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Week 9, 2021

Advance Sheet No. 9: Mar. 17, 2021

S.C. Supreme Court Published Decisions

In re Norton, Op. No. 28014 (per curiam)

Reviewing an Agreement for Discipline by Consent (Agreement), pursuant to Rule 21 of the Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement entered into by Respondent and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC), the S.C. Supreme Court suspended Respondent from the practice of law in South Carolina for one year.

Respondent’s suspension stemmed from representation of seven different clients. Various charges were filed against Respondent for his misconduct in the practice of law. And the misconduct occurred from 1994 to 2015.

Respondent and the ODC entered into the Agreement, in which Respondent admitted misconduct, consented to the imposition of any sanction contained in Rule 7(b) of the Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement, and agreed to pay the costs incurred by the ODC and the Commission on Lawyer Conduct in investigating and prosecuting the charges of misconduct. The court accepted the Agreement and suspended the Respondent form the practice of law in the state of South Carolina for one year. 

Ralph v. McLaughlin, Op. No. 28015 (per curiam)

The Supreme Court of South Carolina held that, for the purposes of an appeal from a trial court’s verdict, a party is not “aggrieved” in the legal sense, by a trial court’s denial of a motion for a directed verdict. The court further held that, where the issue of damages is fully vetted with no limitation on the presentation of damages evidence, a jury’s determination of damages is not a ground for setting aside the trial court’s denial of motions for a new trial. Finally, the court held that, where there is no evidence to suggest that a party acted in a malicious manner to invade another party’s rights, as a matter of law, the party is not entitled to punitive damages.

The action involved a dispute stemming from the removal of a drainage pipe running across neighboring properties. Respondents brought this case when Petitioners removed a drainage pipe running across their back yard, which resulted in the increased occurrence of flooding of Respondents property. The trial court awarded Respondents $1,000 in “nominal” damages, yet despite winning, Respondents appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial on damages alone. Finding the Court of Appeals erred in its grounds for setting aside the trial court’s decision, the Supreme Court reversed their decision and reinstated the trial court’s judgment and the jury’s $1000 verdict, thereby ending the case. 

Hazel ex. rel. v. Blitz U.S.A., Inc., Op. No. 28016

The Supreme Court of South Carolina concluded that, where a third-party seller does not participate in the bankruptcy proceedings and made no contribution to the bankruptcy estate of a manufacturer in a products liability case, claims are not prohibited against the third-party seller. The court further held that a seller has a duty of reasonable care to its customers and, under this duty, if a retail seller has knowledge a product is dangerous, the sale of the product could be actionable under a theory of the seller’s negligence, if a jury finds the seller failed to exercise reasonable care. A claim based on a retail seller’s negligence is a separate claim from any claim based on negligence by the manufacturer. 

Justice Kittredge dissented from the court’s opinion and would have found that the Bankruptcy Plan should have been construed to include the Appellant in it’s “Protected Party” designation. Thus, Justice Kittredge would have reversed the Court of Appeals decision and enjoined the suits against the Appellant pursuant to the order and injunction entered in the bankruptcy proceedings of the Respondent. 

Ultimately, the court affirmed the circuit court’s order denying the Appellant’s motion to enjoin the proceedings and affirmed the Court of Appeals. The court remanded the case back to the circuit court for discovery and trial. 

South Carolina Court of Appeals’ Published Opinions

In re Ridley, Op. No. 5810 (Mar. 17, 2021)

The Court of Appeals held that where a trial court properly dispensed its gatekeeping duties and qualified an expert witness, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the expert’s testimony.  Where the expert testified as to their method in diagnosing the Appellant, which included standard practices within the industry such as conducting clinical interviews; thoroughly reviewing criminal, evaluation, and treatment records; and consulting with the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders, the expert met the threshold of reliability for admissible evidence.

The issue arose when Appellant made a motion in limine to exclude expert testimony regarding his medical diagnosis, arguing the diagnosis was not scientifically reliable and was, therefore, insufficient to qualify as a predicate diagnosis under the Sexually Violent Predator Act. The trial court denied Appellant’s motion. The Court of Appeals disagreed with Appellant’s argument and held that the trial court did not err in denying Appellant’s motion in limine and admitting the expert’s testimony. 

Robbie Holland