July 17, 2013 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

Turner v Daniels 

Turner filed a claim against an estate under South Carolina Code 62-2-302(b) claiming to be the child of the decedent. The probate and circuit court’s denied her claim. The Court affirmed holding that decedent never knew child existed and 302(b) only allows claims where the decedent mistakenly believed the child was dead.

Bennett & Bennett Construction, Inc. v Auto Owners Insurance Company 

Bennett sought declaratory judgment that Auto was liable for damages caused during a botched repair job of brick facing by a subcontractor of the client. The trial court granted judgment to Bennett. The Court, with one justice concurring in result only and two concurring separately, reversed. Four justices agreed that coverage was excluded under the “own work” exclusion as the subcontractor was engaged in its own work of repairing the brick facing it installed. Two justices argued coverage was also excluded under the exclusion for property damages to real property arising out of operations as the repair job was part of the series of acts to effect installation of an acceptable brick facing.

Pollack v Southern Wine & Spirits of America 

While on light duty because of a compensable back injury, Pollack failed to report an accident involving his company car and was terminated for this failure. He then filed for temporary disability payments which were denied based on his termination for cause. The Court affirmed. It held that under South Carolina Code 42-9-260 and the accompanying regulations, there must be a nexus between the claimant’s unemployment and the compensable injury. Here, the commission made a factual finding that there was no connection here as the unemployed status resulted from the failure to report the accident, not Pollack’s back injury.

Disabato v South Carolina Association of School Administrators 

Disabato sued for a declaration that Association is subject to South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act. The trial court found the Act violated Association’s First Amendment rights and dismissed. The Court, 3-2, reversed and remanded. Assuming that Association is a public body, the majority held that the Act impacted Association’s right to not speak publicly and right of association by requiring open meetings and documentary disclosures which allow opponents to learn of its plans for advocacy. It held that intermediate scrutiny is the proper standard as Act is content neutral. It finally held that because the Act served the compelling interests of transparency and preventing corruption and exempted sensitive speech, the Act did not violate Association’s rights. It noted that the Fifth Circuit and Colorado and Minnesota Supreme Courts had reached similar conclusions in similar cases. The majority remanded for further proceedings to determine if Association is a “public body”.  The dissent argued that the definition of “public body” is too broad as it covers entities receiving public dollars even for small discrete activities. The dissent argued there is no justification for requiring a private entity that happens to accept public dollars for those discrete activities to have all of its activities covered by the Act. The dissent would thus hold that portion of the definition unconstitutional and sever it from the rest of the Act.

McHam v State 

McHam moved to suppress drug evidence seized after an officer opened the car door during a traffic stop. The trail court denied his motion and his attorney failed to object at trial to the introduction of the drug evidence. His conviction was affirmed on Anders review and his motion for post conviction relief was denied. The Court affirmed as modified. It held that the failure to object was deficient performance and the Anders review is limited to preserved issues and thus the failure to object could be raised in post conviction review proceedings. The Court held that opening the door was a search as it enabled the officer to see what was otherwise out of sight. However, it held the officer was reasonably concerned for his safety given he was alone, the poor lighting and movements by McHam and the driver in parts of the car where license and registration were unlikely to be. Thus, there was no prejudice.

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