July 25, 2012 South Carolina Court of Appeals published opinions

Broach and Loomis v Carter

Broach and Loomis entered two independent contractor agreements with a real estate agency to presell and sell condominium units. As a result of a financing agreement, the agency and the managing entity of the condominium development entered a new agreement which subordinated claims for commissions to payments on the loan. Broach and Loomis sued for their unpaid commissions. One claim was for interference with their contract by an officer of the managing entity. The jury returned a verdict for compensatory and punitive damages. The panel reversed holding that the interference was justified by the need to obtain financing to maximize the possibilities for all interested partied, including Broach and Loomis, to get paid. As there were no legally justified damages, the punitive damage award was also reversed.

Hamilton v Charleston County Sheriff’s Department

Hamilton was sexually abused by a guard while incarcerated. She sued the Department for negligent supervision. The trial court granted a directed verdict finding that the Department followed South Carolina standards and was therefore not grossly negligent. The panel, 2-1, affirmed. The majority agreed with the trial court that the undisputed evidence demonstrated that the Department supervised the guard in a manner consistent with and complying with state standards. The dissent argued there was evidence the Department violated its own policies and had problems in the area where the abuse occurred and the case should have been submitted to the jury.

Stephens v CSX Transportation, Inc.

A CSX train collided with a passenger car causing serious injuries to a minor passenger. Stephens sued on her behalf. The jury returned a defense verdict. Stephens appealed. The panel affirmed. It first held that evidence that trees were cut down by the crossing after the collision was a post event remedial action and thus inadmissible and the removal of garden was so different in kind as to be irrelevant and in any event keeping the garden’s removal out  did not prejudice Stephens. The panel held that all issues related to Stephens’ motion for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict were unpreserved as trial counsel did not renew its motion after all the evidence had been submitted. The panel majority rejected arguments relating to jury instructions finding the trail court adequately explained the railroad’s duty of care and the mutual duties of drivers and railroads when vegetation may obstruct the driver’s view. The panel majority also upheld charges which accurately stated the legal authority of the Department of Transportation to veto the closing of crossings or the installation of drop down arms. Finally, the panel affirmed the trail court’s charge on discretionary duty finding the specific error alleged was unpreserved. On judge dissented in part arguing that the discretionary act charge, a failure to charge a presumption of nonimpairment and a charge about it always being train time at a railroad crossing constituted reversible error.

State v Mitchell

Mitchell was convicted of first degree burglary based on an identification of him by a police officer from a still photo and photos taken from a computer disk inside a motion triggered deer camera. On appeal, the panel affirmed holding the officer’s testimony that he knew Mitchell from the officer’s 20 years of residence in Newberry provided a sufficient basis to allow his lay opinion testimony and that the photos printed off the disk were “originals” under Rule 1001. It also rejected a claim that a new trial should have been granted holding that the jury was entitled to believe the landowner that Mitchell did not have permission to be in the home and that a photograph of Mitchell holding a bag and flashlight supported an inference of intent to commit a crime.

South Carolina Department of Transportation v Revels

The Department condemned certain lands owned by Revels. Revels obtained a larger condemnation jury award than the final offer of the Department. The trial court refused to award attorney fees based on Revels’ contingency agreement and instead awarded fees based on a loadstar approach. The panel affirmed. It held that the condemnation statute transfers liability for fees to the losing party and controlling South Carolina precedent rejects contingency fee awards in those circumstances. It also held the trial court was not required to determine if the contingency fee agreement was reasonable as the agreement did not control the fee award.

Dreher v South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control

Dreher applied to build a bridge between two tracts of land she owns on Folly Island. The Department denied the application and the administrate law court affirmed. The Panel reversed. It held that the tracts were part of Folly Island, Folly Island is excluded from the small island regulation relied upon by the administrative law court and the finding of de minimus environmental impact was supported by substantial evidence.

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