Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Petitioner Henton Clemmons, Jr. injured his back and neck while working at Lowe's Home Center in Columbia. Although all the medical evidence indicated Clemmons had lost more than fifty percent of the use of his back, the Workers' Compensation Commission awarded him only permanent partial disability. The court of appeals affirmed. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether a claimant's ability to work could affect his entitlement to disability benefits under the scheduled-member statute of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act (the Act). The Court reversed and held evidence of a claimant's ability to hold gainful employment alone cannot preclude a determination of permanent disability under the scheduled-member statute. View "Clemmons v. Lowe's Home Centers" 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

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Petitioner Thomas Hilton suffered an admittedly compensable injury as the result of an insect or spider bite. The present dispute centered on whether he required further medical treatment to reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). The single commissioner agreed with Hilton on the merits, finding he had not reached MMI, and further that any misrepresentations he had made during the life of his claim were a result of a serious cognitive deficit from a previous brain injury. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari to review an order of the Court of Appeals dismissing Hilton's appeal of an admittedly interlocutory order of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission's Appellate Panel (the Commission). Hilton argued the Commission's interlocutory order vacating and remanding the Workers' Compensation Commission's single commissioner's order was immediately appealable pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A) (Supp. 2015). The Supreme Court agreed, under these unusual facts, that review of the final agency decision would not provide Hilton with an adequate remedy, and he was therefore entitled to an immediate appeal. Determining whether review of the final agency decision would give Hilton an adequate remedy required the Court to reach the underlying merits of the Commission's order, and since it concluded that the order could not stand, the Court of Appeals' order was vacated and the case remanded back to the Commission. View "Hilton v. Flakeboard America Limited" on Justia Law

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This case was one in a string of longstanding disagreements regarding how the practice of physical therapy should be regulated in South Carolina. The South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy (the Board) sided with members of the profession who wanted to prevent physical therapists (PTs) from providing treatment as direct employees of physicians. The Board had long sought to require PTs to provide their services directly to patients or through a practice group of PTs. However, other licensed healthcare professionals in South Carolina, such as occupational therapists, speech pathologists, and nurse practitioners may be employed by physicians. Thus, the PTs stood alone in South Carolina. Physicians' offices could not provide PT services by employing licensed PTs, and PTs could not provide services while employed by a physician or physicians' practice group. Appellants Kristin Joseph, a PT, and two orthopedic surgeons, Doctors Thomas Joseph and William McCarthy appealed a circuit court's order dismissing their claims challenging a 2011 position statement from the Board, which opined that within a group practice, if a PT or physical therapist assistant (PTA) provided services to a patient at the request of another PT or PTA employed within the same practice, the act did not constitute a "referral" under section 40-45-110(A)(1) of the South Carolina Code, as construed in "Sloan v. South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners," (636 S.E.2d 598 (2006)). After review, the Supreme Court overruled its decision in "Sloan," and reversed the circuit court's order in this case. View "Joseph v. SC Dept of Labor, Licensing & Regulation" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Richard Hartzell appealed the court of appeals' decision to reverse the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission's determination that he was entitled to medical benefits for a work-related back injury. Petitioner argued the record contained substantial evidence to support the Commission's finding that he reported his work-related injury to Employer within the requisite time, and therefore, the court of appeals erred in reversing the Commission's order based on this issue. The Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hartzell v. Palmetto Collision" on Justia Law

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Respondents were former South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) agents who retired and were rehired by then SLED Chief Robert Stewart for a period of four years pursuant to a rehire program formulated by Chief Stewart. At the conclusion of Respondents' service under the rehire program, they filed suit against SLED and the State under various theories, all premised on the allegation that SLED deducted from their salaries the amount of the employer's contribution to the retirement system. The State was granted dismissal of the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP. On appeal, taking the allegations of the Complaint as true, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. On remand and following discovery, the trial court granted SLED summary judgment, which the court of appeals reversed. Having carefully reviewed the record, the Supreme Court found the trial court properly granted summary judgment to SLED, because the record made clear that Respondents were rehired at reduced salaries and the employer contributions to the retirement system were not deducted from those salaries, but were paid by SLED. As a result, the Court reversed the court of appeals and directed that judgment be entered for SLED. View "Grimsley v. SLED" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the packaging and labeling of sodium bromate, a chemical which contributed to a fire that occurred in a plant owned by Engelhard Corporation in June 2004. At the time of the fire, Scott Lawing worked at Engelhard's Seneca plant as a maintenance mechanic. Engelhard produced a precious metal catalyst used in the automobile industry, and refined metals from recycled materials. In this products liability action, Trinity Manufacturing, Inc. and Matrix Outsourcing, LLC argued that the court of appeals erred in reversing the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment to them on a strict liability cause of action. In their cross-appeal, Scott and Tammy Lawing asked the Supreme Court to reverse the court of appeals' decision affirming the trial court's decision to charge the jury on the "sophisticated user" defense. After review, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals. The Court found the appellate court erred in setting forth its broad definition of "user," and affirmed as modified the court of appeals' decision on this issue. Furthermore, the Court concluded the appellate court erred in affirming the trial court's decision to charge the sophisticated user defense to the jury. The appellate court did not err, however, in reversing the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Trinity and Matrix on the Lawings' strict liability claim. The Supreme Court found that the evidence in this case did not support the sophisticated user defense, so the trial court erred in charging the defense to the jury. The case was remanded for a new trial on the Lawings' negligence and implied warranty of merchantability claims. View "Lawing v. Univar" on Justia Law

