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Week 1, 2021

Advance Sheet No. 1
,  Jan. 13, 2021

S.C. Court of Appeals Published Decisions

Ballard v. Newberry Cnty., Op. No. 5787

Judge Hewitt: Jan. 13, 2021

In this appeal, the appellant (Ballard) sued to enforce the Public Records Act under the “public importance” exception to standing in case she was unable to enforce through the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) statute. The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s finding that a citizen does not have a private right of action under the Public Records Act and that the appellant was entitled half of her attorney’s fees; however, it reversed as to the holding that the county violated FOIA by failing to retain certain communications (emails and text messages). The Court of Appeals reasoned that the Public Records Act requires specific intent for enforcement and that the court should exercise restraint when interpreting statutes, refusing “to do indirectly what the General Assembly could have done directly.” 

State v. Johnson, Op. No. 5788

Judge Konduros: Jan. 13, 2021

Here, the appellant (Johnson) appealed his conviction of domestic violence on the basis that it was reversible error for the circuit court to admit evidence of conduct in other jurisdictions without also giving a jury instruction stating that the domestic violence charge had to be supported by evidence within the jurisdiction. In the circuit court, the defendant (Johnson) requested a limiting instruction along with the given jury charge. However, the circuit court ruled that it would “give a clear charge that to prove domestic violence in this it must come from evidence that happened in Marion County.” Johnson did not object to the final jury charge once the limiting instruction was excluded, which the State claimed should result in the loss of appeal because the issue was not preserved. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals held, “When ‘a party requests a jury charge and, after opportunity for discussion, the trial judge declines the charge, it is unnecessary, to preserve the point on appeal, to renew the request at conclusion of the court’s instructions.” The issue was objectively before the circuit court and was ruled upon on the record. The conviction for first-degree domestic violence was reversed and remanded based on this reversible error.

Irvin v. City of Folly Beach (Rabon), Op. No. 5789

Judge Williams: Jan. 13, 2021

This appeal followed from the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant (Rabon) on the plaintiff’s (Irvin) negligence claim related to the accident that led to the decedent’s death. The Court of Appeals found that the Circuit Court did not commit reversible error in granting summary judgment to the defendant because there was no genuine issue of material fact. In the circuit court, Rabon filed a motion for summary judgment, “arguing Irvin had failed to present sufficient evidence to establish a question of fact as to whether any alleged negligence of Rabon contributed to the Decedent’s injuries and death.” The Court of Appeals reviewed the evidence and all inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Provins v. Spirit Constr. Servs., Inc., Op. No. 5790

Judge Konduros: Jan. 13, 2021

In this appeal, the appellant (Plaintiff – Provins) appealed the decision of the appellate panel of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission, which denied her claim for death benefits after the Commission found that the decedent’s death was not causally related to the accident on the job. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s denial of death benefits. The Court of Appeals followed a standard of review allowing reversal or modification only if the claimant’s substantial rights have been prejudiced because of an error of law or is clearly erroneous based on the whole substantial evidence of the record. “Substantial evidence is not a mere scintilla of evidence nor evidence viewed from one side, but such evidence, when the whole record is considered, as would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion the [Appellate Panel] reached.” The court concluded that the record contained substantial evidence to support the panel’s decision and the public policy argument did not warrant reversal.

State v. Williams, Opinion No. 5791

Judge McDonald: Jan. 13, 2021

The court held that the defendant-appellant’s reversible error claim over the denial of a line of questioning was harmless. The defendant appellant (Williams) claimed that the circuit court’s error could not be harmless because the State presented no evidence connecting him to the murder, the witnesses lacked credibility, other witnesses were related to the victim, and there were many other possible perpetrators present at the scene of the shooting. The Court of Appeals disagreed, stating that the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause, U.S. Const. amend. VI,  afforded every defendant the opportunity to cross-examine any witness concerning bias. This right is only violated when a defendant is prohibited in “engaging in otherwise appropriate cross-examination” designed to show a prototypical form of bias . . . from which jurors . . . could draw inferences relating to the reliability of the witness.” Here, although the circuit court erred in limiting the defendant’s cross-examination of the witness. Still, the court justified that limited cross-examination because the witness whose testimony was limited was only one, of two, who positively identified the defendant as the perpetrator of the crime. Therefore, the defendant-appellant’s conviction was affirmed.  

Berry v. Spang, Opinion No. 5792

Chief Judge Lockemy: Jan. 13, 2021

This appeal concerned the appellants’ (Spang et al.) appeal of the circuit court’s denial of a motion to dismiss and compel arbitration on respondent’s (Berry) claims. Spang argued that the circuit court erred by (1) denying their motion to reconsider or amend Berry’s agreement to resolve his claims through mandatory arbitration when they provided supporting documentation to establish Berry’s agreement to resolve this claims through mandatory arbitration; and (2) denying their motions to dismiss and reconsider when public records and publicly available arbitration rules establish Berry was obligated to arbitrate his claims against appellants. The Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s denial of the appellants’ motion to compel arbitration because reversal required a demonstration that the parties agreed to arbitrate their disputes, independent of either party’s registration with FINRA (the arbitration code). Without such an agreement between the parties, the FINRA rule compelling arbitration does not constitute an independent basis which would compel Berry to arbitrate his claims. The court of appeals summarily affirmed the circuit court’s denial of defendant’s motion to compel arbitration.

Mike Moran