Opinions from the South Carolina Court of Appeals

Court of AppealsIn July, the Court of Appeals published nine opinions:

In County of Charleston v. SCDOT, the County appealed the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment to the Department. The County argues the court erred in finding (1) the Department is exempt from complying with the Charleston County Zoning and Land Development Regulations Ordinance (the ZLDR), and (2) the ZLDR is an unconstitutional tax on the Department’s maintenance of the state highway system.

The ZLDR was adopted by Charleston County Council to regulate land use in the unincorporated areas of the County. Part of the ZLDR prohibits the removal of trees prior to the issuance of a zoning permit. After receiving notice of a ZLRD violation from the County, the Department refused to comply and asserted that the County had no legal authority to order the Department to comply. In response the County filed a declaratory judgment action in circuit court; the court granted summary judgment to the Department. This appeal followed.

The Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court, holding that the Department is exempt from complying with the Charleston County Zoning and Land Development Regulations Ordinance (the ZLDR) because the ZLDR attempts to limit the Department’s exclusive authority to construct and maintain a uniform highway system. The Court noted that allowing municipalities to control state highway design and maintenance could lead to varied safety standards across the state and jeopardize the safety of the traveling public.

State v. Dobbins was a criminal appeal, in which, Appellant appealed his convictions for manufacturing methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, unlawful disposal of methamphetamine waste, possession of a schedule-two controlled substance, and possession of a schedule-four controlled substance. Appellant asserted the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress because law enforcement officers violated the Fourth Amendment by entering his backyard and home without a warrant.

The Court found that the circuit court did not err in denying Appellant’s motion to suppress evidence because the state presented sufficient evidence of exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless entry of Appellant’s camper. In addition, the Court affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress evidence because  the plain view doctrine presented an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement and the two elements of the plain view exception were met in the instant case. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the circuit court’s denial of Appellant’s motion to suppress the evidence.

In Kan Enterprises v. SCDOR, Kan Enterprises appealed the administrative law court’s (ALC) denial of its application to renew an off-premises beer and wine permit. Kan argues the ALC erred in (1) misapplying the law, relying upon unsubstantiated opinion testimony, and failing to support its decision with the evidence; (2) depriving it of a vested interest; and (3) violating its constitutional rights.

The Court found that substantial evidence from the testimony of law enforcement and local community members supports the ALC’s finding that A1 was no longer a suitable location for the off-premises sale of beer and wine. In addition, the Court rejected Appellant’s argument that it had any vested interest in the off-premises beer and wine permit issued to it by the SCDOR. Licenses and permits to sell alcohol are property of the SCDOR and are to be enjoyed only so long as the restrictions and conditions governing their continuance are complied with. Accordingly, the Court affirm’s the ALC;s decision to deny Kan’s application to renew the off-premises beer and wine permit.

In State v. Westmoreland, Westmoreland appeals his convictions for murder and hit and run involving a death. He argued the trial court erred by allowing the coroner to testify the cause of the victim’s death was a homicide and instructing the jury that voluntary intoxication was not a defense.

The Court found that the trial court erred by admitting the coroner’s testimony because it was improper opinion testimony from a lay witness in violation of Rule 701(a) of the South Carolina Rules of Evidence. The Court affirmed Appellant’s conviction for hit and run because the trial court’s error was harmless as to that conviction.  But, the Court reversed Appellant’s murder conviction because the error was not harmless and could have contributed to the verdict.

In State v. Pradubsir, Appellant appealed his convictions from trafficking in crack cocaine,  possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine within proximity of a school, and unlawful carrying of a pistol. Pradubsri argued the trial court erred when it (1) refused to reveal an informant’s identity, (2) found reasonable suspicion existed to justify his traffic stop, (3) gave a reversible jury instruction on reasonable doubt, (4) refused to grant a directed verdict on the proximity charge, and (5) erroneously allowed testimony from a former co-defendant that Pradubsri manufactured crack cocaine in his residence and had participated in a drug sale immediately before the traffic stop.

