Opinions from the South Carolina Supreme Court

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

In State v. Harry, the Court affirmed the Petitioner’s murder conviction under the theory that the “hand of one is the hand of all” for his role in a failed attempt to recover a television. The Court held that the trial court properly denied Petitioner’s motion for a directed verdict because the State presented sufficient evidence that Petitioner was engaged in a scheme to commit a legal act, the result of which was Victim’s shooting death.

In Jowers v. SCDHEC, Plaintiffs sued the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), challenging the constitutionality of the Surface Water Withdrawal Act. S.C. Code Ann. §§ 49-4-10 to -180 (2008 & Supp.2015). Plaintiffs challenged the Act on three grounds: (1) the Act was an improper taking of riparian property rights, (2) the Act violated the public trust doctrine, and (3) the Act deprived Plaintiffs of due process. The trial court granted DHEC’s motion for summary judgment and plaintiffs appealed.  The Court affirmed the circuit court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of Respondent. The Court held that the circuit court correctly determined there is no justiciable controversy because Appellants do not have standing and have not made any claim that is ripe for judicial determination.

J. Hearn concurred with the Court’s analysis but dissented on the issue of the public trust doctrine in a separate opinion.

In Mangal v. State, in this appeal arising from Respondent’s convictions of criminal sexual conduct with a minor, lewd act upon a child and incest, the Court reversed the order of the court of appeals finding that the PCR court erred in refusing to address the improper bolstering issue and reinstated the PCR court’s order denying PCR. The Court found that the PCR court acted within its discretion in refusing to address the improper bolstering issue. Respondent did not raise the issue in his PCR application or at the PCR hearing.

In Boone v. Quicken Loans, the Court considers this case, brought in the Court’s original jurisdiction, dealing with the unauthorized practice of law. The Court accepted this declaratory judgment matter in its original jurisdiction to determine if Quicken Loans and Title Source have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). The Court had referred this matter to a Special Referee to take evidence and issue a report containing proposed findings of fact and recommendations to the Court regarding the UPL issue, as well as on issues of class certification and class relief.

The Special Referee issued a report proposing various factual findings and recommending the Court declare that Quicken Loan and Title Source engaged in UPL. The Court respectfully rejected the Special Referee’s conclusion that Quicken Loan and Title Source committed UPL. The Court found the record in this case shows licensed South Carolina attorneys were involved at every critical step of the refinancing transactions, as required by its precedents. The Court also found that requiring more attorney involvement would not effectively further the goal of protecting the public from the dangers of UPL. Because the Court rejected the finding of UPL, the parties’ remaining exceptions were not addressed.

In Harleysville Group Ins. v. Heritage Communities, Inc., these cases present cross-appeals from declaratory judgment actions to determine coverage under Commercial General Liability (CGL) insurance policies issued by Harleysville Group Insurance (Harleysville).

These cases arise from separate actions, but the S.C. Supreme Court addressed them in a single opinion as they involve virtually identical issues regarding insurance coverage for damages stemming from the defective construction of two condominium complexes in Myrtle Beach: Magnolia North Horizontal Property Regime (Magnolia North) and Riverwalk at Arrowhead Country Club Horizontal Property Regime (Riverwalk).

The Special Referee found coverage under the policies was triggered and calculated Harleysville’s pro rata portion of the progressive damages based on its time on the risk. The Court affirmed the findings of the Special Referee in the Magnolia North matter and affirmed as modified in the Riverwalk matter. The Court found that the Special Referee correctly found Harleysville failed to reserve the right to contest coverage of actual damages and that punitive damages are covered under the CGL policies. The Court also found that there is evidence in the record to support the Special Referee’s factual findings as to the progressive damages periods and that the Special Referee did not abuse its discretion in determining Harleysville time on the risk at Magnolia North. In addition, the Court found that loss-of-use actual damages at Riverwalk are subject to time-on-the-risk allocation but that punitive damages at both developments are not. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in the Magnolia North matter and affirms as slightly modified in the Riverwalk matter.

J. Pleicones dissented in a separate opinion.

In Doe v. State, The Court granted Jane Doe’s petition for original jurisdiction to consider whether the definition of “household member” in S.C. Code Ann. § 16-25-10(3) (Supp. 2015) of the Domestic Violence Reform Act and S.C. Code Ann. § 20-4-20(b) (2014) of the Protection from Domestic Abuse Act are unconstitutional under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court found  the definition violates the Equal Protection Clause, stricken the offending subsections from both acts

C.J. Beatty concurred in part and dissented in part in a separate opinion.

J. Few concured in part and dissented in part in a separate opinion.

In Daufuskie Island v. Regulatory Staff, in this appeal, the Court reviewed an order of the South Carolina Public Service Commission (“Commission”) granting only 39 percent of the additional revenue requested in its application.

The Court held that the Commission erred in approving and adopting the Settlement Agreement as the agreement was not a true settlement because all parties did not embrace it. Therefore, Appellant is entitled to a new hearing in which the parties may present any additional evidence. In addition, in order to provide guidance to the Commission on remand, the Court addressed the three allegations of error raised by Appellant. Accordingly, the Court reversed the order of the Public Service Commission with respect to Appellant’s application for rate increases, and remanded the case..

In Patton v. Miller, the question posed in this appeal is whether a minor may bring an action for her own medical expenses. The answer depends on whether she is the “real party in interest,” and any dispute over the answer is governed by Rule 17(a) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure.

This appeal arises from a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by the injured minor’s mother, Angela Patton, only in her capacity as the minor’s “next friend.” The circuit court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the defendants based upon the finding that “the minor plaintiff may not maintain a cause of action for [her medical] expenses in her own right.” The court of appeals affirmed the order of the circuit court. The question posed in this appeal is whether a minor may bring an action for her own medical expenses. The Court determined that the answer depends on whether she is the “real party in interest,” and any dispute over the answer is governed by Rule 17(a) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. Pursuant to Rule 17(c), “Whenever a minor…has a representative,…the representative may sue…on behalf of the minor….” Based on the foregoing, the Court reversed the circuit court’s award of summary judgment to Dr. Miller and Rock Hill Obstetrical and remanded to the circuit court for the completion of discovery and trial. The Court affirmed the partial summary judgment to Amisub because Patton effectively conceded that she may not pursue a claim for pre-majority medical expenses against Amisub.

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