Today’s South Carolina Court of Appeals Decisions for May 6, 2015

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Today, the South Carolina Court of Appeals published two decisions: Trident Medical Center v. SCDHEC and Johnson v. Grading.

Trident Medical Center v. SCDHEC involved cross appeals from a decision of the South Carolina Administrative Law Court upholding SCDHEC’s issuance of a Certificate of Need (“the Certificate”) for hospital construction in Berkeley County to two area hospitals.

Trident Hospital submitted an application for a Certificate of Need to build a new fifty-bed acute hospital in Monks Corner (Berkeley County). The application was proposed pursuant to the 04-05 State Health Plan’s inventory that indicated that Trident’s existing facility was in need for forty-two additional beds. Trident sought approval of the new fifty bed facility pursuant to a provision of the State Health Plan’s referred to as  the “Fifty Bed Rule”. This rule allowed for hospitals in need of beds to add to the greater of fifty beads or the actual projected number of beds need .

Several months after Trident’s application, Roper Hospital submitted an application for a Certificate of Need to transfer some of its existing beds in Charleston to a proposed new fifty-bed facility in Goose Creek, (Berkeley Co.) This request was made pursuant to the “Bed Transfer Provision” of the 08-09 State Health Plan, which allows for the transfer of beds between affiliated hospitals in order to serve patients in a more efficient manner. The new facility would be known as Roper St. Francis Hospital- Berkeley.

After a joint review hearing, DHEC approved both applications, and in doing so, determined that Trident and Roper were not considered “competing applicants” as defined under SC Code Section 44-7-130(5), and thus both Certificates of Need could be properly granted.

Trident and Roper challenged the approvals granted to each other for the Certificates both alleging that they should be deemed competing applicants forcing the Board to grant only one request based on the statutory criteria found in SC Code Section 44-7-210. ALC upheld DHEC’s  issuance of Certificates to both Trident and Roper, to which the cross-appeals followed.

This Court examined two issues on appeal. On the first issue, the Court looked to the appropriate interpretation of the 08-09 State Health Plan and whether the plan’s language allows DHEC to issue a Certificate for the transfer of beds between hospitals only when both hospitals already exist. (emphasis added) The Court found that the 08-09 Bed Transfer Provision was identical to the 04-05 Bed Transfer Provision which had previously been determined to allow for approval of a Certificate application for the  transfer of licensed general acute care hospital beds to establish a new hospital.  The Court reasoned that DHEC’s interpretation of the Bed Transfer Provision was not only reasonable but also consistent with the provision’s plain language. The Court considered the Bed Transfer Provision in light of the entire section itself not in isolation.

On the second issue, the Court determined that Roper and Trident were not competing applicants. Roper is not seeking to add new beds to the service area but to transfer existing beds that were already approved for a Certificate of Need.  Further Trident’s proposal is fulfilling a need already documented by the State Health Plan’s hospital inventory and the number of beds requested are allowed under the Fifty Bed Rule. Thus the Court upheld the decision of the ALC in approving both Certificates of Need.

Johnson v. Grading was an appeal of a negligence action in which Sam English Grading, Inc. (the Company) contends the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence and denying its motions for directed verdict or JNOV.  The Company also contends that the trial court erred in giving a coercive version of an Allen charge. This Court affirms the findings of the trial court.

The negligence action arose from the death of Michael Valenzuela’s wife, Christie, that was the passenger in a motorcycle crash with Michael. Michael testified that he crashed the motorcycle while attempting to avoid a collision with a large piece of equipment, a pan, that was being driven on a private driveway towards the intersection. After braking and skidding, the motorcycle came to rest within five to ten feet of the pan. The pan was equipment owned by the Company.

Christie’s representative brought a suit against the Company for negligent acts including the failure to warn with signs or other devices the motoring public of the danger the Company created. Over the Company’s objections, three witnesses testified at trial about prior incidents with the Company’s equipment at the same intersection.

During jury deliberations, the trial court gave the jury an Allen charge and provided a note stating that they could stay as long as necessary and had the option of coming back to continue deliberating, encouraging them to find a verdict as opposed to coming back with a hung jury. Prior to the note, the jury had suggested that they could not come to an agreement. Subsequent to the note sent by the judge, the jury found the Company was negligent and 65% at fault for the $2.9 million in actual damages to Christie’s estate. The Company appealed this decision.

The Court affirmed all of the trial court’s rulings finding that:(1) the admission of the Company’s prior contract was not an err by the trial court but within its discretion; (2) the trial court did not err in allowing multiple witnesses to testify about previous incidents at the same intersection with the Company as this is within the trial court’s discretion; (3) the Court found the third issue on appeal to be abandoned; (4) the Allen charge provided by the judge to the jury was not coercive  and (5) the issue of Johnson’s statement at trial was not preserved for appeal. 

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