Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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"The right to vote is a cornerstone of our constitutional republic." The voting laws implicated in this case were South Carolina statutes governing absentee voting. Pursuant to subsection 7-15-320(A) of the South Carolina Code (2019), absentee ballots could be used by certain voters who were unable to vote in person because they were absent from their county of residence on election day during the hours the polls are open. Subsection 7-15-320(B) allowed voters to cast absentee ballots when they were not absent from the county, but only if they fit into one of the listed categories of people eligible to vote by absentee ballot. Plaintiffs contended that in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, existing South Carolina law permitted all South Carolina registered voters to vote by absentee ballot in the June 9, 2020 primary election and the November 3, 2020 general election. Plaintiffs implicitly contended that if existing law did not permit this, it should. Plaintiffs asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to hear this case in its original jurisdiction. The South Carolina Republican Party was granted permission to intervene, and moved to dismiss. The Supreme Court granted the request to hear the case in its original jurisdiction, declined to dismiss on grounds raised by the South Carolina Republican Party, but dismissed on alternate grounds: the case did not present a justiciable controversy. View "Bailey v. SC State Election" 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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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

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For years, the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services (DPPPS) improperly denied inmates parole based on an incorrect interpretation of the statute setting forth the number of votes required by the parole board. Because DPPPS had a policy of destroying records of parole hearings, it was difficult to determine which inmates were wrongly denied parole. Nevertheless, in 2013, following the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision in Barton v. South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole & Pardon Services, 745 S.E.2d 110 (2013), DPPPS undertook a process to attempt to identify which inmates were improperly denied parole. Petitioner David Rose was one of the inmates who claimed he was improperly denied parole; in Rose's situation, the parole hearing occurred in 2001. The evidence manifestly established Rose received the requisite number of votes in favor of parole in 2001, but remained in jail. Rose persistently sought relief through the years, often in circuit court, where DPPPS contended that Rose had to pursue relief through the administrative process rather than through the judicial process. At the agency level, DPPPS denied relief to Rose because the agency records did not establish the actual vote count from the 2001 hearing, but DPPPS had destroyed the very records it claimed were necessary for Rose to prevail. Following DPPPS's final agency decision, the administrative law court (ALC) granted Rose relief, finding the only evidence as to the parole board's 2001 vote demonstrated Rose was entitled to parole. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, finding the ALC's decision was supported by substantial evidence. View "Rose v. SC Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services" on Justia Law

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Horry County, South Carolina filed an action in magistrates court to eject Skydive Myrtle Beach, Inc., from a hangar at the Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach. The magistrates court found Skydive did not have any right to occupy the hangar. The circuit court affirmed the ejection. Skydive appealed to the court of appeals, which dismissed the appeal on the ground it was moot. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Skydive's petition for a writ of certiorari and reversed, finding the appeal was not moot. However, on the merits, the Supreme Court agreed with the magistrates court and the circuit court that Skydive had no right to occupy the hangar. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Skydive Myrtle Beach v. Horry Cty." on Justia Law

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Horry County, South Carolina filed an action in magistrates court to eject Skydive Myrtle Beach, Inc., from a hangar at the Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach. The magistrates court found Skydive did not have any right to occupy the hangar, and ejected Skydive. The circuit court affirmed. Skydive appealed to the court of appeals, which dismissed the appeal on the ground it was moot. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Skydive's petition for a writ of certiorari and reversed the court of appeals because the Court held the appeal was not moot. On the merits, it agreed with the magistrates court and the circuit court that Skydive had no right to occupy the hangar. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "Skydive Myrtle Beach v. Horry County" on Justia Law

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Zachariah and Amie Lord Cooper, and Arlene Palazzo were foster parents of three sibling children placed in their care by the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS). The Coopers fostered one of the children, and Palazzo fostered the other two children. DSS initiated removal actions in the family court. The Coopers and Palazzo filed private actions seeking termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption of their respective foster children. This consolidated appeal stemmed from the family court's order denying several motions made by Foster Parents. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the family court's denial of Foster Parents' motions for joinder. The Supreme Court reversed the family court's denial of Foster Parents' motions to intervene. The matter was remanded for further consideration of Foster Parents' motions for consolidation. View "Cooper v. SCDSS" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Scott Ledford’s petition for review of the Court of Appeals’ decision to affirm the outcome of a Workers’ Compensation Commission hearing. Ledford was a former lance corporal with the South Carolina Highway Patrol. While employed as a highway patrolman, Ledford was injured in two separate work-related accidents: in July 2010, Ledford sustained injuries to his spine after being tasered during a training exercise; and in March 2012, Ledford was involved in a motorcycle accident while attempting to pursue a motorist. Ledford settled the 2010 claim with Respondents. Following the second accident, Ledford filed two separate claims for workers' compensation benefits. The Workers' Compensation Commission Appellate Panel declined to find Ledford suffered a change of condition; however, she found Ledford was entitled to medical benefits for injuries to his right leg and aggravated pre-existing conditions in his neck and lower back due to the motorcycle accident. Neither party appealed the Commission’s order. Months later, Ledford reached maximum medical improvement ("MMI"). Commissioner Susan Barden held a hearing on Ledford’s Form 21 in August 2014. Following the hearing, but prior to the issuance of a final order, Ledford filed a motion to recuse Commissioner Barden. According to Ledford's motion, Commissioner Barden requested a phone conference with the parties a month after the hearing during which she allegedly threatened criminal proceedings against Ledford if the case was not settled; indicated that she engaged in her own investigation and made findings based on undisclosed materials outside the record; suggested Ledford used "creative accounting" in his tax returns; and questioned Ledford's credibility regarding his claims of neck pain. Ledford contended any one of these grounds was sufficient to warrant recusal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission, finding: (1) Commissioner Barden was not required to recuse herself; (2) substantial evidence supported the Appellate Panel's decision to reverse Commissioner Barden's permanency determination; and (3) substantial evidence supported the Appellate Panel's findings that Ledford was not credible and his landscaping business remained lucrative following the injury. The Supreme Court held the Court of Appeals erred in finding Commissioner Barden was not required to recuse herself. The Court was “deeply concerned” by the Commissioner’s conduct in this matter. “Ledford's counsel provided an opportunity for Commissioner Barden to right her wrong by moving for recusal. Instead of stepping aside, Commissioner Barden became more abusive and strident in both her ruling on the recusal motion and her final order.” The Commission’s orders were vacated and the matter remanded for a new hearing before a different commissioner. View "Ledford v. DPS" on Justia Law