Opinions from the South Carolina Supreme Court

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Last week, the South Carolina Supreme Court published five opinions: State v. Gordon, Regions Bank v. Strawn, Brown v. Dick Smith Nissan, Chestnut v. AVX Corporation and State v. Anderson.

In State v. Gordon, the Court granted certiorari to review the court of appeals affirmation of the circuit court’s interpretation of SC Code Section 56-5-2953, Incident site and breath test site video recording. The appellate court found that the section required officers to record the head of the motorist when administering the HGN field sobriety test, and that Gordon (Respondent)’s head was not sufficiently visible. The statute, through its plain reading makes no mention of the motorist’s head.

This Court affirms the court of appeal’s conclusion that the statute requires the motorist’s head to be recorded in the video but found that the officer complied with the statute in recording Gordon’s HGN test. Gordon was stopped at a license and registration checkpoint by a SC Highway Patrol Officer. The officer administered several field sobriety tests recorded by the dashboard camera in the officer’s patrol car. The tests were administered at night, but the officer had Gordon stand in the light of his patrol car’s headlights and illuminated Gordon’s face by a flashlight. Gordon was arrested for driving under the influence in violation of S.C Code Section 56-5-2930.

This Court found that the statute at issue to be clear and unambiguous in mandating that the video recording “must include any field sobriety test administered” Here, the officer’s administration of the test and Gordon’s face are visible on the tape. Thus, the requirement that the head be visible on the video is satisfied. The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision and reinstated Gordon’s conviction.

Regions Bank v. Strawn, the Court granted a writ of certiorari to review the appellate court’s decision to affirm the trial court’s award of statutory damages for the bank’s failure to satisfy a mortgage. Regions brought a foreclosure action against the Borchers seeking to foreclose on the property they purchased from Cammie Strawn.  Cammie Strawn had acquired the home, by deed, from Richard Strawn, who had given a mortgage to Regions Bank to secure a line of credit. At closing, the Borchers’ attorney, James Belk , had an employee deliver a payoff check and a mortgage satisfaction transmittal letter to Regions Bank. However, Regions Bank did not satisfy the mortgage but instead provided Richard Strawn with new checks and a new line of credit. Later, Regions Bank attempted to collect Strawn’s debt by foreclosing on the Borcher’s home. The Borchers counterclaimed  against the foreclosure action seeking to recover damages pursuant to SC Code section 29-3-320 based on the bank’s failure to enter satisfaction of the mortgage within the three month time period required by section 29-3-310.

The Borchers’ won on their counterclaim at trial court and the appellate court. Regions Bank argued that the court of appeals erred and requested this Court’s consideration on two questions: 1.) whether open-end mortgages, per section 29-3-50, are an exception to section 29-3-310 in that only the granter may request satisfaction or cancellation of the mortgage; and 2.) whether the Borchers or any other mortgagor may assert a violation of sections 29-3-310 and 29-3-320 when their attorney had the authority to timely cancel or satisfy the mortgage pursuant to section 29-3-330.

This Court answered negatively to the first question holding that open-end mortgages are cancelled and satisfied in the same manner as other mortgages, section 29-3-310 controls the method to do so. The Court answered affirmatively to the second question finding that the law and the mortgage itself required Regions Bank to satisfy the mortgage as requested. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the court of appeals’ decision.

In Brown v. Dick Smith Nissans, the Court reversed the appellate court’s decision and reinstated the trial judge’s decision that the motor vehicle dealer violated the South Carolina Dealers Act.

Latoya Brown entered into a contract to purchase a Mazda 6 automobile from Dick Smith Nissan; the purchase was contingent on acquiring third-party financing. After multiple failed attempts to secure financing, Kent Guthrie, the car dealer representative, contacted Sovereign Bank again. During his negotiation, he misrepresented that Brown was a relative of a Dick Smith employee and that he [Guthrie] needed a favor for the deal. Sovereign Bank approved the financing as requested by Guthrie for a Nissan Altima. Sovereign Bank requested proof of income of $2800 per month. At the time Brown’s monthly income was $1800 per month and her car selection was a Mazda 6.  Brown was unable to resolve the financing issues and returned the vehicle. Later the car was repossessed and sold by Sovereign Bank with a deficiency against Brown. Brown filed a complaint alleging violations of the South Carolina Dealers Act, specifically 56-15-30(a). The trial judge found in favor of Brown and award damages, interests as well as attorney’s fees and costs. The court of appeals reversed the trial judge’s decision. This Court disagreed with the court of appeals reasoning that the inaccuracies on the financing application were “puffing” and did not amount to bad faith, fraud or a deceptive act. Further the Court rejects the argument that Dick Smith is absolved from culpability because it warned Brown that her vehicle would be reposed. The violations of the Dealers Act occurred in the methods it employed to procure financing for Brown and the fact that it failed to assist Brown in correcting its mistakes that caused the issues with the Mazda 6. This Court agrees with the trial judge that Dick Smith acted in bad faith when it made no effort to assist Brown in correcting the financing paperwork or transferring collateral on the loan. According, the court of appeals’ decision is reversed.

In Chestnut v. AVX Corporation, the Court affirms the circuit court’s dismissal of Appellant’s nuisance and strict liability claims relating to their real property located in proximity to a contaminated site but reversed the dismissal of their negligence claim.

In State v. Anderson, the Court upheld the constitutionality of S.C. Code Ann Section 17-23-175 which had been challenged on Confrontation Clause Grounds, but reversed appellant’s conviction based upon the qualification and testimony of a forensic interviewer. The Court also placed limits on the acceptable scope of a forensic interviewer’s testimony before a jury.

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