June 18, 2014 South Carolina Supreme Court published opinions

In the Matter of Kristie Ann McAuley

McAuley served as a deputy public defender. She represented defendants not eligible for representation by the public defender and accepted payment from one defendant. She agreed to discipline and the Court suspended her for 18 months retroactive to her interim suspension and ordered her to pass the Bar’s ethics course before being reinstated.

Lambries v Saluda County Council

Lambries petition for a declaration that Council’s practice of amending the agenda of its regular monthly meeting at the meeting violated South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act notice provision South Carolina Code 30-4-80. The circuit court ruled it did not and denied the petition. A split panel of the Court of Appeals reversed holding allowing amendments would violate the purpose and spirit of the notice requirement. The Court, with one justice concurring in result only, reversed. The majority held that the phrase “agenda, if any” in the provision governing regular meetings means the agenda is discretionary not mandatory. This contrasts with special meetings where the agenda is limited to the issues in the notice. As 30-4-80 is silent as to amendments at regular meetings, which the majority held was the announced monthly meeting required by statute, the practice of amending the agenda at a regular meeting did not violate the notice provision. The majority noted that because violations of the Act are subject to cranial penalties, the legislature is the appropriate body to add requirements about agenda amendments not the courts.

Dean v Heritage Healthcare of Ridgeway, LLC  

Dean sued Heritage alleging wrongful death and other claims arising from her mother’s death while in the care of Heritage. Heritage moved to compel arbitration which the circuit court denied on the ground that the designated arbitration agency no longer accepted personal injury or wrongful death claims. The Court, with one justice concurring in result only, reversed and remanded. It held that the contract for treatment implicated interstate commerce as it required Heritage to use medicines and foods which will cross state lines. The majority therefore overruled South Carolina precedent which excluded nursing homes contracts from the Federal Arbitration Act. Turing to the arbitration provision, the majority adopted the majority rule that when an agreement uses “administered by”, the identity of the arbitrator is material while it is not material when the agreement uses “in accordance with” the rules of eth arbitrator absent other evidence. The Majority reasoned that other arbitrators can follow the rule of another agency, this agreement does not require the following of the policy to not arbitrate personal injuries only the rules and there was no evidence that the parties intended to have the particular agency as the only possible arbitrator. The majority also held that Heritage did not waive its right to arbitrate by filing its demand four months after the notice of intent to sue was served noting that heritage participated in the mandated mediation process and filed the demand at the first opportunity and in any event there was no prejudice to Dean. The case was remanded to consider other arguments by Dean including no meeting of the minds and lack of authority to sign.

State v Inman

Inman used a preemptory challenge on a white juror. The state raised a Batson claim as to this challenge. Inman’s council stated the challenge was based on the juror being a farmer. The presented no evidence in opposition. The circuit court concluded that the asserted ground was insufficient and returned the juror to the pool. The juror ultimately served as jury foreperson and Inman was convicted of murder and other crimes. The Court, with one justice concurring only in result, reversed and remanded. The majority held that the circuit court erred in requiring Inman to prove a lack of racial basis instead of requiring the state to prove a racial basis. As the state failed to show any evidence of racial bias, the challenge should have been sustained. A new trial was required as Batson violations are presumed reversible error.

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