February 20, 2013 South Carolina Court of Appeals published opinions

State v Taylor

At Taylor’s murder trial, the judge refused to allow Taylor to cross examine a witness about certain dismissed felony counts and allowed two ballistics expert reports into evidence. The panel affirmed. It held that the dismissed felony charges were unrelated to the murder and allowing the charges into evidence would have required the solicitor to testify why the charges were dismissed. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by prohibiting questioning on these charges particularly as Taylor was allowed to question the witness about pending charges. As to the reports, they merely detailed the expert’s findings and did not bolster her testimony.

Curry v Curry

Husband appealed the family court’s failure to give him special consideration for a piece of inherited property and for granting divorce on the basis of habitual drunkenness. The panel affirmed as modified. It held that husband was entitled to special consideration for the lot received from his mother in exchange for waiving any claim against her estate. After proper credit, the panel reduced the amount awarded to wife to effectuate the equitable 55/45 split in favor of husband. The panel held that while the family court applied the wrong evidentiary standard, the record supported a finding by preponderance of the evidence that husband was habitually drunk in that he testified he drank several Scotch whiskeys daily and four witnesses gave evidence of specific incidents where he was drunk and verbally abused wife.

Simmons v SC Strong

While a participant in job and life skills training at Strong, Simmons fell while performing services and suffered a neck fracture. He field for temporary disabilities benefits through workers compensation. The commission determined he was a volunteer or gratuitous worker and denied benefits. The panel affirmed. It held that Simmons was undergoing job and life skills training in lieu of incarceration, was not paid wages nor did he have any expectation of receiving wages. Thus, he was not an employee and his claim was properly denied.

Williams v David Stafford Drywall

Williams sought on appeal to have her permanent disability payment increased, her bladder issues compensated and paraplegia compensated. The panel refused and affirmed the workers compensation commission. It held that the commission properly relied on the form 20 submitted by employer as it was the best evidence available for Williams’ wages at the time of her accident. As to the bladder and paraplegia, the panel noted that Williams did not raise these problems with her caregivers while seeking treatment for the fall and was observed walking without assistance during surveillance. Thus, substantial evidence supported the commission’s denial of these claims.

Sapp v Wheeler

Sapp sued wheeler as guarantor of a lease. The jury returned judgment in favor of Sapp. The Panel affirmed. It held that the trial court properly denied wheeler’s motion for directed verdict as he guaranteed the lease, the lease called for future damages in case of breach and Sapp had no reason to bring suit until all rental payments stopped in 2008. The trial court also properly denied a statute of limitations charge as the claim against Wheeler accrued in 2008 which is also when Sapp sued. Finally, the panel held the jury verdict against Wheeler and the original leasing entity were not inconsistent as the entity stopped making payments several years before Wheeler did and had been administratively dissolved by the time of suit. The jury found the entity breached a different contract from Wheeler’s guarantee and the damages were within the bounds of the evidence presented.

Independence National Bank v Buncombe Professional Park, LLC

Independence sought and received a reformation of its mortgage to subordinate another lien on certain property. The Panel reversed. It held that Independence was not entitled to reformation as the holder of the superior lien was not a party to the mortgage and courts cannot add terms to the mortgage. Further, equitable subrogation was not proper on these facts as the attorney handling the closing actually knew about the superior lien through a title search and this knowledge was chargeable to Independence.

Burgess v State

On burgess’ petition for post conviction relief, the trial court ordered a new trial on the ground that trail counsel was ineffective for not requesting a jury chare on the issue of Burgess being absent from trial. The panel held that the state failed to preserve the issue of prejudice as it failed to raise the matter in a Rule 59 motion. Thus, the panel affirmed.

Vail v State

Vail sought post conviction relief on the ground that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to numerous hearsay statements in his child sex abuse case. The trial court denied his petition. The panel reversed. It held that the statements at issue were hearsay in that they were offered to prove Vail had sex with a minor girl. Further they were outside the permissible time and place statements allowed under the rules of evidence. The panel rejected trial counsel’s argument that allowing the statements was a valid trial strategy holding that the statements improperly bolstered victim’s credibility and in one instance brought up rumors of other inappropriate relationships. None of this served the asserted goal of building up Vail’s credibility. This inadequate representation prejudiced Vail as there was no physical evidence of the alleged abuse and the victim’s testimony was critical in proving the state’s case. Thus, a new trial was ordered.

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