Today’s Opinions from the South Carolina Court of Appeals

sccourtofappeals  The South Carolina Court of Appeals published two opinions today:  Frewil v. Price and State v. Drayton.

Frewil v. Price involved an appeal from the Charleston County Circuit Court for a breach of contract action.  Price, a student at the College of Charleston, contacted one of Frewil’s employees, David Abdo, about renting one of the apartments owned by Frewil. Price said she told Abdo that the apartment must have a washer/dryer and a dishwasher.  Price said she was very briefly shown the apartment because it was currently occupied by others; thus, she did not have sufficient time to inspect it to determine whether a washer/dryer and dishwasher were present.  She said Abdo verbally advised her that all three items were in the apartment.  When the lease was signed, it did not explicitly state that the apartment would contain a washer, dryer and dishwasher; however, language in the lease spoke of properly cleaning a dishwasher and handling flooding from a washing machine.

Price got ready to move into the apartment only to discover that it did not have a washer, dryer or dishwasher.  She told Frewil this was unacceptable but the apartment remained without that equipment.  Price did not move in but rather found another apartment.  Frewil then refused to return the security deposit and sued Price for breach of contract as he had been unable to rent the apartment for as much as Price had agreed to pay.

Frewil filed a motion for summary judgment which the circuit court granted.  The court noted that no genuine issue of material fact existed as the language of the lease was unambiguous regarding the washer/dryer and dishwasher.

The Court of Appeals reversed, agreeing with Price that the lease was ambiguous which would permit the introduction of parol evidence to demonstrate that genuine issues of material fact existed.   Citing to Columbia East Associates v. BI-LO, the Court said “[i]f a writing, on its face, appears to express the whole agreement between the parties, parol evidence cannot be admitted to add another term….However, where a contract is silent as to a particular matter, and ambiguity thereby arises, parol evidence may be admitted to supply the deficiency and establish the true intent.”  Since the lease did mention, in some capacity, both a washing machine and a dishwasher, the Court concluded that the language of the lease was ambiguous and open to interpretation.  Thus the parol evidence of the conversations between Price and Abdo were admissible since “…if a contract is subject to more than one interpretation, it is ambiguous and parol evidence is admissible.”

State v. Drayton involved an appeal by Drayton of his murder conviction from the Charleston County Circuit Court.  Drayton was convicted of killing Alexis Lukaitis.  Various types of testimony was introduced by the State to prove its case against Drayton.  The victim’s finance testified that she told him that she was driving Drayton to Charleston.  Phone records were introduced that showed Drayton’s cell phone hit cell phone towers in Charleston even though Drayton claimed that he had not been in Charleston that evening.   Drayton’s DNA was also found on the victim’s car.  Lastly, Drayton was injured and was driven by a neighbor to the doctor’s office the day after the victim was reported missing.  The neighbor later discovered bloody clothes and a diaper bag on his front porch.  He called the police who then asked the victim’s finance to view the items and attempt to identify.  The finance identified the items as belong to Lukaitis. Based on this evidence, the jury convicted Drayton of murder and sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Drayton appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred when “(1) refusing to charge the jury concerning how to consider circumstantial evidence; (2) admitting evidence when the search warrant lacked probable cause; and (3) limiting Drayton’s cross-examination of the pathologist concerning the victim’s toxicology report.”  The Court disagreed with Dayton and affirmed.

Regarding the jury charge, the Court said “[t]he trial court…charged the jury on reasonable doubt immediately before charging the law on circumstantial evidence, and we find the reasonable doubt instruction to be a correct statement of the law.  As this court concluded in Jenkins, we conclude the trial court’s instructions in the present case, as a whole, properly conveyed the applicable law.”  Regarding the second argument, the Court concluded that Drayton had no reasonable expectation of privacy  in his cell phone records and thus was not required to address the probable cause issue.  Regarding the toxicology report and the limiting of Drayton’s cross-examination of the pathologist about the report, the Court cited South Carolina Rule of Evidence 403  which is the standard controlling the admission or exclusion of evidence.  According to 403, evidence can be excluded if its probative value substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect.  Since the decision “…to admit or exclude evidence is within the circuit court’s discretion and will not be reversed on appeal absent an abuse of that discretion….” the Court concluded there was no error in the exclusion of the evidence.

About Lisa Smith-Butler

Lisa is the Associate Dean for Information Services at the Charleston School of Law, Sol Blatt Jr. Law Library. She teaches Advanced Legal Research & Children & the Law.
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