Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Petitioners South Carolina Public Interest Foundation and Edward Sloan, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, filed a declaratory judgment action against Respondents the South Carolina Department of Transportation ("SCDOT") and John Walsh, Deputy Secretary of Transportation for Engineering of SCDOT. Petitioners sought a declaration that SCDOT's inspection of three privately owned bridges violated sections 5 and 11 of article X of the South Carolina Constitution, which Petitioners asserted prohibit the expenditure of public funds for a private purpose. The trial court granted Respondents' motion for summary judgment, finding: Petitioners lacked standing; the controversy was moot and did not fall under any of the exceptions to the mootness doctrine; and Respondents' actions were not ultra vires or unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded, after review: (1) Petitioners established public importance standing; (2) the Court of Appeals erred in concluding this matter was not justiciable because Respondents admitted their conduct was wrongful; (3) Respondents' inspection of the privately owned bridges was unconstitutional because it contravened the constitutional requirement that the expenditure of public funds serve a public purpose. The Court concluded Respondents' conduct was unconstitutional and ultra vires, and reversed the Court of Appeals' judgment. View "South Carolina Public Interest Foundation v. SCDOT" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Daufuskie Island Utility Company ("DIUC") appeals an order of the South Carolina Public Service Commission ("Commission") granting only thirty-nine percent of the additional revenue requested in its application. DIUC applied to the Commission for approval of a new rate schedule which would provide a 108.9% revenue increase. Due to the substantial increase in its tax liability and its inability to seek further revenue increases until July 2014, DIUC entered into an agreement with Beaufort County to pay the back taxes for years 2012, 2013, 2014, and the projected tax for 2015. Critical to this case was the ownership of an elevated water tank, well, water pump, system pipes, and other DIUC equipment located on a site which was sold at a tax sale in 2010 (“Elevated Tank Site”). Due to a clerical error, tax on the property was not paid, and DIUC did not discover the property had been sold until 2012. Although the tax deed purported to convey the property "all and singular . . . with the appurtenances," DIUC presented testimony from the Beaufort County Treasurer, Maria Walls, that the tax deed did not convey "the elevated water tank, the well, the water pump, system pipes, or other DIUC property located on the Elevated Tank[] Site." Despite providing no evidence to the contrary to support its recommendation, ORS proposed excluding the value of the utility equipment located on the property when calculating DIUC's rate base and property taxes. A hearing on the merits of DIUC's application was held in October 2015. The day before the hearing, several intervening property owner associations (POAs) filed a Settlement Agreement they had entered with ORS for the Commission's consideration. Pursuant to the Agreement, ORS and the POAs stipulated to each party's testimony and exhibits in the record, and the parties agreed to accept all of ORS's adjustments and recommendations, with the exception of the bad debt expense for which they agreed to adopt DIUC's proposal.5 At the hearing, DIUC objected to the admission of the Settlement Agreement, arguing it was irrelevant and prejudicial because it bolstered ORS's recommendations without providing any new or additional evidence to support them. Over DIUC's objection, the Commission admitted the Agreement, reasoning it was more probative than prejudicial. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the Commission erred in admitting evidence of the POA settlement; and the Commission’s findings and conclusions with respect to DIUC’s property taxes were not supported by substantial evidence. The Court remanded for a new hearing. View "Daufuskie Island v. Regulatory Staff" on Justia Law

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The Surface Water Withdrawal, Permitting, Use, and Reporting Act regulated surface water withdrawals in South Carolina. Surface water is defined as "all water that is wholly or partially within the State . . . or within its jurisdiction, which is open to the atmosphere and subject to surface runoff, including, but not limited to, lakes, streams, ponds, rivers, creeks, runs, springs, and reservoirs . . . ." Agricultural users are treated differently under the Act. Plaintiffs jointly filed this action against DHEC in Barnwell County, challenging the Act's registration system for agricultural users, contending, amongst other things, that the Act’s provisions were an unconstitutional taking, a violation of due process, and a violation of the public trust doctrine. The circuit court granted summary judgment against the plaintiffs on the grounds the case did not present a justiciable controversy, both because the plaintiffs lacked standing and the dispute was not ripe for judicial determination. Finding no reversible error with that holding, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. View "Jowers v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court answered two certified questions of South Carolina law, posed by the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. These questions arose from two sets of litigation (“Fullbright” and “Chenard”) at the federal district court involving individuals (collectively, Plaintiffs) who entered into contracts with developers (collectively, Defendants) to purchase interests in vacation time sharing plans (timeshare plans) for real estate on Hilton Head Island. The federal court asked the Supreme Court whether: (1) the South Carolina Real Estate Commission had exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether there was a violation of the state Vacation Time Sharing Plans Act; (2) whether the Commission’s determination of a violation of the Timeshare Act was a condition precedent to a purchaser suing to enforce the Act; and (3) whether the Commission’s determinations as to whether the Timeshare Act was violated was binding on courts. The Supreme Court answered the first two questions in the negative; the Court answered the third question “no” too, provided the Commission’s decision had not bee subjected to judicial review. View "Fullbright v. Spinnaker Resorts" on Justia Law

