South Carolina Supreme Court opinions

125px-SCSupreme_CourtSealIn February, the South Carolina Supreme Court published eight opinions:

In Lightner v. Hampton Hall Club, Inc., Lightner (Respondent) brought this action against Hampton Hall Club, the State of South Carolina, and the South Carolina Department of Revenue (“SCDOR”), Beaufort County and John Doe (collectively “Defendants”), alleging Defendants wrongfully collected and retained admissions taxes. Respondent moved for class certification and the State and SCDOR (“Petitioners”) filed a motion to dismiss, or, to dismiss the State as a party and to stay discovery. Petitioners asserted that Respondent is required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the S.C. Revenue Procedures Act (“Act”) and is prohibited from proceeding as a class action against the SCDOR.

The circuit court determined the Act is inapplicable to this action because the General Assembly intended to limit the Act’s application to disputes with the SCDOR concerning property taxis, which both parties conceded were not at issue. Thus, Respondent was not required to exhaust that administrative remedies under the Act in order to proceed individually against all Defendants. The court granted Petitioners motion to dismiss the class action allegations, finding the Act prohibited Respondent from bringing a class action lawsuit against Petitioners.

This Court reviewed three issues: 1.) whether the Act is limited to disputes with the SCDOR concerning property taxes, 2.) whether Respondent is required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the Act; and 3) whether Respondent is prohibited from proceeding as a class action.

On the first issue, the Court reviewed the Act as a whole and the legislative history and concluded that the circuit court erred in determining the Act is limited to property tax disputes with the SCDOR.

On the second issue, the Court reversed the circuit court’s finding that the Respondent was not required to exhaust administrative remedies under the Act. The Court reviewed the Act and found that since this action does not challenge the constitutionality of a statute, but rather the wrongful collection of taxes, Respondent is limited to the administrative remedies available under the Act. Accordingly, the circuit court’s decision on this issue was reversed and the action was remanded for the circuit court to dismiss without prejudice.

The Court affirmed the circuit court’s finding on the third issue finding that the plain language statute, SC Code Ann Sec. 12-60-80(C), prohibits a claim for a tax refund from being brought as a class action in any court of law in this state. Accordingly, the Respondent is prohibited from proceeding as a class action for the refund of the state admissions taxes.

Accordingly, the Court held that the circuit court erred in finding the Act’s application is limited to disputes with the SCDOR concerning property taxes. Because the Act is application to this case, Respondent is required to follow the administrative remedies under the Act and is prohibited from proceeding as a class action against Petitioners.

Justice Few concurred in a separate opinion.

In Stone v. State, the Court affirms the PCR court’s denial of post-conviction relief (PCR) Petitioner’s PCR was based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court found that counsel’s performance did not meet an objective standard of reasonableness under Strickland, but that each of those failures, Petitioner could not prove a reasonable probability that the outcome would have been different. This, Petitioner did not meet his burden under Strickland.

Acting Justice Pleicones dissented in a separate opinion.

In Hanold v. Watson’s Orchard, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals finding, but clarified the distinction between “developed” and “improved” land.

In the Matter of Frederick Pfeffier, the Court disbarred a lawyer in this disciplinary opinion.

In the Matter of Cecil Nolan, the Court reprimands an attorney in this disciplinary opinion.

In the Matter of Jeffery Allen Chapman, the Court affirms Chapman’s commitment as a sexually violent predator (SVP) on issue preservation grounds.

In State v. Thompson, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ opinion.

Rogers Townsend & Thomas, PC v. Peck, the Court accepted this declaratory judgment action to determine whether Community Management Group, LLC; its president, Stephen Peck; and its employee, Tom Moore engaged in the unauthorized practice of law while managing homeowners’ associations. The Court found that the LLC did engage in the unauthorized practice of law.

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