THE STATE OF
In The Court of Appeals
Richard Temple, Respondent/Appellant,
Tec-Fab, Inc., and Andrew Lytle, Appellants/Respondents.
S. Jackson Kimball, III, Master-In-Equity
Opinion No. 4139
Submitted May 1, 2006 – Filed July 24, 2006
AFFIRMED IN PART and REVERSED IN PART
J. Cameron Halford, of
Fort Mill, for Appellants-Respondents.
William Thomas Moody, of
York, for Respondent-Appellant.
WILLIAMS, J.: Andrew Lytle and Tec-Fab, Inc., appeal a circuit court order awarding treble damages to Richard Temple for the withholding of wages in violation of the Payment of Wages Act. See S.C. Code Ann. §§ 41-10-10 to -110 (1986 & Supp. 2005). We reverse.
In December 2000, Lytle sold
In February 2003, Lytle terminated
Temple sued Lytle and Tec-Fab for withholding his wages in violation of the Payment of Wages Act. See S.C. Code Ann. §§ 41-10-10 to -110 (Supp. 2005). Lytle and Tec-Fab (collectively “Tec-Fab”) answered and counterclaimed. Tec-Fab claimed
After the trial, the circuit court awarded
Tec-Fab moved the circuit court for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a new trial. The court issued an amended order (1) reopening the trial to determine how much Temple kept from Atlantic Scrap, unless Temple consented to the $5,114.25 granted by the initial order; (2) holding the amount Tec-Fab owed Temple should be based on Temple’s gross wages of $27,500 rather than his net wages of $18,117.50; (3) interpreting section 41-10-80(C) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2005) to require an award of treble damages; and (4) awarding Temple attorney’s fees and costs of $7,069.50. Tec-Fab appeals the circuit court’s order awarding
SCOPE OF REVIEW
Statutory interpretation is a question of law. S.C. Uninsured Employer’s Fund v. House, 360 S.C. 468, 470, 602 S.E.2d 81, 82 (Ct. App. 2004). In an action at law, tried without a jury, the appellate court’s standard of review extends only to the correction of errors of law.
I. The Trebling of Damages
Tec-Fab argues the trial court erred in interpreting section 41-10-80(C) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2005) to require the trial court to treble damages when an employer violates the Payment of Wages Act. S.C. Code Ann. §§ 14-10-10 to -110 (1986 & Supp. 2005). We agree.
The Payment of Wages Act (“The Act”) is remedial legislation designed to protect working people and assist them in collecting compensation wrongfully withheld. Abraham v. Palmetto Unified Sch. Dist. No. 1, 343 S.C. 36, 50, 538 S.E.2d 656, 664 (Ct. App. 2000); Dumas v. Infosafe Corp., 320 S.C. 188, 194, 463 S.E.2d 641, 645 (Ct. App. 1995). Section 41-10-40(C) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2005) provides: “[a]n employer shall not withhold or divert any portion of an employee’s wages unless the employer is required or permitted to do so by state or federal law . . . .” The Act requires that “[w]hen an employer separates an employee from the payroll for any reason, the employer shall pay all wages due to the employee within forty-eight hours of the time of separation or the next regular payday which may not exceed thirty days.” S.C. Code Ann. § 41-10-50 (Supp. 2005). The Act further provides:
In case of any failure to pay wages due to an employee as required by Section 41-10-40 or 41-10-50 the employee may recover in a civil action an amount equal to three times the full amount of the unpaid wages, plus costs and reasonable attorney’s fees as the court may allow.
S.C. Code Ann. § 41-10-80(C) (Supp. 2005) (emphasis added).
In Rice v. Multimedia, Inc., 318 S.C. 95, 99, 456 S.E.2d 381, 384 (1995), our supreme court interpreted section 41-10-80(C). The supreme court held that “by using ‘may,’ rather than ‘shall,’ the legislature has provided that the penalty is discretionary with the judge.”
In the present case, the trial court believed section 41-10-80(C) required it to treble damages. This is an error of law. The trial court may award treble damages in such cases, but nothing in section 41-10-80(C) mandates such. Rice, 318 S.C. at 99, 456 S.E.2d at 384. Furthermore, after a thorough review of the record on appeal, we conclude there was a bona fide dispute over the wages in question. The trial court found
II. Fiduciary Duty and Agency Relationship
Tec-Fab contends the trial court erred in not finding that an agency relationship continued to exist post-termination wherein
III. Piercing the Corporate Veil
Tec-Fab contends the trial court erred in its “de facto piercing” of the corporate veil to find Lytle personally liable to
The Act defines employer as “every person, firm, partnership, association, corporation, receiver, or other officer of a court of this State, the State or any political subdivision thereof, and any agent or officer of the above classes employing any person in this State.” S.C. Code Ann. § 41-10-10 (Supp. 2005). Clearly, as an officer and agent of Tec-Fab with knowledge of the failure to pay
IV. Motion for a New Trial
Tec-Fab argues that the exclusion of evidence and the sanctions conferred constituted an error of law and should result in a new trial. We disagree.
Pursuant to Rule 37(b)(2)(C), SCRCP, when a party fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery, the court may “make such orders in regard to the failure as are just,” including an order dismissing the action or proceeding, or any part thereof. See In re Anonymous Member of the S.C. Bar, 346 S.C. 177, 194, 552 S.E.2d 10, 18 (2001) (“[j]udges must use their authority to make sure that abusive deposition tactics and other forms of discovery abuse do not succeed in their ultimate goal: achieving success through abuse of the discovery rules rather than by the rule of law.”). The imposition of sanctions is generally entrusted to the sound discretion of the trial court. Halverson v. Yawn, 328 S.C. 618, 620-21, 493 S.E.2d 883, 884 (
In the present case, discovery requests were served and, for months, were not answered. The trial court issued an Order Compelling Production, but Tec-Fab still did not provide the documents in question until the day before trial. Accordingly, we find the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing evidentiary sanctions for Tec-Fab’s discovery violations.
For the reasons stated above, the trial court’s order is
AFFIRMED IN PART and REVERSED IN PART.
KITTREDGE, J., and CURETON, A.J., concur.
 We decide this case without oral arguments pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.
 Due to our conclusion that the trial court erred in trebling