Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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This appeal arose from Beaufort County, South Carolina's refusal to issue Grays Hill Baptist Church a construction permit to build a fellowship hall adjacent to its existing sanctuary. The court of appeals reversed the master's order and reinstated the Beaufort County Planning Commission's decision to deny the permit because the Church's 1997 development permit did not include the fellowship hall and had expired. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the the court of appeals and ordered Beaufort County to issue the Church a construction permit for the fellowship hall under its original 1997 development permit. The Court found the Planning Commission erred in finding that the Church's original 1997 development permit did not authorize the development of the fellowship hall because the proposed building was clearly indicated in the permit application and plat. "There is no evidence in the record to support the Commission's finding that the original permit only authorized development of the church and that the certificate of compliance closed out the 1997 development permit. Consequently, the County erred in requiring the Church to request a new development permit." View "Grays Hill Baptist Church v. Beaufort County" 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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This case concerned accreting land along the South Carolina coast that owned by the Town of Sullivan. Petitioners Nathan and Ettaleah Bluestein and Theodore and Karen Albenesius (collectively, Petitioners) bought property in the Town that abutted the accreting land. Petitioners' properties were once considered oceanfront lots only a short distance from the beach, but due to accretion, the properties were now a substantial distance away. The accreting land was subject to a 1991 deed, which set forth certain rights and responsibilities respecting the condition of the property and the Town's duties concerning upkeep of the land. Petitioners were third party beneficiaries of the 1991 deed. Petitioners argued the 1991 deed mandated the Town keep the vegetation on the land in the same condition as existed in 1991, particularly as to the height of shrubs and vegetation. Conversely, the Town contended the 1991 deed granted it unfettered discretion to allow unchecked growth of the vegetation on the accreting land. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined all parties cherrypicked language from the 1991 deed to support their respective interpretations of the deed. But contrary to the holding of the court of appeals and the trial court's findings, the Supreme Court held the deed was “far from unambiguous;” because the 1991 deed is ambiguous in terms of the Town's maintenance responsibilities, the court of appeals erred in affirming the entry of summary judgment for the Town. As a result, the matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Bluestein v. Town of Sullivans Island" on Justia Law

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An industrial park was built in an unincorporated area in Laurens County, South Carolina, between the City of Laurens (Laurens) and the City of Fountain Inn (Fountain Inn). Both municipalities provided natural gas service beyond their respective borders, and each sought to serve the industrial customers in the new industrial park. However, Laurens -through its subsidiary, the Laurens Commission of Public Works (LCPW) - claimed Fountain Inn could not compete for the industrial customers' business because LCPW had established a designated service area and therefore was the sole authorized natural gas provider to the industrial park. Fountain Inn believed the industrial park was not part of a designated service area, and thus LCPW did not have an exclusive right to provide natural gas to customers in the industrial park. In support of its claim, LCPW asserted it had satisfied the requirements of S.C. Code section 5-7-60 (2004) by providing natural gas in the general vicinity for twenty years pursuant to a 1992 boundary line that was informally agreed to by Laurens and Fountain Inn. Agreeing with LCPW that it had properly created a designated service area, the circuit court enjoined Fountain Inn from providing natural gas service to the industrial park, and the court of appeals affirmed. Because there was no reasonable interpretation of section 5-7-60 that would permit LCPW to claim a designated service area over the industrial park, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed. View "Commissioners of Public Works v. City of Fountain Inn" on Justia Law

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In 2006, taxpayer University Ventures, LLC purchased a vacant lot in Charleston County, South Carolina (the Property). In 2008, Taxpayer received building permits to construct a hotel and pool on the Property. Construction began, and the hotel and pool were completed in April 2009, at which time a certificate of occupancy was issued. As a result of the completed improvements and pursuant to law, the Charleston County Assessor (the Assessor) reappraised the Property, which resulted in an increase in the value of the Property, which in turn increased the Taxpayer's 2010 property tax bill. The Taxpayer paid the increased 2010 tax bill without objection. This case centered on Taxpayer's challenge to the 2011 tax bill. In 2011, the Assessor continued to value the Property as an improved lot, which it in fact was. The Taxpayer protested and claimed its 2011 tax bill should have been based on the Property's