Opinions from the South Carolina Supreme Court

Authored by Cassandra Patterson, Reference & Outreach Services Librarian

125px-scsupreme_courtsealIn November, the South Carolina Supreme Court published nine opinions.

State v. Looper: Petitioner (Looper) was granted a pretrial motion to suppress evidence of a DUI charge by arguing that they were the fruits of an unconstitutionally prolonged traffic stop. The State appealed and the circuit court reversed and remanded. Petitioner appealed to the court of appeals and it found that the he was not aggrieved because he wasn’t convicted and sentenced. Petitioner filed an appeal challenging the court of appeals’ dismissal, arguing that the court of appeals erred by concluding that he was not aggrieved and not entitled to appeal the circuit court’s decision due to the fact that he was not convicted.

The Court held, inter alia, that absent the presence of an exception to the final judgment rule, appealability is determined by a final judgment and an aggrieved party (See also Rule 201, SCACR). In the criminal cases, a judgment is final when sentence is imposed. There was no final judgment since the Petitioner was not convicted and sentenced. Since no exception to the requirement of a final judgment is applicable in this case, Petitioner’s appeal is premature and must be dismissed.

The Court affirmed the circuit court’s finding and clarified its rules on appealability.

State v. Mitchell arises from a court of appeals’ holding that the circuit court order estreating a surety bond was proper and that remitting one-half of the bond forfeiture was not arbitrary or capricious. The circuit court decided the following: that the purpose of the bond was to ensure Mitchell’s (Defendant) appearance and good behavior while on bond, that Mitchell’s violations and his bondsperson’s (Jenkins) failure to fulfill obligations and take appropriate action were willful, and that the State incurred expenses from addressing the matter resulted in the issuance of a moratorium on the use of electronic monitoring in the circuit.

The Court held, inter alia, that in an estreatment proceeding, to determine whether and to what extent a bond forfeiture should be remitted, the circuit court may consider evidence of a bondsperson’s willful failure to fulfill their obligations as the bondsperson, in addition to the factors expressed in Polk. The Court concluded that the circuit court properly weighed the relevant factors pertinent to this case, such as the Mitchell’s willful daily violations of house arrest and the bondsperson’s failure to supervise and remedy Mitchell’s noncompliance.

The Court affirmed the court of appeals’ decision.

In Jacquelin S. Bennett v. T. Heyward Carter, Jr., the Court granted certiorari to review the court of appeals’ decision in Bennett v. Carter, reversing part of a circuit court order granting Petitioners summary judgment on an aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty cause of action.

The S.C. Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals that Respondents provided sufficient evidence that Petitioners knowingly participated in the Stevenson brothers’ breach. It modified the court of appeals in part and found that the language “in addition to taking no further action” could not be interpreted as Petitioners’ non-disclosure and knowing participation, which allowed Respondents to pursue their aiding and abetting claim under the theory that Petitioners should have disclosed the brothers’ withdrawals. Petitioners were prohibited by 26 U.S.C. § 7216 from disclosing the Stevenson brothers’ withdrawals to Respondents. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the power of attorney did not create a separate and independent obligation on Petitioners to disclose the withdrawals to the mother’s attorney-in-fact. Notification to the mother’s personal attorney was also sufficient. Lastly, the court found that the aiding and abetting claim survived the Mother’s death because there was no applicable exception of survivability of the claim under S.C. Code Ann. § 15-5-90.

The Court affirmed and modified the court of appeals’ opinion.

In Conits v. Conits, Spiro E. Conits petitioned the Court to review the court of appeals’ decision that an issue on the size and value of a farm (in a divorce action) was not preserved for appellate review. The Court granted the petition and dispensed with further briefing. It found that Spiro had the same issue on appeal that he had at trial in his Rule 59(e) motion, which the family court ruled on. Therefore, the issue is preserved. The Court reversed the decision and remanded the case to the court of appeals.

In Doe v. State, the Court refiled the opinion (originally filed on July 26, 2017 – summary found here). 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, inter alia, that the text of the statutory definition of “household member” didn’t overtly discriminate based on sexual orientation, and is facially valid. However, the Court found that the particular sections of the Acts are unconstitutional “as applied” because they discriminate between same-sex couples that lived or had lived together differently than all other couples without a rational reason to justify the disparate treatment. This violates the Equal Protection Clauses of the state and federal constitutions.

The Court declared sections 16-25-10(3) and 20-4-20(b) unconstitutional as applied to Doe, and ruled that family court may not use these statutory provisions to stop Doe or persons in similar same-sex relationships from pursuing an Order of Protection.

Justice Few concurred in part and dissented in part in a separate opinion.

In State v. Barrett, the S.C. Supreme Court dismissed a writ of certiorari improvidently granted to Gerald Barrett for review of a court of appeals’ decision (in State v. Barrett, 416 S.C. 124, 785 S.E.2d 387 (Ct. App. 2016).

In the Matter of Henry H. Taylor, In the Matter of Bennett Joseph Schiller, III and In the Matter of Ray A. Lord, the Court publicly reprimands named attorneys for misconduct.

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