South Carolina Supreme Court to Stream Video of Oral Arguments

SCSCTVideoOn Tuesday, September 23, 2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court began live streaming its oral arguments.  Archived video is also available.  Check it out at the Court’s video portal here.






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Homeless Court Pilot Program

homelesscourtOn September 23rd, Chief Justice Jean H. Toal created a pilot Homeless Court in Columbia, S.C.  in response to a petition from the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission.  Citing S.C. Const. art. V, section 4 as her authority, Justice Toal appointed The Honorable Dana D. Turner to preside over the Court.  The Court will have jurisdiction over “…minor criminal offenses properly filed and subject to jurisdiction and venue in the City of Columbia Municipal Court, or properly transferred to the City pursuant to §15-7-100 of the South Carolina Code of Laws.”  If a participant successfully completes the Homeless Court program, the Municipal Court will be notified.  If the participant fails to complete the program or withdraws, the charges will be referred back to the Municipal Court for disposition.

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Banned Books Week: Celebrate the Freedom to Read!

bannedbooks2The American Library Association (ALA) annually celebrates the freedom to read with a Banned Books Week in September.  Some of the books that have been challenged include classics such as:

To Kill a Mockingbird/Harper Lee

The Color Purpose/Alice Walker

As I Lay Dying/William Faulkner

Native Son/Richard Wright

The Awakening/Kate Chopin

In Cold Blood/Truman Capote

Their Eyes Were Watching God/Zora Neale Hurston

The Lord of the Rings/J.R.R. Tolkien

Lady Chatterly’s Lover/D.H. Lawrence

Sophie’s Choice/William Stryon

The Naked and the Dead/Normal Mailer

This week, September 21st – 27th, is Banned Books Week.  For more information about books that have been banned and/or challenged, check out the ALA list here.  Celebrate your freedom to read!

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South Carolina Supreme Court Decision, September 24, 2014

sc-supreme-courtThis morning, the South Carolina Supreme Court handed down a decision in State v. Sams.

Desmond Sams was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for the strangulation of Jake Frazier.  While Sams and Frazier were drinking at home with companions, a fight suddenly broke out between the two men.  Sams got on top of Frazier, placing him in a chokehold.  Attempts by their companions to separate the two men failed.  911 was called.

When the 911 officer arrived ten minutes later, he ordered Sams to release Frazier.  Eventually Sams complied but the officer noticed that Frazier was blue, not breathing, and appeared lifeless.  An autopsy later confirmed that Frazier died of “…asphyxiation, lack of oxygen, due to strangulation.” 

Sams was indicated for the murder of Frazier.  At trial, the circuit court judge instructed the jury on murder, voluntary manslaughter, and self-defense.  The jury convicted Sams of voluntary manslaughter.  Sams appealed, arguing that the judge should have instructed the jury to consider involuntary manslaughter as he requested.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision so Sam appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari, considering whether the Court of Appeals “…erred in determining [whether] there was no evidence to support a charge of involuntary manslaughter….”  Sams argued that involuntary manslaughter should have been included in the charge as he claimed that he “….unintentionally killed Frazier while acting in self-defense.”

The South Carolina Supreme Court articulated the standard of review as an “…appellate court is bound by a trial court’s factual findings unless they are clearly erroneous.”

Voluntary manslaughter was defined as “…‘the unlawful killing of a human being in sudden heat of passion upon sufficient legal provocation.’ Cole, 338 S.C. at 101, 525 S.E.2d at 513. ‘Both heat of passion and sufficient legal provocation must be present at the time of the killing.‘ Id.”   The Court defined involuntary manslaughter as “…’the unintentional killing of another without malice while engaged in either (1) the commission of some unlawful act not amounting to a felony and not naturally tending to cause death or great bodily harm, or (2) the doing of a lawful act with a reckless disregard for the safety of
others.’ State v. Tucker, 324 S.C. 155, 478 S.E.2d 260 (1996); see also S.C. Code
Ann. § 16-3-60….”

After analyzing and discussing the charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter and applying them to the facts, the Court upheld the appellate court decision, concluding that “…Sams was not entitled to an instruction on involuntary manslaughter because, as found by the circuit court and the Court of Appeals, Sam’s actions did not fall within the range of conduct constituting involuntary manslaughter….”

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Decision & Order from the South Carolina Supreme Court, 9/17/2014

sc-supreme-courtOn Wednesday, 9/17/2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court published an opinion and an order.

In Major v. City of Hartsville, the Court reserved the decision of the South Carolina Court of Appeals and trial court.  Both the trial and appellate courts granted and affirmed the City’s request for a summary judgment.