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Defendant Carus Corp. (Carus) was an international company that developed and sold chemical products for municipal and industrial applications. Defendant's products included a chemical called Totalox, which essentially, was designed as a deodorizer for sewer systems. The Town of Lexington (Town) used Totalox in its sewer treatment plants. In 2010, Plaintiff John Machin, a Town employee, was exposed to Totalox when a storage container valve broke during the delivery of Totalox to one of the Town's wastewater stations. Plaintiff suffered reactive airways syndrome, which was also known as chemically induced asthma or obstructive lung disease. As a result of his injuries, Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim and was awarded workers' compensation benefits. The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted four certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina: (1) Under South Carolina law, when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the jury hear an explanation of why the employer is not part of the instant action?; (2) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may a defendant argue the empty chair defense and suggest that Plaintiff's employer is the wrongdoer?; (3) In connection with Question 2, if a defendant retains the right to argue the empty chair defense against Plaintiff's employer, may a court instruct the jury that an employer's legal responsibility has been determined by another forum, specifically, the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission?; and (4) when a Plaintiff seeks recovery from a person, other than his employer, for an injury sustained on the job, may the Court allow the jury to apportion fault against the nonparty employer by placing the name of the employer on the verdict form? The South Carolina Supreme Court answered these questions in the abstract, without any suggestion as to the resolution of the post-trial motion before the federal court: Questions 1, 2, and 3 "yes," provided a defense seeks to assign fault to the plaintiff's employer. The Court answered Question 4, "no." View "Machin v. Carus Corporation" on Justia Law

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Petitioner LeAndra Lewis sought workers' compensation benefits for injuries she suffered following a shooting in a night club operated by L.B. Dynasty. In a previous opinion, the South Carolina Supreme Court held Lewis was an employee of L.B. Dynasty, entitling her to workers' compensation benefits. The Court remanded the matter to the court of appeals to review the commission's order awarding benefits to Lewis. Ultimately, the court of appeals affirmed the commission's award of $75 per week. Lewis appealed, arguing the court of appeals erred in holding the commission's findings were supported by substantial evidence. The Supreme Court agreed, and remanded this case back to the commission for a de novo hearing to determine the amount of benefits to which Lewis is entitled. View "Lewis v. L.B. Dynasty" on Justia Law

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Appellant Retail Services owned and operated three separate liquor store locations in Charleston, Greenville, and Columbia, South Carolina. SCDOR was charged with the administration of South Carolina's statutes concerning the manufacturing, sale, and retail of alcoholic liquors. Retail Services petitioned SCDOR to open a fourth store in Aiken, however, SCDOR refused to grant Retail Services a fourth liquor license under sections 61-6-140 and -150 of the South Carolina Code, which limited a liquor-selling entity to three retail liquor licenses. Additionally, ABC Stores lobbied the General Assembly on behalf of its members who are owners and holders of retail dealer licenses. Therefore, Retail Services brought this action against SCDOR and ABC Stores seeking a declaratory judgment that these provisions of the South Carolina Code were unconstitutional. The trial court found the provisions constitutional because: (1) they were within the scope of the State's police power; and (2) they satisfied the rational basis test, which, because they did not infringe on a fundamental right or implicate a suspect class, was all that was required. Therefore, the circuit court granted Respondents' motions for summary judgment. Appellant appealed the circuit court's decision. The Supreme Court reversed. "Not only is there no indication in this record that these provisions exist for any other reason than economic protectionism, the provisions themselves and statutory scheme to which they belong lend further support to Appellant's position. As Appellant points out, the provisions do not limit the number of liquor stores that can be licensed in a certain area-only the number than can be owned by one person or entity. Another provision governs the specific placement of retail establishments away from churches, schools and playgrounds. Therefore, Respondents' contention that the provisions advance the safety and moral interests of the State, no doubt a legitimate State interest, is unavailing with respect to sections 61-6-140 and -150." View "Retail Services & Systems, Inc. v. SDCOR" on Justia Law

