Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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The City of Goose Creek (the City) collected a business license fee on persons doing business within the city limits. The amount of the fee was based upon a business's gross income from the preceding year. The issue on appeal before the South Carolina Supreme Court stemmed from Todd Olds' dispute with the City as to the meaning of "gross income" under the City's business license fee ordinance. Since Olds and the City differed on the definition of gross income, their calculations of the amount of the fee owed differed too. The circuit court ruled the City's definition of gross income was correct, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted Olds a writ of certiorari to address whether the court of appeals erred in its interpretation of the term "gross income" as defined and used in the City's business license ordinance. Under the very narrow facts of this case, the Supreme Court reversed. Based on the plain language of this particular ordinance, the Court found the City adopted the definition of gross income as provided in section 61(a)(3) of the I.R.C. for Olds' particular business. For Olds' business, "gross income" therefore meant "[g]ains derived from dealings in property." For the years in dispute, Olds' business license fee had to be calculated according to Olds' gains derived from dealings in property. View "Olds v. City of Goose Creek" on Justia Law

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Melissa Spalt was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. When she refused to submit to a breath test, the arresting officer issued a "notice of suspension" of her driver's license. Spalt requested a hearing before the South Carolina Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings (OMVH) to challenge her suspension, as permitted by subsection 56-5-2951(B)(2). The OMVH scheduled a hearing for June 23, 2015, at 9:00 a.m. On June 18, Spalt's attorney notified the OMVH he was scheduled to be in court at the time of the new OMVH hearing. Spalt's attorney emailed the agency and hearing officer multiple times to reschedule the hearing; there was no indication in the record that the OMVH hearing officer responded to the attorney's last emails. At the time of the hearing, Spalt's attorney did not appear. The hearing officer entered an "Order of Dismissal", finding "Neither [Spalt] nor her counsel appeared at the hearing and therefore waived the right to challenge the pending suspension." The hearing officer did not conduct a hearing on the merits of the suspension. Spalt appealed to the ALC, which reversed and remanded to the OMVH for a hearing on the merits. The Department of Motor Vehicles appealed the ALC's order to the court of appeals, which dismissed the appeal on the basis the ALC's order was not immediately appealable. The Department appealed again to the South Carolina Supreme Court, but finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals. View "Spalt v. South Carolina Dept. Motor Vehicles" on Justia Law

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After Randy Horton won this action seeking the production of documents under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the circuit court awarded him attorneys' fees at a rate of $100 per hour. On appeal, the South Carolina Supreme Court addressed solely the question of whether the court abused its discretion in selecting that hourly rate. "When a trial court's decision is made on a sound evidentiary basis and is adequately explained with specific findings—as the law requires—we defer to the trial court's discretion. Here, however, there is no evidence in the record that supports the circuit court's reduction of the hourly rate." Rather than remand, the Court reversed the trial court and awarded Horton $35,611.50 in attorneys' fees and $1,096.56 in costs. View "Horton v. Jasper County School District" on Justia Law

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The circuit court ruled Appellant Kim Murphy was not qualified to be a candidate for election to a Richland County seat on the District 5 Richland-Lexington School Board of Trustees (School Board). The circuit court based this ruling on its conclusion that Murphy resided in Lexington County. Upon review, the South Carolina Supreme Court first found the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction over Respondents' declaratory judgment action challenging Murphy's qualifications. Second, the Court held there was probative evidence in the record supporting the circuit court's conclusion that Murphy resided in Lexington County. Therefore, the Court affirmed the circuit court's ruling that Murphy is not qualified to be a candidate for election to a Richland County seat on the School Board. View "Gantt v. Selph" on Justia Law

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At issue before the South Carolina Supreme Court in this appeal was a question of whether Appellant Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) was subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) due to its receipt and expenditure of certain funds designated for promoting tourism ("accommodation tax funds"). The Chamber's receipt and expenditure of these funds was pursuant to, and governed by, the Accommodations Tax (A-Tax) statute and Proviso 39.2 of the Appropriation Act for Budget Year 2012–2013. Respondent DomainsNewMedia.com, LLC (Domains) filed a declaratory judgment action, seeking a declaration and corresponding injunctive relief on the basis that the Chamber's receipt of these funds renders the Chamber a "public body" pursuant to FOIA, thus subjecting the Chamber to all of FOIA's requirements. The Chamber countered that FOIA did not apply, for the receipt, expenditure, and reporting requirements concerning these funds were governed by the more specific A-Tax statute and Proviso 39.2. The trial court held that the Chamber was a public body and, thus, was subject to FOIA's provisions. The Supreme Court, however, reversed, holding as a matter of discerning legislative intent, that the General Assembly did not intend the Chamber to be considered a public body for purposes of FOIA as a result of its receipt and expenditure of these specific funds. View "DomainsNewMedia.com v. Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority, d/b/a Carolinas Medical Center-Fort Mill sought a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision in Amisub of South Carolina, Inc. v. South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control, Op. No. 2017-UP-013 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Jan. 11, 2017). In 2005, four hospitals, Petitioner, Respondent Amisub, Presbyterian Healthcare System, and Hospital Partners of America, applied for a certificate of need (CON) to construct and operate an acute-care hospital in Fort Mill. In May 2006, the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) determined the acute-care hospital was necessary, and granted a CON to Amisub, but denied a CON to Petitioner and the others. DHEC's decision to award the CON to Amisub was based in part on its interpretation of the language of the South Carolina Health Plan that only existing health care providers in York County were eligible for additional hospital beds. Petitioner filed a contested case at the ALC, contending DHEC had erroneously interpreted the language of the Health Plan. Alternatively, Petitioner argued that if DHEC's interpretation was correct, the Health Plan violated the dormant Commerce Clause because it improperly restricted interstate commerce. The ALC found DHEC's interpretation of the Health Plan was not correct, reversed, and remanded to DHEC. The ALC's determination made it unnecessary for the ALC to reach the alternative dormant Commerce Clause claim. On remand, DHEC granted a CON to Petitioner, but denied a CON to the others. Amisub filed a second contested case at the ALC, which again reversed, this time ordering a CON be granted to Amisub and denied to Petitioner. The court of appeals affirmed, finding "the record does not show [Petitioner] presented to the ALC any argument that [Amisub]'s positions on adverse impact and outmigration, if adopted by the ALC, would violate the Dormant Commerce Clause. [Petitioner] waited until filing its Rule 59(e) motion to present this argument, which is too late." If Petitioner had reason to believe this issue was actually being litigated before the ALC in the second contested case, and yet remained silent, the South Carolina Supreme Court would have agreed with the court of appeals. However, the dormant Commerce Clause issues arising out of the language of the Health Plan were resolved in Petitioner's favor in the first contested case. Thus, Petitioner could not reasonably have foreseen the ALC would craft its order in a fashion to revive those issues. Therefore, Petitioner had no reason to raise the dormant Commerce Clause challenge in the second contested case until the ALC issued its order. “No party should be penalized for not addressing an issue as to which it had previously prevailed, and which it did not reasonably contemplate would yet be the basis of the court's ruling.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' finding that the dormant Commerce Clause issue was not preserved for appellate review, and remanded the case to the court of appeals for a ruling on the merits of the issue. View "Amisub v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