Major fell and hurt her ankle in an unpaved intersection owned by the City.  At issue was whether the City had notice, either actual or constructive, of the defect and the need to repair it.  The trial and appellate courts concluded that there was no evidence to indicate that the City had notice of the rut that caused Major’s injury nor  the need to repair it.  The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed, holding that “…a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether respondent should be charged with constructive notice on the basis that the rut existed for such a period of time that respondent, in the use of reasonable care, should have discovered it.”

The Court also issued an order, granting the portion of the South Carolina Bar’s petition that requested the amendment of the Rules of Professional Conduct to conform to the American Bar Association Rules (ABA) of Professional Conduct.  South Carolina Appellate Court Rule 407 was amended to conform to the ABA’s Model Rule 1.6 and 1.17 and comments.

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Decisions from the South Carolina Court of Appeals

sccourtofappealsYesterday the South Carolina Court of Appeals published four opinions.  Court summaries of the opinions can be found here.

In SCDSS v. Massey, the Appeals Court reversed and remanded the Family Court decision.  The case involved a dispute between the parents and the DSS over the permanent custody and location of three children.  In 2010, the mother, Katrina Massey, and the father, Michael Jackson, agreed that DSS could have legal and physical custody of their two children.  This would enable the parents to complete treatment plans.  In 2011, the Family Court approved this agreement without an “affirmative finding of fact of the existence of harm or threat of harm to the minor children.”  Meanwhile another child was born who also became subject to this agreement.  In 2013, the Family Court, at the request of DSS, held a permanency placement hearing.  The parents disagreed, arguing that they wanted and were entitled to a reunification plan.  The parents demanded a merits hearing on removal, arguing that a finding of abuse or neglect had never been made against them.  DSS claimed such a finding was unnecessary prior to a permanency hearing, and the Family Court agreed.  The Appeals Court disagreed, reversing  and chiding Charleston County for its removal actions, noting that it found them “troubling.”  The Court held that the “…statutes covering removal actions apply rather than the statutes governing intervention actions…” in this case.

56 Leinbach Investors v. Magnolia Paradigm involved a contractual dispute between the parties over leased property.  A master reformed the contract between the parties because of a “mutual mistake.”  The parties disagreed and appealed.  The South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, in part, holding that Leinbach had breached the lease but that Magnolia failed to “…prove it was entitled to rent abatement under the lease or restitution based on its unjust enrichment claim.”

Stogsdill v. SCDHHS involved an appeal from the Administrative Law Court (ALC.)  Because of a severe birth defect, Stogsdill had “significant physical disabilities” that required extensive aid with normal daily living activities.  Stogsdill was receiving service aid from DDSN in the amount of 69 hours per week.  In 2010, a cap on the number of service hours  available to non-institutionalized individuals was instituted.  In order to maintain this cap, DDSN reduced the number of service hours available to Stogsdill.  He objected and appealed.  The Administrative Law Court held for SCDHHS.    The South Carolina Court of Appeals concluded that while the administrative appeals process did not deny Stogsdill due process, the record lacked sufficient evidence to support the ALC’s conclusion that “…Stogsdill’s risk of institutionalization was merely speculative….”  Thus the Court remanded the decision  for “…consideration of the appropriate services to be provided without the restrictions of the 2010 Waiver.”

Dozier v. American Red Cross involved an appeal of a decision by the  Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC.)  While working for the American Red Cross (ARC) as a phlebotomist, Dozier was involved in an accident, alleging bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome.  A year later, she filed another workers’ compensation claim, alleging further injuries to her arms, back, neck, etc.  Between 2009 – 2001, the ARC continued to pay Dozier’s benefits and medical expenses.  Dozier insisted that she was permanently disabled but the ARC disagreed and demanded a hearing.  The WCC concluded that Dozier was not permanently disabled so Dozier appealed.  The South Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the WCC, concluding that a “…5% impairment rating does not per se equate to permanent and total disability….”

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September 12, 2014 4th Circuit published opinion

Danser v Stansberry

Danser was severely beaten by a fellow inmate while in an enclosed recreation area. He sued Stansberry and other members of the facility staff seeking damages under Bivens. The district court denied Stansberry’s motion for judgment on qualified immunity grounds as well as those of the corrections officers sued. The panel reversed as to each defendant. It held that the officer who negligently left Danser and the other inmate unsupervised was entitled to immunity as there was no evidence that he knew Danser was a sex offender, no evidence that an existing order to keep Danser separated from a different inmate meant he should be kept away from all inmates or that the officer was required to look at databases of information on Danser and the other inmate. The panel reversed as to Stansberry and another supervisor holding there was no evidence either had anything to do with the decision to put Danser in the area with another inmate or to leave them unsupervised. As supervisors cannot be vicariously liable, immunity applied as a matter of law. The opinion was originally issued in July as an unpublished opinion and the government’s motion to publish was granted today.


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