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Hampton Hall Club, Inc. was a nonprofit organization in Beaufort County. Respondent Brad Lightner was a member of Hampton Hall, and filed this action individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated against Defendants, alleging Defendants wrongfully collected and retained an admissions tax on its members' club and golf dues. After Respondent filed a motion for class certification, the State and the SCDOR ("Petitioners") filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP, or, in the alternative, to strike pursuant to Rule 12(f), SCRCP, to dismiss the State as a party and to stay discovery. In so moving, Petitioners asserted, inter alia, Respondent was required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the South Carolina Revenue Procedures Act ("Act") and was prohibited from proceeding as a class action against the SCDOR. The circuit court determined the Act was inapplicable to this case because the General Assembly intended to limit the Act's application to disputes with the SCDOR concerning property taxes, which both parties conceded were not at issue. Thus, contrary to Petitioners' assertions, Respondent was not required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the Act in order to proceed individually against all Defendants. The court, however, granted Petitioners' motion to dismiss the class action allegations, finding the Act, which it determined was inapplicable to this dispute, nevertheless prohibited Respondent from bringing a class action lawsuit against Petitioners. In sum, we hold the circuit court erred in finding the Act's application is limited to disputes with the SCDOR concerning property taxes. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. Because the Act was applicable to this case, Respondent was required to follow the administrative remedies under the Act and was prohibited from proceeding as a class action against Petitioners. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Lightner v. Hampton Hall Club, Inc." on Justia Law

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Rocky Linkhorn was arrested and charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct with a Minor in the First Degree, Lewd Act on a Minor, and Disseminating Obscene Material to a Minor. After finding Linkhorn was incompetent to stand trial and unlikely to become fit in the foreseeable future, the circuit court ordered the solicitor to initiate judicial admission proceedings with the probate court to have Linkhorn involuntarily committed to the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs ("DDSN"). Before the probate court determined whether Linkhorn was intellectually disabled, the solicitor filed a motion for a rule to show cause at the circuit court, requesting DDSN be ruled into court "to show just cause for services being denied to [Linkhorn] as previously ordered." The circuit court granted the solicitor's motion and ordered DDSN to, inter alia, take custody of Linkhorn and house him in a secure facility until the probate court determines whether Linkhorn is intellectually disabled. Additionally, the court prohibited DDSN from refusing involuntary commitment of individuals similarly situated to Linkhorn. DDSN appealed. The Supreme Court found the statutes concerning the involuntary commitment of individuals to DDSN were “clear and unambiguous: [. . .] only individuals who developed an ‘intellectual disability’ during the developmental period or a ‘related disability’ before the age of twenty-two can be involuntarily committed to DDSN.” The Court concluded the circuit court erred in applying the broad definition of "person with intellectual disability" found in the applicable statutes to Linkhorn. Because this issue was dispositive of the appeal, the Court declined to address DDSN's remaining arguments, and reversed the circuit court’s decision. View "Ex parte So. Carolina Dept. of Disabilities & Spec. Needs v. Linkhorn" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Nathalie Davaut appealed the denial of her claim for workers' compensation benefits for injuries she sustained attempting to leave her workplace. To reach her car, which was in a university lot provided for faculty and student parking, Petitioner was required to cross Hubbard Drive (the Street), which bisected University of South Carolina Lancaster's (USCL) campus. While crossing the Street, Petitioner was struck by a vehicle and injured. It was undisputed that the Street and the crosswalks that spanned it are not owned or controlled by the University of South Carolina (USC); rather, they were maintained and controlled by the City of Lancaster. However, it was also undisputed that both the library (where Petitioner had been working) and the parking lot (where Petitioner was headed) belonged to USC. Petitioner sought workers' compensation benefits from her employer and its insurer, State Accident Fund (collectively, Respondents). Respondents, relying on the going and coming rule, denied Petitioner's injuries were compensable, on the basis Petitioner was injured away from USC's property. Petitioner claimed that because she was injured while traveling from one portion of USC's property to another, the Panel erred in denying her relief. The court of appeals disagreed and upheld the Workers' Compensation Commission's denial of coverage. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and held that when an employee crosses from one portion of her employer's property to another over a reasonably necessary and direct route, the employee remains in the course of her employment for purposes of workers' compensation. View "Davaut v. Univ. of So. Carolina" on Justia Law