The Court held, inter alia, that: (1) the circuit court acted within its discretion in refusing to reveal the informant’s identity as an informant’s identity need not be disclosed where he possesses only a peripheral knowledge of the crime or is a mere “tipster” who supplies a lead to law enforcement; and (2) that there was no reversible error in the jury instruction on reasonable doubt. The court’s review of the record and the entire charge revealed no prejudice to warrant reversal. Accordingly, the Court affirmed Appellant’s conviction.

Huck v. Avtex was an appeal arising from a premises liability lawsuit, in which, Avtex argued the trial court erred in denying its motion to disclose settlement, motion for set-off, and motions to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e), SCRCP

The Court found the trial court erred in denying Avtex’s motion to disclose settlement. Once the parties reach a settlement, documents prepared in conjunction with the settlement and release are not for the purpose of, or in the course of, mediation. Rather, they are documents prepared in connection with the litigation and to bring the litigation to a close. Any confidential matters the parties do not want disclosed can be protected through court proceedings including confidentiality provisions. The court agreed that Avtex is entitled to a setoff pursuant to section 15-38-50 of the South Carolina Code (2005). It was the trial court’s function to determine the amount of the setoff. To determine if the nonsettling tortfeasor is entitled to a setoff as a preliminary matter, the documents must be reviewed to determine if their terms shield the settling tortfeasor from the requirements of S. C. Code Section 15-38-50(2). Therefore, the trial court must review the documents to determine the amount of the settlement and its terms. Because the trial court did not conduct such a review, the court remanded the case for the trial court to look at the settlement agreement and determine if Avtex is entitled to a setoff.  Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order and remanded the case.

State v. Young, Young appealed his conviction of murder, kidnapping, burglary, and attempted armed robbery, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in admitting a letter written by his codefendant Trenton Barnes at their joint trial under the Declaration Against Interest Exception to the Hearsay Rule, SCRE 804(b)(3).

The Court affirmed Appellant’s convictions and sentences. Appellant argued that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting a letter written by his codefendant Trenton Barnes at their joint trial under the Declaration Against Interest Exception to the Hearsay Rule, SCRE 804(b)(3). The Court found that the trial court erred in admitting Barnes’ letter without conducting the careful examination required by Rule 804(b)(3). The portions of the letter that did not plainly inculpate Barnes were rank hearsay inadmissible against Appellant. The error was not cured by the trial court’s instruction to disregard the letter because it was an out-of-court statement that came in as evidence against the accused without the benefit of cross-examination, and the limiting instruction could not take it out. The Court concluded, however, that the error in admitting the letter and any error in failing to grant a mistrial was harmless.  Because the error, if any, in his trial was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the Court affirmed the convictions. 

In State v. Oates, Appellant sought review of his convictions for voluntary manslaughter and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Appellant also challenged the denial of his motion for immunity from prosecution pursuant to the Protection of Persons and Property Act. Appellant argues the circuit court erred in denying his motion for immunity because (1) there was evidence that the victim was attempting to forcibly remove Appellant from his occupied vehicle and (2) the circuit court’s finding that the conflict had resolved at the time of the shooting was not supported by the evidence. Appellant also challenged the circuit court’s refusal to direct a verdict of acquittal on the ground that the State failed to disprove self-defense. Finally, Appellant assigned error to the circuit court’s granting of the State’s request to give a voluntary manslaughter instruction to the jury on the ground that there was no evidence of sudden heat of passion.

The Court affirmed the denial of Appellant’s motion for immunity from prosecution pursuant to the Protection of Persons and Property act. Additionally, the Court affirmed Appellant’s convictions for voluntary manslaughter and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

In State v. Perry, Perry appealed his convictions for two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) and two counts of second-degree CSC. He argued the trial court erred in (1) finding his former stepdaughter’s testimony was admissible as evidence of a common scheme or plan and (2) allowing a doctor to improperly comment on the veracity of his daughter’s testimony.  The Court affirmed Perry’s convictions finding no error in the trial court’s decisions.

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