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24923 - Lester v. S.C. Workers' Compensation Commission

Shearouse Adv. Sh. No. 12
S.E. 2d



THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA

In The Supreme Court



Ric Lester d/b/a Fair

Play Video, Petitioner,

v.

South Carolina Workers'

Compensation

Commission, Respondent.



ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF

APPEALS



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

respondent.





BURNETT, A.J.: We granted a writ of certiorari to review

the decision of Lester v. South Carolina Workers' Compensation

p.8


LESTER v. S. C. WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMM.





Commission, 328 S.C. 535, 493 S.E.2d 103 (Ct. App. 1997). We affirm in

part and reverse in part.





FACTS





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.





ISSUE



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?





DISCUSSION



Section 42-1-360(2) provides as follows:



This Title shall not apply to:


1 S.C. Code Ann. § 42-1-10 to § 42-19-50 (1985 and Supp. 1997).

p.9


LESTER v. S. C. WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMM.





(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.



(emphasis added).



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,

supra.





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


2 See 4 A. Larson, Workers' Compensation Law, § 52.00

(1991)(purpose of minimum number of employees exemption is to avoid

administrative inconvenience to very small employers).

p.10


LESTER v. S. C. WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMM.





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.


3 The Court of Appeals adopted the language found in Kansas Stat.

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

employees".).

p.12


MOORE, A.J.: I respectfully dissent. In my opinion, the minimum

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.

p.12