January 15, 2014 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

In the Matter of Shana Denise Jones-Burgess

In 11 cases, Jones-Burgess failed to communicate with clients, act diligently on the cases, failed to return unpaid fees, failed to return files, failed to communicate that she closed her practice and failed to respond to bar investigative notices. She agreed to discipline up to a 12 month suspension. The Court accepted the agreement noting that Jones-Burgess had significant health issues during the time of the misconduct and suspended her for 12 months retroactive to the date of her interim suspension. She was ordered to pay restitution to clients she failed to return unearned fees before applying for reinstatement.

In the Matter of Scott Christen Allmon

Allmon self-reported a federal conviction for making false statements. He agreed to a definite suspension. The Court accepted the agreement and suspended Allmon for 1 year retroactive to the date of his interim suspension. He was also required to fulfil all terms of his criminal judgment before applying for reinstatement.

White Oak Manor, Inc. v Lexington Insurance Company

Manor sued Company for a declaration of coverage. It mailed a copy of its complaint and summons to the address provided in the insurance policy. It then obtained a default order against Company. Company moved to set it aside which the circuit court denied. The South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed holding South Carolina Code 15-9-270 provided the sole method of serving the complaint. The Court, 4-1, reversed. It held that consistent with eh background principal that parties can contract to waive service or provide other methods of service, 15-9-270 does not set out the sole method of service on a foreign insurer. It also upheld the circuit court’s refusal to set aside the default holding Manor substantially complied with the provision even though it did not address the package to “counsel”, that losing the complaint was not good cause to set aside the default and the lack of a courtesy copy to Company’s local attorney was insufficient to set aside the default. The dissent argued that the plain language of 15-9-270 and case law interpreting it establish 270 as the sole means of serving a foreign insurer. Additionally, the purpose of 270 is to allow the insurance commissioner of allegations of misconduct which was not served here by the alternate method of service.

Pitman v Pitman

The family court ruled that husband’s business had been transmuted into marital property and included the business in the property division of the parties divorce decree. The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed as to transmutation. The Court affirmed as modified. It held that, while the family court erred by considering premarital actions, the record supported the transmutation ruling as wife served as an officer, actively managed the company’s finances, forewent other employment opportunities as a nurse and supported the company with her personal credit. The Court also held that the whole value of the company was properly included in the property division and the overall 50/50 split was appropriate.

State v Giles

The state challenged Giles preemptory challenges to white jurors. Giles explained the challenged jurors were “not right” for his jury. The circuit court concluded the reason was race neutral on its face, but, lacked reasonable specificity to allow the state to overcome it at stage 3 of the Batson process. The jury pool was struck and another pool was brought in. Giles was ultimately convicted of several felonies. The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed as to the Batson ruling and the Court also affirmed. It held that under Batson as interpreted by the Untied States Supreme Court, and consistent with eh views of state appellate courts which have looked at eh issue, explanations at stage 2 do not need to be legally adequate or even plausible. However, the explanations do need to be reasonably specific to allow eh other party and the trial court to evaluate the reason for actual discrimination. Here, as noted by the circuit court, the state would be unable to prove a given juror “was right” for the jury and thus there was no error in refusing to go to stage 3 of Batson process.

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