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2004-UP-537 - Reliford v. Mitsubishi Motors Credit of America, Inc.

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS
PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 239(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals


Ephrain Reliford, Jr., Appellant,

v.

Mitsubishi Motors Credit of America, Inc., Respondent.


Appeal From Aiken County
 Rodney A. Peeples, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2004-UP-537
Submitted October 1, 2004 – Filed October 21, 2004


AFFIRMED


Ephrain Reliford, Jr. of Kershaw, pro se.

Andrew F. Lindemann, of Columbia; and David Austin Brown, of Aiken, for Respondent.


PER CURIAM:  Ephrain Reliford, Jr. appeals a circuit court order granting summary judgment to Mitsubishi Motors Credit of America, Inc.  On appeal, Reliford argues the circuit court erred in denying his Constitutional right to a jury trial by granting summary judgment to Mitsubishi and erred in ruling that his claims were barred by the statute of limitations.  We affirm.

FACTS

In May 1993, Reliford purchased an automobile financed by Mitsubishi.  He was arrested for murder on January 7, 1994 and the Aiken County Sheriff’s Department seized the car as evidence a few days later.

Reliford failed to make loan payments to Mitsubishi.  Consequently, Mitsubishi instituted a claim and delivery action against Reliford.  On May 13, 1994, Mitsubishi served him with the summons and complaint.  Reliford was incarcerated at that time.  He did not respond to the claim and delivery action.  The Sheriff’s Department released the car to Mitsubishi on May 25, 1994.  Mitsubishi and the Sheriff’s Department entered a written stipulation through which they agreed to dismiss the claim and delivery action against Reliford without prejudice.

In November 2002, Reliford brought the present action alleging “statute of negligence, bailment, wrongful taking, nuisance, and trover and conversion” against Mitsubishi.  Mitsubishi answered, asserting defenses including the statute of limitations.

Reliford made a motion for summary judgment in January 2003.  A hearing was held on the motion, during which the circuit court denied Reliford’s motion but sua sponte granted summary judgment to Mitsubishi. 

Reliford made a “Motion to Alter or Amend” pursuant to Rule 59(e), SCRCP. Before the circuit court ruled on his order, Reliford filed a notice of appeal.  In June 2003, the circuit court subsequently issued an order partially granting and denying Reliford’s Rule 59(e) motion.  This court later found that the circuit court order was entered “without jurisdiction.”

LAW/ANALYSIS

I.       Statute of Limitations

The gravamen of Reliford’s appeal is his contention that the circuit court erred in finding that his action was barred by the statute of limitations.  We disagree.

Reliford concedes that the underlying cause of action in the present case is subject to a three-year statute of limitations.  At the time this cause of action arose, S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-40 (1976) tolled the three-year statute of limitations for “persons under disability.”  Subsection (3) of this statute provided that such “persons under disability” included those “[i]mprisoned on a criminal or civil charge or in execution under the sentence of a sentence of a criminal court for a less term than his natural life ….” [1]   Id.  However, “[t]he time of such disability is not part of the time limited for the commencement of the action, except the period within which the action must be brought cannot be extended by: (1) [m]ore than five years by any such disability, except infancy; nor (2) [i]n any case longer than one year after the disability ceases.”  Id.

Here, Reliford’s causes of action undisputedly arose in May of 1994 when he was served with Mitsubishi’s claim and delivery action. [2]   However, Reliford maintains pursuant to the “discovery rule” that the statute of limitations did not begin running until well after May 1994, such that this action would be timely.  We find this argument unavailing.  Reliford was clearly on notice not later than May of 1994 when he admittedly received the summons and complaint in the claim and delivery action in which Mitsubishi sought “immediate seizure and permanent possession of” Reliford’s car.  This knowledge clearly provided reasonable notice to Reliford that possession of his car, and possibly its contents, would be transferred to Mitsubishi.  From an objective standpoint, if Mitsubishi’s possession of the car were wrongful, a reasonable person would have been on notice of a potential claim in May of 1994.  Thus, we find that, at the latest, Reliford’s statute of limitations began running in May of 1994.  See Young v. South Carolina Dep’t of Corr., 333 S.C. 714, 719, 511 S.E.2d 413, 416 (Ct. App. 1999) (Finding that under the discovery rule, whether the particular plaintiff actually knew he had a claim is not the test; rather, courts must objectively determine whether the circumstances of the case would put a person of common knowledge and experience on notice that some right of his has been invaded, or that some claim against another party might exist).  Even allowing the maximum five-year period of tolling allowed by S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-40 (1976), followed by the three-year statute of limitations, we find that the time Reliford had to bring the present action expired on May 13, 2002.  Because he did not bring the present action until November 2002, we find as a matter of law that the applicable statute of limitations barred his action.

II.      Constitutional Violation

Reliford next argues that the circuit court erred in denying his Constitutional right to a jury trial by sua sponte granting summary judgment to Mitsubishi.  However, the issue of Reliford’s Constitutional rights was not raised to the circuit court in the summary judgment hearing nor was it later raised in Reliford’s “Motion to Alter or Amend” made pursuant to Rule 59(e), SCRCP. [3]   Thus, the issue is not preserved for appellate review.  See State v. Adams, 354 S.C. 361, 380, 580 S.E.2d 785, 795 (Ct. App. 2003) (“Arguments not raised to or ruled upon by the trial court are not preserved for appellate review”);  State v. Varvil, 338 S.C. 335, 339, 526 S.E.2d 248, 250 (Ct. App. 2000) (“Constitutional arguments are no exception to the rule, and if not raised to the trial court are deemed waived on appeal”). 

III.    Denial of Motion for Summary Judgment

Last, Reliford argues that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for summary judgment.  However, it is well settled law in South Carolina that “the denial of a motion for summary judgment is not appealable, even after final judgment.”  Olson v. Faculty House of Carolina, Inc., 354 S.C. 161, 168, 580 S.E.2d 440, 444 (2003).  Accordingly, we find the issue of the circuit court’s alleged error in denying Reliford’s summary judgment motion is not appealable.  In any event, Mitsubishi’s entitlement to summary judgment renders moot the challenge to the denial of Reliford’s motion for summary judgment.

AFFIRMED.

HEARN, C.J., HUFF and KITTREDGE, JJ., concur.


[1]        A 1996 amendment removed subsection (3) from S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-40, among other changes.

[2]        The car was seized by the Sheriff’s Department in January 1994, shortly after Reliford’s arrest.

[3]        Significantly, the precise issue of the circuit court granting relief to a party that did not request such relief is not before us.