September 25, 2013 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

Auto-Owners Insurance Company v Rhodes

Company brought a declaratory judgment action seeking declaration that its policy did not cover damages from a billboard falling onto an interstate highway. The trial judge issued a judgment declaring there was coverage. The underlying tort suit judgment was vacated on venue grounds. Company sought to vacate the declaratory judgment which the trial court refused to do. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court, with one justice concurring in result only, affirmed in part and reversed in part. It held that the vacating of the tort suit judgment was not a ground to vacate the declaratory judgment as there was still alive controversy and the trial court was authorized to issue the declaratory judgment by statute. However, the Court held that the portion of the judgment which angled damages issues was not properly before it as those issues will be resolved in the first instance at trial. The Court held that the sole owner and shareholder of the corporate defendants was an insured bead on Company’s stipulation that the corporation was an insured and the owner did business under the corporate name. finally, the Court held that removing two other signs after the collapse of the first sign was an “occurrence” under the policy as the removal would not have happened but for the first sign’s collapse, the collapse and removal was not intended by the insured and there was an element of fortuity in the events.

Banks v Saint Mathew Baptist Church

At a congregational meeting, Church’s pastor accused Banks and two other trustees of mortgaging the church grounds, buying apartments nearby, failing to insure the apartment building mismanaged church funds and constantly lied to the pastor. The congregation removed the trustees who then sued for defamation. The trial court dismissed holding the suit barred by the First Amendment’s religious freedom clause. The Court of Appeals reversed. The Court, 3-2, affirmed. The majority held that because the truth or falsity of the declaratory statements could be determined without resoling questions of church doctrine or governance, the case fell into the category of claims that can be resolved applying neutral principals of law and can proceed. The majority further held that the setting of the statements, a congregational meeting, did not shield the pastor as it the actions, not tens setting, which determines whether a tort has occurred. The majority finally noted that if the pastor had called the trustees sinners or accused them of violating church rules, then the first Amendment would shield him. The dissent argued that congregational meeting concerned the continued service of the trustees in their position of spiritual leadership. Thus, the statements were made in the context of internal church government and the suit should be barred.

In the Matter of Joenathan Shelly Chaplain

Chaplain was ordered to refund part of a fee found to be excessive. He failed to pay back the fee and failed to respond when a complaint was field against him. He agreed to pay the fee in installments and did so. He also greed to discipline. The Court accepted the agreement and publicly reprimanded Chaplain.

In the Matter of Sidney Jones

Jones was disbarred in Georgia for criminal conduct including smuggling contraband to jailed clients. The Court imposed reciprocal discipline and disbarred Jones.

South Carolina Department of Social Services v Pringle

Pringle was found to have abused his daughters and was barred rom visiting them. The family court relied on videotaped interviews of the children admitted over Pringle’s objection. The Court, with one judge dissenting and one dissenting in part, reversed. The majority held that under SC Code 19-1-180(G0, the statements were inadmissible hearsay as Pringle is the children’s father and the allegations were made after divorce. The majority also held that the exception in (G) did not apply as the person taking the statement was not licensed, was not a law enforcement officer and did not work for Department. The dissent argued that the testimony of the Department’s witness as to statements by the children and their mother were admitted for their truth and supported the order. The partial dissent agree with the majority as to 19-1-180(G) and with the dissent as the other evidence. It argued that the case should be remanded for existing record review as the family court did not rely on the other evidence in its order.


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