael testified that Killian's statements affected her vote, as she initially believed Bibeau was more negligent. Nevertheless, while the trial court found Killian had engaged in premature deliberations, it found no prejudice. The court also believed Killian did not intentionally conceal that she knew Bibeau and the three nurses through her previous employment, contending the question was ambiguous because it only addressed "close personal or social relationships." Accordingly, the trial court denied the Ethiers' motion for a new trial. Petitioners contended the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court's decision to deny granting a new trial based on intentional juror concealment and premature deliberations. The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded Killian's intentional disregard of the trial court's repeated instructions not to engage in premature deliberations directly affected the verdict. "Killian discussed matters that were not introduced as evidence, and bolstered other evidence that had been admitted. Further, Killian's conduct is egregious, as she repeatedly discussed the case after being instructed not to do so." Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Ethier v. Fairfield Memorial" on Justia Law

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Danny Crane sought workers' compensation benefits for hearing loss and brain injuries he alleged he suffered in a work-related accident. The workers' compensation commission denied most of Crane's claims, finding he was not entitled to benefits for temporary total disability, permanent impairment, or future medical care. The primary basis for denying these three claims was the commissioner who initially heard the case found Crane was not credible. The court of appeals reversed the commission's denial of temporary total disability benefits, but otherwise affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the commission's denial of permanent impairment and future medical care benefits, finding the commission erred in denying Crane's claims based on credibility without explaining any basis on which credibility could justify ignoring objective medical evidence. The matter was remanded to the commission for a new hearing on all three claims, and before a different commissioner. View "Crane v. Raber's Discount Tire Rack" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, consisting of several citizens groups and neighborhood associations, sought a contested case hearing in the administrative law court (ALC) to challenge the propriety of state environmental authorizations issued by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) for a project relocating and expanding the passenger cruise facility at the Union Pier Terminal (the Terminal) in downtown Charleston. Petitioners contended they had standing to seek this hearing as "affected persons" under section 44-1- 60(G) of the South Carolina Code (2018). The ALC concluded Petitioners did not have standing and granted summary judgment to Respondents. The ALC terminated discovery and also sanctioned Petitioners for requesting a remand to the DHEC Board. The court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, concluded Petitioners did have standing, and thus reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded the matter to the ALC for a contested case hearing. View "Preservation Society v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

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This case concerned accreting land along the South Carolina coast that owned by the Town of Sullivan. Petitioners Nathan and Ettaleah Bluestein and Theodore and Karen Albenesius (collectively, Petitioners) bought property in the Town that abutted the accreting land. Petitioners' properties were once considered oceanfront lots only a short distance from the beach, but due to accretion, the properties were now a substantial distance away. The accreting land was subject to a 1991 deed, which set forth certain rights and responsibilities respecting the condition of the property and the Town's duties concerning upkeep of the land. Petitioners were third party beneficiaries of the 1991 deed. Petitioners argued the 1991 deed mandated the Town keep the vegetation on the land in the same condition as existed in 1991, particularly as to the height of shrubs and vegetation. Conversely, the Town contended the 1991 deed granted it unfettered discretion to allow unchecked growth of the vegetation on the accreting land. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined all parties cherrypicked language from the 1991 deed to support their respective interpretations of the deed. But contrary to the holding of the court of appeals and the trial court's findings, the Supreme Court held the deed was β€œfar from unambiguous;” because the 1991 deed is ambiguous in terms of the Town's maintenance responsibilities, the court of appeals erred in affirming the entry of summary judgment for the Town. As a result, the matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Bluestein v. Town of Sullivans Island" on Justia Law

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Respondents, individually and as members of a putative class, brought a declaratory judgment action against the South Carolina Department of Revenue seeking refunds of amounts garnished from their wages by the Department to satisfy delinquent debts they allegedly owed to other governmental entities. The sole issue on appeal centered on the circuit court's grant of Respondents' motion to strike one defense from the Department's answer to Respondents' second amended complaint: that South Carolina Revenue Procedures Act (RPA) subsection 12-60-80(C) prohibited this action from proceeding as a class action against the Department. The Department appealed the circuit court's order to the court of appeals, and the Supreme Court certified the Department's appeal pursuant to Rule 204(b) of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court and held this case could not proceed as a class action against the Department. View "Aiken v. So. Carolina Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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Kenneth and Angela Hensley filed suit against the South Carolina Department of Social Services on behalf of their adopted minor child BLH and a class of approximately 4000 similarly situated adopted children. The central allegation of the lawsuit was that DSS breached an Adoption Subsidy Agreement with the parents of each member of the class by reducing each parent's adoption subsidy by $20 a month, beginning in 2002. The circuit court issued an order finding the Hensleys satisfied the requirements of Rule 23(a) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, and certifying the proposed class. The court of appeals reversed. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the circuit court's order was not immediately appealable, and vacated the court of appeals' opinion and dismissed the appeal. View "Hensley v. SCDSS" on Justia Law