THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
Ric Lester d/b/a Fair
Play Video, Petitioner,
South Carolina Workers'
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF
Appeal From Charleston County
Daniel E. Martin, Sr., Circuit Court Judge
Opinion No. 24923
Heard January 6, 1999 - Filed March 22, 1999
AFFIRMED IN PART; REVERSED IN PART.
Donald B. Clark and Alexander B. Cash, of Rosen, Goodstein &
Hagood, LLC, of Charleston, for petitioner.
Janet Godfrey Wilson, of South Carolina Workers'
Compensation Commission, of Columbia, for
BURNETT, A.J.: We granted a writ of certiorari to review
the decision of Lester v. South Carolina Workers' Compensation
Commission, 328 S.C. 535, 493 S.E.2d 103 (Ct. App. 1997). We affirm in
part and reverse in part.
Petitioner Ric Lester d/b/a Fair Play Video (Lester) opened a
video casino in November 1992. He had no payroll in 1992. In January
1993, Lester began hiring a series of temporary and "rollover" employees.
In May 1993, an employee was shot during a robbery of the video casino.
In May 1994, Lester acquired workers' compensation insurance coverage
for his employees.
Lester was directed to appear before Respondent South
Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission (the Commission) to show
cause why he should not be found in violation of the South Carolina
Workers' Compensation Act (the Act)1 for failure to maintain workers'
compensation insurance coverage for his employees from February 1993
until May 26, 1994. Lester argued, pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 42-1
360(2)(1985), he was exempt from the requirements of the Act because his
payroll was less than $3,000 during 1992.
The single commissioner concluded Lester was not exempt
under § 42-1-360(2). The Appellate Panel, circuit court, and Court of
Appeals affirmed. Lester, supra.
Did the Court of Appeals err by construing the minimum
payroll exemption provision of § 42-1-360(2) as requiring an
employer 1) to have a positive payroll during the previous
calendar year and 2) to expect a similarly low payroll during
the current calendar year?
Section 42-1-360(2) provides as follows:
This Title shall not apply to:
(2) Any person who has regularly employed in service less than
four employees in the same business within the State or who
had a total annual payroll during the previous calendar year of
less than three thousand dollars regardless of the number of
persons employed during that period.
The Court of Appeals interpreted the minimum payroll
provision of § 42-1-360(2) as exempting employers who have an annual
payroll of less than $3,000 (but at least some payroll) and who expect to
have a similarly low payroll during the current year. Since Lester did not
meet the requirements of the minimum payroll exemption because he had
no payroll during 1992, the Court of Appeals concluded he was not exempt
from providing his employees with workers' compensation in 1993. Lester,
Lester agrees the Court of Appeals correctly held the purpose
of the minimum payroll provision is "to avoid administrative inconvenience
to very small employers."2 Given this purpose, Lester asserts it is unlikely
the General Assembly intended to exempt small employers, but not to
exempt even smaller employers who have no payroll.
The cardinal rule of statutory construction is for the Court to
ascertain and effectuate the intent of the legislature. Mid-State Auto
Auction of Lexington, Inc. v. Altman, 324 S.C. 65, 476 S.E.2d 690 (1996).
If a statute's language is plain and unambiguous, and conveys a clear and
definite meaning, there is no occasion for employing rules of statutory
interpretation and the Court has no right to look for or impose another
meaning. Miller v. Doe, 312 S.C. 444, 441 S.E.2d 319 (1994). Where a
statute is ambiguous, however, the Court must construe the terms of the
statute. Workers' compensation statutes are to be construed in favor of
coverage; any exception to workers' compensation coverage must be
narrowly construed. Peay v. U.S. Silica Co., 313 S.C. 91, 437 S.E.2d 64
(1993). Any reasonable doubts as to construction of the Act should be
resolved in favor of coverage. Maulding v. Dyna-Color/Jack Rabbit, 308
(1991)(purpose of minimum number of employees exemption is to avoid
administrative inconvenience to very small employers).
S.C. 18, 416 S.E.2d 639 (1992).
The minimum payroll exemption provision of § 42-1-360(2) is
ambiguous. It is unclear whether employers who have no payroll in the
previous calendar year meet the terms of the minimum payroll exemption.
Since we must resolve any reasonable doubt as to construction
of the Act in favor of workers' compensation coverage, id., we conclude
employers who have no payroll in the previous calendar year do not meet
the terms of the minimum payroll exemption provision of § 42-1-360(2).
Accordingly, the Court of Appeals properly held Lester, who had no payroll
in 1992., was not exempt from the Act in 1993.
We disagree, however, with the Court of Appeals' conclusion
that, in order to be exempt under the minimum payroll provision, the
employer must also reasonably expect a similarly low payroll during the
current calendar year. While the requirement is logical, no language in §
42-1-360(2) places such a requirement on the employer claiming exemption
from the Act.3 It was error for the Court of Appeals to add this
forecasting requirement to the statute. Estate of Guide v. Spooner, 318
S.C. 335, 457 S.E.2d 623 (Ct. App. 1995)(if legislature had intended
certain result in the statute it would have said so).
The decision of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED IN PART
AND REVERSED IN PART.
FINNEY, C.J., TOAL and WALLER, JJ., concur. MOORE,
A.J., dissenting in separate opinion.
Ann. § 44-505(a)(2)(1998)("[T]he workers compensation act shall apply to
all employments . . . except . . . (2) any employment . . . wherein the
employer had a total gross annual payroll for the preceding calendar year
of not more than $20,000 for all employees and wherein the employer
reasonably estimates that such employer will not have a total gross annual
payroll for the current calendar year of more than $20,000 for all
payroll exemption provision of S.C. Code § 42-1-360(2) is not ambiguous. It
is the majority opinion which creates an ambiguity where none exists.
If a statute's language is plain and unambiguous, and conveys a clear
and definite meaning, there is no occasion for employing any rules of
statutory interpretation and the Court has no right to look for or impose
another meaning. Paschal v. State of South Carolina Election Comm'n, 317
S.C. 4342 454 S.E.2d 890 (1995). We need not "divine" intent when statutory
language is clear and unambiguous, but instead need simply apply the
statute's literal language. Gaster v. Evatt, 326 S.C. 33, 483 S.E.2d 197, 198
(1997). Where the terms of the statute are clear, the Court must apply those
terms according to their literal meaning. This Court cannot construe a
statute without regard to its plain and ordinary meaning, and may not resort
to subtle or forced construction in an attempt to limit or expand a statute's
scope. Paschal, supra. Furthermore, it would be improvident to judicially
engraft extra requirements to legislation which is clear on its face. Berkebile
v. Outen, 311 S.C. 502 426 S.E.2d 760 (1993).
An employer without a payroll should not be prevented from claiming
this exemption simply because he has no payroll rather than any amount
less than $3,000. Pursuant to the majority's opinion, a payroll of $1.00 the
previous year would allow an employer to claim the exemption. Reading into
the statute a requirement that there must have been some payroll the
previous year is simply a forced construction of the statute and judicially
engrafts extra requirements to this statute which is clear on its face.
Accordingly, I would reverse the Court of Appeals on this issue.