value as a vacant lot as of December 31, 2008. The court of appeals rejected the Taxpayer's argument, finding it would be absurd to value the Property as a vacant lot after improvements were completed. The South Carolina Supreme Court found, consistent with South Carolina's statutory scheme, that when the value set by a reassessment program's uniform date of value conflicts with the value set by the completion of improvements to property, the improvement value controls. View "Charleston County Assessor v. University Ventures" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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At issue before the South Carolina Supreme court was the propriety of the grant of partial summary judgment in a condemnation action. The court of appeals affirmed the circuit court's ruling that the landowner, David Powell, was not entitled to compensation for any diminution in value of his remaining property due to the rerouting of a major highway which previously was easily accessible from his property. South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) condemned a portion of Powell's 2.5 acre property in connection with its upgrade to U.S. Highway 17 Bypass (the Bypass) near the Backgate area of Myrtle Beach. His unimproved parcel, located on the corner of Emory Road and Old Socastee Highway, was originally separated from the Bypass by a power line easement and a frontage road; access to that major thoroughfare was via Emory Road, which intersected with the Bypass. Because Powell's property was zoned "highly commercial," his easy access to the Bypass significantly enhanced its value. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial. The record contained evidence the condemnation of Powell's property, the closure of the intersection, and the curving of the frontage road over the condemned parcel were all integrally connected components of the project, creating a material issue of fact as to which of these acts was a direct and proximate cause of the taking, thus rendering summary judgment improper. Employing the clear language of our just compensation statute, the Court held that a jury should have been permitted to hear evidence on the diminution in value to the remaining property. View "SCDOT v. Powell" 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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Appellant Deerfield Plantation Phase II B Property Homeowners Association appealed an Administrative Law Court's (ALC) decision affirming Respondent South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control's (DHEC) decision to grant a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for Storm Water Discharges from Large and Small Construction Activity and Coastal Zone Consistency Certification to Respondent Deertrack Golf, Inc. Deertrack Golf owns the real property that is the subject of this dispute, a non-operational golf course known as the Old South Golf Course. Bill Clark Homes entered into a contract with Deertrack Golf to purchase the Old South Course. Bill Clark Homes designed a residential subdivision to be constructed within the acreage known as Phase I of the Old South Course, and obtained approval from Horry County for a subdivision consisting of 278 lots and comprising approximately 85 acres. The Old South Course is adjacent to an existing residential development known as Deerfield Plantation Phase II B, and Appellant represents its residents, who oppose the residential redevelopment of the Old South Course. The redevelopment plan necessitated the construction of a new stormwater management system utilizing an existing drainage network of stormwater ponds on the Old South Course. The redevelopment required a jurisdictional determination from the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) regarding whether any portion of proposed redevelopment acreage contained "waters of the United States" subject to the Corps' jurisdiction. In 2006, the Corps determined that the tract did not contain any federal waters subject to the Corps' jurisdiction. However, in 2010, upon Appellant's application, the Corps declared federal jurisdiction over .37 acres of the existing waters on the proposed 85-acre redevelopment tract. Appellant appealed the decision to the federal district court, arguing the Corps erred in failing to declare federal jurisdiction over the remaining waters found within the proposed redevelopment tract, and the district court granted summary judgment to the Corps. Appellant appealed the district court's decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed. During the pendency of the federal appeals, the South Carolina Court of Appeals variously stayed and held in abeyance the state appeal. However, in 2012, the court of appeals remanded the case "to the ALC to further remand the matter to DHEC for additional administrative action." The ALC remanded the case to DHEC. After DHEC took no additional administrative action, the court of appeals dismissed the appeal. After Respondents filed petitions for rehearing claiming the court of appeals misapprehended DHEC's reasons for taking no action on the Permit, the court of appeals reinstated the appeal. The South Carolina Supreme Court then certified the case for review, and affirmed (as modified) the ALC's decision upholding DHEC's issuance of the permit. Further, in light of the subsequent declaration of federal jurisdiction as to part of the acreage subject to the permit, the South Carolina Supreme Court remanded the case to DHEC for further administrative action. View "Deerfield Plantation v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law