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This litigation arose after Respondent Kiawah Development Partners, II (KDP) applied for a permit to build an erosion control structure consisting of a bulkhead and revetment along the Kiawah River on Captain Sam's Spit in order to facilitate residential development of the upland property. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) denied the majority of the permit but granted a 270-foot portion to protect public access to Beachwalker Park. Thereafter, the Administrative Law Court (“ALC”) held a contested case hearing where KDP challenged DHEC's denial of the majority of the requested permit, and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League (the League) contested the issuance of the permit for the 270-foot structure and sought to uphold the denial of the remainder of the permit. After the ALC ruled in favor of KDP and issued an order authorizing the installation of a bulkhead and revetment running 2,783 feet along the shoreline, both DHEC and the League appealed to this Court. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed and remanded the ALC's order, finding several errors of law in its application of the public trust and various provisions of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). On remand, the ALC reconsidered the evidence presented at the hearing and authorized the installation of a 270-foot tandem bulkhead and revetment along the shoreline adjacent to the parking lot of Beachwalker Park, as well as a vertical bulkhead only that spanned an additional 2,513 feet along the shoreline of Captain Sam's Spit. Now on appeal, DHEC argued the ALC erred in approving the structure aside from the 270 feet protecting access to Beachwalker Park, while the League contested the entirety of the erosion control structure. The Supreme Court found a portion of the structure authorized by the ALC was not supported by substantial evidence, modified the ALC’s order and deleted the portion authorizing the permit for the bulkhead only. View "Kiawah Development v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

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Respondent Otis Nero filed a workers' compensation claim alleging he sustained injuries to his back and shoulder while on the job. The single commissioner found respondent suffered an injury by accident arising out of and in the course of respondent's employment, and awarded benefits. The appellate panel reversed the decision of the single commissioner, finding respondent failed to provide timely notice of the injury. On appeal from the commission's decision, the court of appeals employed the de novo standard of review applicable to jurisdictional questions, and reversed the commission. In finding the question of timely notice was a jurisdictional question subject to de novo review, the court of appeals relied on Shatto v. McLeod Regional Medical Center, 753 S.E.2d 416 (2013) and Mintz v. Fiske-Carter Construction Co., 63 S.E.2d 50 (1951). The South Carolina Supreme Court found neither Shatto nor Mintz supported the court of appeals' use of the de novo standard. Until this case, the court of appeals consistently applied the substantial evidence standard when reviewing decisions of the commission on the question of timely notice. The Supreme Court found that under well-settled law, the commission's determination of whether a claimant gave timely notice under section 42-15-20 was not a jurisdictional determination, and had to be reviewed on appeal under the substantial evidence standard. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded for a decision under the proper standard of review. View "Nero v. SCDOT" on Justia Law

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This direct cross-appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court involved the scope of the authority the Department of Revenue (DOR) to enforce various provisions of state law relating to the imposition of a transportation penny tax by Richland County (County) and the County's expenditure of the funds generated by the tax. After DOR conducted an audit and informed the County that DOR intended to cease future remittances to the County based on purported misuse of funds, the County filed a declaratory judgment action in circuit court, arguing DOR lacked the authority to stop payments and seeking a writ of mandamus compelling DOR to continue remitting revenues. DOR counterclaimed seeking a declaration that the County's expenditures were unlawful, an injunction to prohibit future unlawful expenditures, and alternatively, the appointment of a receiver to administer the County's tax revenues. Following a hearing, the circuit court issued a writ of mandamus compelling DOR to remit the tax revenues, denied injunctive relief, and refused to appoint a receiver. Both the County and DOR appealed. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed in all respects except it reversed the circuit court's denial of DOR's request for injunctive relief. DOR was entitled to an injunction requiring the County to expend the funds generated by the tax solely on transportation-related projects in accordance with the law. View "Richland County v. So. Carolina Dept. of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Florence County challenged the validity of the West Florence Fire District, arguing that it violated the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision in Wagener v. Smith, 71 S.E.2d 1 (1952) and conflicted with the state's constitutional provisions concerning special legislation and home rule. The circuit court held in favor of Florence County on all three grounds, and the West Florence Fire District appealed. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed on constitutional grounds. View "County of Florence v. West Florence Fire District" on Justia Law