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Michael Cunningham was terminated from his position as the county administrator for Anderson County. Cunningham brought this action alleging breach of contract, wrongful discharge, and violation of the Payment of Wages Act. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the County on all causes of action. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court on the breach of contract and Payment of Wages claims, but reversed and remanded the wrongful discharge claim. The County argued on appeal that the court of appeals erred by reversing the trial court's grant of summary judgment on the wrongful discharge claim because Cunningham has never argued he was a noncontractual, at-will employee. After review, the Supreme Court agreed and reversed the portion of the court of appeals' opinion reversing and remanding that claim. View "Cunningham v. Anderson County" on Justia Law

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Gregory Collins worked for West Expedited & Delivery Service, Incorporated, and was killed in an automobile collision while returning to South Carolina after making a delivery in Wisconsin for Seko Charlotte. West Expedited, as a subcontractor, contracted with Seko Charlotte to make an interstate delivery of parts. As a result of Collins' work-related death, Collins' dependents filed a workers' compensation claim against West Expedited, Seko Worldwide, Federal Insurance Company, Seko Charlotte, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. A single commissioner of the Workers' Compensation Commission applied the three tests from "Voss v. Ramco, Inc.," (482 S.E.2d 582 (Ct. App. 1997)) and determined that Collins was Seko Charlotte's statutory employee at the time of his fatal accident pursuant to section 42-1-410 of the South Carolina Code. Additionally, Collins was determined to be a traveling employee. Therefore, Seko Charlotte, and its insurance company, Nationwide, were liable. Seko Charlotte and Nationwide appealed the order. The appeal was heard by the Appellate Panel of the Commission. Applying the four factors of the employee/independent contractor test, the Appellate Panel of the Commission concluded Collins was not an employee of Seko Charlotte on the return trip because West Expedited had "the exclusive right of control over [Collins]" after deliveries were made in Wisconsin. The Appellate Panel of the Commission therefore reversed the single commissioner. The Uninsured Employers Fund appealed to the Court of Appeals. The court found that the Commission committed an error of law when it applied the employee/independent contractor test instead of the statutory employee test. Applying the statutory employee test, the Court of Appeals concluded that Collins was Seko Charlotte's statutory employee, reversed the Commission's decision, and reinstated the single commissioner's order. The Supreme Court granted Seko Charlotte and Nationwide's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals properly reversed the Commission's decision, and reinstated the single commissioner's order. View "Collins v. Seko Charlotte" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Ricky Rhame filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. The single commissioner found the claim compensable. Respondent Charleston County School District sought review, and the matter was heard by an Appellate Panel of the Commission. The Appellate Panel reversed, denying the claim. Petitioner filed a motion for rehearing before the Appellate Panel. He did not file his notice of appeal until after the Appellate Panel denied his motion for rehearing. The notice of appeal was filed more than thirty days after the Appellate Panel's initial denial of the claim. The court of appeals dismissed Petitioner's appeal because the notice of appeal was not filed within thirty days from the date the Appellate Panel denied his claim. The court of appeals held that motions for rehearing are not permitted before the Commission on review of a single commissioner's decision. After its review, the South Carolina Supreme Court held Rhame's motion for rehearing to the Appellate Panel was proper and stayed the time for serving the notice of appeal for thirty days from receipt of the decision denying the motion. The case was remanded to the court of appeals for consideration of Rhame's appeal. View "Rhame v. Charleston County School District" on Justia Law