January 8, 2014 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

Martinez v Spartanburg County

The circuit court reversed the denial of Martinez’s workers compensation and claim and remanded for further proceedings. The South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed on the merits. The Court vacated the Court of Appeals opinion and remanded to the workers compensation appeals board. It held the circuit court order was not a final order because it did not decide the whole case. Thus, the Court of Appeals had no jurisdiction over the case.

Woodson v DLI Properties, LLC

The circuit court granted summary judgment to DLI’s real estate broker ruling the broker had no duty to disclose another offer to buy DLI’s property and that the broker did not commit any unfair trade practice. The Court of Appeals affirmed based on its precedent allowing affirmance whenever the appellant fails to provide a sufficient record to overcome summary judgment. The Court, with one justice concurring only in result, affirmed as modified. The majority overruled the Court of Appeals precedent relied on below holding that there is no requirement for findings of fact or conclusions of law and reviewing courts are thus to look at the entire evidentiary record was before the trial court. Turning to the merits, the majority affirmed as to fraud holding the broker owed no duty to Woodson as she worked solely for DLI and as to unfair trade practices as the transaction did not involve the public and was thus not covered by the statute.

Doe v Bishop of Charleston

Three Doe plaintiffs brought suit alleging Bishop negligently supervised priests who molested them as minors. The circuit court dismissed on res judicata, issue preclusion and statute of limitations grounds. The Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part. It held that the settlement did not waive res judicata effects of its judgment as the plain language of the judgment only allowed an extended claim period running from actual notice instead of entry of judgment. The Court reversed as to collateral estoppels as the circuit court was required to determine if the Doe plaintiffs received sufficient notice of the earlier settlement and if their interests were sufficiently represented. Finally, the Court reversed as to the limitations ruling holding that proof of deliberate concealment of the priest’s dangerousness could toll the limitations period. The case was thus remanded for further proceedings.

South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles v Brown

Brown’s driver’s license suspension for DUI was rescinded by the hearing officer, but, upheld by the administrative law court and Court of Appeals. The Court, in a splintered 2-1-2 decision, affirmed. Two justices argued that Brown was required to move to exclude his breath test results during his hearing before the close of evidence. The justices reasoned this was required to give effect to South Carolina Code 56-5-2930 which authorizes exclusion of test results upon motion. The justices would also require a determination that the failure to follow procedures undermined the reliability of the test. Applying here, these justices argued that raising the argument at the closing argument stage was too late and in any event there sufficient evidence in the record to find the test reliable. One justice concurred in the decision to affirm as Brown failed to object and review here should only be for errors of law which the Court of Appeals did not do. Then dissent argued that the issue was preserved via the hearing officer’s initial ruling rescinding the suspension and that the initial decision was supported by substantial evidence as the testifying officer did not follow the required procedures and no other evidence beside his statements was presented.

State v Jones and State v Gwinn

Long and Gwinn challenged the Attorney general’s authority to prosecute cases in magistrate or municipal court. The challenge was successful in Long’s case and rejected in Gwinn’s case. The Court affirmed in Gwinn and reversed in Long. The Court held that South Carolina Constitution Article 5 Section 24 designates the Attorney general as the chief prosecuting officer of the state. The only mention of courts in the section deals with supervisory authority not prosecution authority. As the section has no impact on the historically understood power of the general which has been understood to include prosecutions in summary courts, the general continues to have power to prosecute in magistrate and municipal courts.

Hudson v Lancaster Convalescence Center

Hudson obtained a lump sum award through a worker’s compensation claim. After Lancaster and the state insurer of last resort dismissed their appeal of the award, the commission approved a settlement between Hudson’s estate and her dependant grandsons, awarded a penalty, but declined to award interest. The Circuit court approved the distribution and penalty, but awarded interest. The Court of Appeals approved the penalty, but ordered the lump sum to go to the grandsons and denied interest. The Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded to the commission. It held that Lancaster and the carrier failed to preserve any challenge to the lump sum award. It next reversed as to the distribution holding that settlements are favored and in any event Lancaster and the insurer were not harmed by the settlement. It affirmed as to the penalty holding that Lancaster and the insurer failed to provide any evidence that the failure to pay the lump sum occurred because of circumstances outside their control. It revered as to interest holding that, given the insurer can sue and be sued, the legislature intended for the insurer to liable for direct claims against it and here the claim was a direct one for failing to pay the lump sum. The case was remanded to calculate the interest and penalty.

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