August 29, 2012 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

Ballard v Roberson 

Ballard formed a corporation to develop a marina. Roberson and other investors were brought in to provide capital. After the size of the proposed marina was cut in half, the investors removed Ballard from the board and as an officer. They then approved an issuance of stock which violated the articles of incorporation. Ballard sued for oppression of a minority shareholder and the trial court ordered the investors to buy out Ballard and place some of their shares in escrow. The Court, 3-2, affirmed. The majority found the removal from office, unauthorized share issue, plans to hire family members and failure to communicate with Ballard supported a finding of oppression. It also held that investors’ payment of $1,000,000 was for shares held by Ballard with other shares being issued in anticipation of services by investors. Thus, the escrow order was authorized by the oppression statute. The dissent argued that the oppression statute should only apply when the future abuse is a near certainty. Further, while Ballard had been removed form management, he was not removed form the possibility of returns and replacing management is not per se oppressive. It also argued that the other facts pointed to by the majority were not oppressive in themselves.

In the Matter of Lawrence J. Purvis, Jr. 

Purvis notarized affidavits after contacting the affiants by phone. The affiants were never in his presence. Purvis and the bar entered a disciplinary agreement which was accepted by the Court. Purvis was publicly reprimanded.

In the Matter of Christopher Lance Sheek

Sheek committed misconduct in five cases of failure to diligently pursue cases and one case of writing a letter on behalf of an opposing party without permission. The Court publicly reprimanded him an ordered him to pass ethics courses and allow an advisor to review his office management practices.

In the Matter of William Ashley Boyd

Boyd lied to a client about filing a foreclosure and continued to advise the client while suspended from the practice of law. He also falsely assumed the identity of another attorney using his name and bar number in order to represent a client at a worker’s compensation hearing. He also forged a judge’s signature on a fake order. He finally accepted fees while suspended. He entered an agreement with the bar consenting to any discipline. The Court disbarred him.

State v Gracely

Gravely was indicted for methamphetamine trafficking as part of a multidefendant indictment. At trial, the judge prohibited cross examination which mentioned the mandatory minimum sentences the witnesses faced under the indictment for methamphetamine trafficking crimes carrying the same penalties as those Gracely was charged with fearing the state would be prejudiced as the jury would know Gracely faced a minimum of 25 years imprisonment. The Court reversed. It held that the fact that a witness avoided a mandatory minimum sentence and the length of that sentence are per se admissible to allow the jury to properly evaluate the witness’s credibility. As the state’s case was circumstantial, the error was not harmless and a new trial was required.

Arrow Bonding Company v Warren

Arrow brought a foreclosure action on a judgment against Warren for bond forfeiture by a mutual client. Warren attempted to pay off the judgment the day of the judicial sale, but, did not bring enough to cover accrued interest and fees. The winning bid was $2,500.00 for all the property which was sold as one lot. Warren unsuccessfully sought to set aside the sale. The Court, 3-2, affirmed. While the record value of the property was approximately $260,000.00, the property was subject to mortgage and a tax lien as well as property taxes and pledges to secure bail bonds. Thus, the majority held that the trial court did not err in finding the bid plus the encumbrances created a value which does not shock the conscience. The majority further held that the decision to sell thirteen lots as one lot did not require the sale to be set aside as there was no evidence in the record to determine the value of any given lot individually.  The dissent argued that there was no need to sell all the properties to satisfy a small judgment and the trial court abused its discretion by not exercising it.

Fleming v State 

The Court held that the postconviction court erred in requiring a showing of meritorious issues by a petitioner who asked probation revocation counsel to appeal. However, as there were no issued preserved at the probation revocation hearing, the order denying relief was affirmed.

Graves v. CAS Medical Systems, Inc. 

Graves brought a strict product liability claim against CAS and sought to introduce expert testimony to establish that the alarm attached to their daughter failed to sound. The trial court struck the proposed expert testimony and granted judgment to CAS. The Court affirmed. It held that the methodology used in this case (reasoning to the best inference where the expert evaluates the possible causes and eliminates the less likely ones) requires the expert to provide an objective basis for eliminating potential causes and demonstrate that the eliminated cause was highly unlikely and the proposed best cause was highly probable. Here, the experts merely said the alarm didn’t sound without providing any evidentiary basis for that claim. The Court held that the proffered testimony of the medical expert on the issue of whether the child could have been resuscitated should have been admitted as it merely applied her knowledge to the facts. While noting circumstantial evidence can prove a design defect in appropriate cases, the Court held here the defect alleged was a complex matter of computer science. Thus, expert testimony was required. As the proffered testimony was correctly excluded, there was no proof of defect and judgment for CAS was proper.

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