THE STATE OF
In The Supreme Court
Marion R. McMillan, M.D. and
Blue Ridge Medical Specialties, P.A., Respondents/Appellants,
Memorial Hospital, Inc., Appellant/Respondent,
Anesthesiology Consultants of the Upstate, P.A., Respondent/Appellant.
J. C. Buddy Nicholson, Jr., Circuit Court Judge
Opinion No. 26103
Heard May 17, 2005 - Filed January 30, 2006
V. Clark Price, Carroll H. Roe, Jr., and Dana M. Lahey, all of Roe, Cassidy, Coates & Price, of
Greenville, for Appellant/Respondent Oconee Memorial Hospital, Inc.
D. Randle Moody, of Roe, Cassidy, Coates & Price, of
Greenville, for Respondent/Appellant Anesthesiology Consultants of the Upstate, P.A.
Raymond E. Lark, Jr., of Austin, Lewis & Rogers, of
Columbia, for Respondent/Appellant Marion R. McMillan, M.D. and Blue Ridge Medical Specialties, P.A.
Stuart M. Andrews, Jr. and Merritt G. Abney, both of Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, of Columbia, for Amicus Curiae South Carolina Hospital Association.
CHIEF JUSTICE TOAL: This case arose out of the events surrounding
Factual / Procedural Background
Oconee is a private eleemosynary (charitable) hospital. Dr. McMillan has been a member of the medical staff at
For several years prior to this litigation, McMillan performed anesthesiology services at
Prior to the board at Oconee awarding an exclusive contract, several communications about the new exclusive contract took place between board members and officers at
As a result of the actions of
The jury returned a verdict in favor of McMillan for $1,275,000 against
Both parties appealed. As a result, the following issues are before the Court for review:
I. Did the trial court err in denying Oconee’s motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict as to the civil conspiracy claims? II. Did the trial court err in reducing the amount of the judgment? III. Are the charitable immunity liability limits inapplicable to a claim for civil conspiracy, and as a result, is Oconee not entitled to the statutory protection therein? IV. Do the statutory caps applicable to charitable organizations violate equal protection? V. Did the trial court err in granting McMillan injunctive relief?
Law / Analysis
I. Post Trial Motions
In ruling on motions for directed verdict and JNOV, the trial court is required to view the evidence and the inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motions. Strange v.
An action for civil conspiracy is an action at law, and the trial court’s findings will be upheld on appeal unless they are without evidentiary support. Gynecology Clinic, Inc. v. Cloer, 334 S.C. 555, 556, 514 S.E.2d 592, 592-93 (1999). A civil conspiracy is a combination of two or more persons joining for the purpose of injuring and causing special damage to the plaintiff. Lawson v. S.C. Dept. of Corrections, 340 S.C. 346, 352, 532 S.E.2d 289, 261 (2000). Civil conspiracy involves acts that are by their very nature covert and clandestine and usually not susceptible of proof by direct evidence. Robertson v. First Union Nat’l Bank, 350 S.C. 339, 349, 565 S.E.2d 309, 314 (Ct. App. 2002). However, a civil conspiracy cannot exist when the alleged acts arise in the context of a principal-agent relationship because by virtue of the relationship such acts do not involve separate entities. Perk v. Vector Resources Group, LTD, 485 S.E.2d 140, 144 (
While this Court has not addressed the issue directly, this Court has held that agents for a corporation acting in the scope of their duties cannot conspire with the corporation absent the guilty knowledge of a third party. Goble v. Am. Ry. Express Co., et. al., 124 S.C. 19, __, 115 S.E. 900, __ (1923). In support of our Court’s prior opinion, we believe that it is well settled that a corporation cannot conspire with itself. See 16 Am. Jur. 2d Conspiracy §56 (2005) (stating that a corporation cannot be a party to a conspiracy consisting of the corporation and the persons engaged in the management, direction, and control of the corporate affairs, where the individuals are acting only for the corporation and not for any personal purpose of their own).
In the present case, the jury returned a verdict against
Therefore, we reverse the denial of the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
II. Reduction of the Judgment
McMillan argues that the trial court erred in reducing the judgment. Because we find that no conspiracy took place and a judgment against
III. Applicability of Charitable Immunity Provisions
McMillan argues that the charitable immunity provisions are inapplicable to a claim for civil conspiracy, and as a result, damages may not be capped. Because we hold that no civil conspiracy took place, the issue of the applicability of the charitable immunity statute is moot.
IV. Constitutionality of Charitable Immunity Provisions
McMillan argues that the statutory caps for judgments against charitable organizations violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution. As a result of our holding that no civil conspiracy existed, we do not address this issue.
V. Injunctive relief
Based on the above reasoning, we reverse the trial court. McMillan did not properly allege an action for civil conspiracy. As a result, the trial court erred in denying
MOORE, WALLER, BURNETT, and PLEICONES, J.J., concur.