Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

by
Pamela Russell injured her back in 2009 while working at a Wal-Mart store in Conway, South Carolina. The worker’s compensation commission found Russell suffered a 7% permanent partial disability, and awarded her twenty-one weeks of temporary total disability compensation. In 2011, Russell requested review of her award, claiming there had been a "change of condition caused by the original injury" pursuant to subsection 42-17-90(A) of the South Carolina Code (2015). An appellate panel of the commission remanded Russell's change of condition claim to a single commissioner for what was a third ruling on the same claim. Russell appealed the remand order to the court of appeals, which dismissed the appeal on the ground the order was not a final decision, and thus not immediately appealable. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the remand order was immediately appealable because the commission's unwarranted delay in making a final decision required immediate review to avoid leaving Russell with no adequate remedy on an appeal from a final decision. The Court reversed the court of appeals' order dismissing the appeal, reversed the appellate panel's remand order, and remanded to any appellate panel of the commission for an immediate and final review of the original commissioner's decision. View "Russell v. Wal-Mart" on Justia Law

by
This matter stemmed from the administrative law court's (ALC) decision to uphold the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control's (DHEC) renewal of the license under which Chem-Nuclear Systems, LLC (Chem-Nuclear) operated a disposal facility for low-level radioactive waste. Sierra Club appealed the ALC's decision, and the court of appeals affirmed the ALC as to all issues, except as to four subsections of the regulation governing DHEC's issuance and renewal of such licenses. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Chem-Nuclear's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision. Although DHEC did not file a petition for a writ of certiorari, DHEC submitted a respondent's brief in the matter agreeing with Chem-Nuclear's arguments and expanding on certain issues raised by Chem-Nuclear. The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' conclusion that Chem-Nuclear had notdemonstrated compliance with certain regulations. However, the Court modified the court of appeals' opinion to the extent it could be read to (1) mandate what specific actions must be taken in accomplishing the technical requirements of the applicable statutes and (2) completely ignore the concept of “as low as reasonably achievable” when Chem-Nuclear took direct action to satisfy the law’s technical requirements. Upon remand to DHEC, there would be no limitations to the record, and Chem-Nuclear would be free to introduce any additional actions it has taken to conform to the requirements of the regulations. In the event of an appeal to the ALC, the ALC could conduct its proceedings with no limitations from the Supreme Court on the evidence it could consider. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' conclusion that ChemNuclear was noncompliant with certain aspects of the law. View "Sierra Club v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

by
Edward Sloan and the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation (collectively, Appellants) filed suit alleging Act 275 of 2016 violated article III, section 17 of the South Carolina Constitution (the One Subject Rule). Appellants claimed Act 275's title was insufficient and its provisions related to more than one subject, thus violating the Rule. The trial court dismissed the complaint on numerous grounds. The South Carolina Supreme Court did not address all of these issues on certiorari review, but elected to resolve the appeal on the merits. While it has not hesitated to strike down legislation that violates the One Subject Rule, the Supreme Court has also respected the separation of powers doctrine and upheld legislation where a close question is presented. The constitutional challenge to Act 275 did not present a close question—Act 275 manifestly complied with the One Subject Rule. The trial court's dismissal of the complaint was affirmed. View "SC Public Interest Foundation v. SC House" on Justia Law

by
The merits of this appeal centered on three parcels of land, serving as links in a chain necessary to satisfy contiguity requirements of annexation. The first link, the Ten-Foot Strip, was a ten-foot wide, 1.25 mile-long parcel of land in the National Forest, which was managed by the United States Forest Service. The second link was property owned by the Mt. Nebo AME Church (Church Tract), and the third link was approximately 360 acres of unimproved real estate surrounded by the National Forest on three sides (Nebo Tract). In the fall of 2003, the Town of Awendaw sought to annex the Ten-Foot Strip, which required a petition signed by the Forest Service. The Town's representatives sent the Forest Service four letters from November 2003 through February 2004 in an effort to obtain its approval. The sole question before the South Carolina Supreme Court was whether Petitioners Lynne Vicary, Kent Prause, and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League possessed standing to contest the Town’s annexation of land within the Francis Marion National Forest (Ten-Foot Strip). Because the Town allegedly acted nefariously in using a decade-old letter as a petition for annexation, the circuit court found Petitioners had standing and reached the merits. The court of appeals reversed, finding Petitioners lacked standing. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding Petitioners had standing to challenge the annexation of the Ten-Foot Strip. View "Vicary v. Town of Awendaw" on Justia Law

by
McCormick County voters elected Clarke Anderson Stearns as their Sheriff in the November 8, 2016, general election. After the election, Appellants brought this action alleging "Stearns does not possess the necessary qualifications to be Sheriff of McCormick County." Based on that claim, Appellants "specifically request[ed]" the circuit court issue an order "enjoining the Defendant Stearns from serving as Sheriff of McCormick County." Before the circuit court action was filed, however, the losing candidate in the general election, J.R. Jones, filed a Title 7 election protest with the McCormick County Board of Canvassers. Jones filed the challenge on November 16, 2016. The county board held a hearing on November 21. By a vote of 3-to-3, the county board took no action on Jones's protest. Jones did not appeal the county board's decision. Jones then filed this action in circuit court on December 7, 2016, joined as plaintiff by the South Carolina Democratic Party and the McCormick County Democratic Party. This appeal presented two issues for the South Carolina Supreme Court's resolution: (1) whether a challenge to an elected official's legal qualifications to serve in the office to which he has just been elected must be brought pursuant to the administrative provisions of Title 7 of the South Carolina Code, or whether such a challenge may be brought in circuit court; and (2) whether the "certified law enforcement officer" requirement to serve as sheriff, found in subsection 23-11- 110(A)(5) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2018), required the certification to come from South Carolina authorities, as opposed to authorities in another state. The Supreme Court determined the plaintiffs in this case were permitted to bring the action in circuit court, but the necessary certification to serve as sheriff need not come from South Carolina authorities. The Court affirmed the result of the circuit court's decision, which did not remove the elected McCormick County Sheriff from office. View "Jones v. South Carolina Republican Party" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner the Senate of the State of South Carolina, by and through its President Pro Tempore, initiated this action in the original jurisdiction of the South Carolina Supreme Court to declare Respondent Governor Henry D. McMaster's (Governor McMaster or Governor) recess appointment of Respondent Charles M. Condon (Condon) to the office of Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Public Service Authority (the Board) pursuant to section 1-3-210 of the South Carolina Code (2005), as invalid. Avoiding any political issues, the Court concluded the pertinent provisions of the applicable statute were ambiguous, and held Governor McMaster's appointment of Condon during the 2018 recess was valid. View "The Senate v. McMaster" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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