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2007-UP-360 - Karoly v. Sumner

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

Edith Karoly, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of John P. Karoly, Sr., Deceased, John P. Karoly, Jr., Peter J. Karoly, Joseph Karoly, Joanne Billman, Candice Pamerleau, Kim Jacobs and Michael Karoly, Appellants,

v.

Stephen Sumner, Carolina Funeral Services, Inc., Calvin C. Shankle, Weber Funeral Homes, Inc., and Service Corporation International, Defendants,

of whom Calvin C. Shankle and Weber Funeral Homes, Inc., are the Respondents.


Appeal From Charleston County
 R. Markley Dennis, Jr., Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No.  2007-UP-360
Heard June 6, 2007 – Filed July 31, 2007


 AFFIRMED


Brooks Roberts Fudenberg, of Charleston, Geoffrey H. Waggoner, of Mt. Pleasant, and Jeffrey G. Weber, of Kernersville, for Appellants.

Merritt Abney, of Charleston, for Respondents.

PER CURIAM:  Edith Karoly, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of John P. Karoly, Sr., along with other family members (collectively “Appellants”) appeal the circuit court’s order dismissing all claims except their breach of contract claim against Respondents Calvin C. Shankle (“Shankle”) and Weber Funeral Homes, Inc (“Weber”).  In their brief, Appellants contend the circuit court erred in dismissing their negligence per se claim pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution and the doctrine of res judicata.  We affirm.

FACTS

On July 21, 2002, John P. Karoly, Sr., (“the decedent”) passed away at the Medical University of South Carolina.  On the date of the decedent’s death, one of the decedent’s sons, John P. Karoly, Jr., contracted with Weber and Service Corporation International on behalf of the estate for the removal, preparation, and transportation of the decedent’s body from South Carolina to Pennsylvania.  Weber, in turn, contracted with Carolina Funeral Services, Inc., for the removal, preparation, care, embalming, and transportation of the decedent’s corpse from South Carolina to Pennsylvania.  Upon arrival in Pennsylvania, the family was to be permitted to identify, view, and pay their last respects prior to cremation of the decedent.

After receiving the decedent’s remains, Carolina Funeral Services assigned Stephen Sumner to perform the embalming and preparation.  However, Sumner either did not embalm or failed to properly embalm the decedent’s body.  When the decedent’s body arrived in Pennsylvania, the corpse was in an advanced state of decomposition.  This precluded the family from conducting a viewing of the body, and local friends and family were not able to pay their respects.

On September 30, 2004, Appellants filed a complaint in Pennsylvania.  The Pennsylvania Complaint included the following causes of action against Weber and Shankle:  (1) intentional/negligent mishandling of a corpse; (2) negligence per se based on 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 5510 (1972); (3) breach of contract; and (4) intentional/negligent infliction of emotional distress.  On January 24, 2005, the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, entered an order dismissing all but one of Appellants’ claims; the only claim that remained was the breach of contract claim.  With regard to Appellants’ claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the court rejected Weber and Shankle’s argument that Pennsylvania law does not recognize that cause of action.  Nevertheless, the court held that Appellants had failed to state any facts to support a claim that Weber and Shankle intentionally mistreated the decedent’s corpse.  Further, finding that Pennsylvania law does not permit recovery for the negligent mishandling of a corpse, the court dismissed, without leave to amend, any and all allegations regarding the negligence of Weber and Shankle.  Finally, the court dismissed the negligence per se cause of action because 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 5510 only prohibits intentional acts.  Thus, the court reasoned that “[b]y its nature, negligence cannot flow from an intentional act.”  Appellants neither appealed nor moved to alter or amend the order.  Appellants subsequently dismissed without prejudice their remaining breach of contract claim still pending in Pennsylvania.

On July 20, 2005, Appellants filed the instant action in South Carolina.  The South Carolina Amended Complaint included the same causes of action and is nearly identical to the Pennsylvania Complaint, except the negligence per se cause of action was predicated on South Carolina Code section 16-17-600 (Supp. 2005).

Following Weber and Shankle’s Motion to Dismiss,[1] filed December 2, 2005, the circuit court allowed the breach of contract cause of action to continue, but dismissed the other causes of action under the theory of res judicata and the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution.  This appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP, a defendant may move to dismiss based upon a plaintiff’s failure to allege facts constituting a cause of action.  Baird v. Charleston County, 333 S.C. 519, 527, 511 S.E.2d 69, 73 (1999).  The trial judge may dismiss the claim if the defendant demonstrates the plaintiff has failed “to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action” in the pleadings filed with the court.  Williams v. Condon, 347 S.C. 227, 232-33, 553 S.E.2d 496, 499 (Ct. App. 2001) (quoting Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP).  When considering the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the trial court must base its ruling solely upon the allegations made on the face of the complaint.  Baird, 333 S.C. at 527, 511 S.E.2d at 73; Stiles v. Onorato, 318 S.C. 297, 300, 457 S.E.2d 601, 602 (1995).  If the facts and inferences drawn from the facts alleged in the complaint would entitle the plaintiff to relief on any theory, then the grant of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is improper.  Brown v. Leverette, 291 S.C. 364, 366, 353 S.E.2d 697, 698 (1987); McCormick v. England, 328 S.C. 627, 632-33, 494 S.E.2d 431, 433 (Ct. App. 1997).  The facts and inferences alleged in the complaint are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.  Toussaint v. Ham, 292 S.C. 415, 416, 357 S.E.2d 8, 9 (1987); Cowart v. Poore, 337 S.C. 359, 364, 523 S.E.2d 182, 184-85 (Ct. App. 1999).

LAW/ANALYSIS

Appellants contend the circuit court erred in dismissing their negligence per se cause of action against Shankle and Weber based on the Full Faith and Credit Clause and the doctrine of res judicata because their claim is based on the South Carolina statute which is different from their claim based on the Pennsylvania statute.  We disagree.

The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution provides that “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the . . . judicial Proceedings of every other State.” U.S. Const. art. IV, § 1.  The thrust of the clause is that courts of one state must give such force and effect to a foreign judgment as the judgment would receive in the issuing state.   Purdie v. Smalls, 293 S.C. 216, 219-20, 359 S.E.2d 306, 308 (Ct. App. 1987).  As a result, “a foreign judgment which is regular on its face generally may not be collaterally attacked.” Bankers Trust Co. v. Braten, 317 S.C. 547, 550, 455 S.E.2d 199, 200 (Ct. App. 1995).

As the Appellants concede, in order to determine the res judicata effect of the Pennsylvania order upon the present action, this court must decide whether Appellants would be precluded from pursuing their claims in the courts of Pennsylvania.  In Pennsylvania, as in South Carolina, “[i]t is hornbook law that when a final judgment on the merits has been rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, the doctrine of res judicata will bar any future suit on the same cause of action between the same parties.”  Glynn v. Glynn, 789 A. 2d 242, 249 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2001).  Under Pennsylvania law:

Res judicata encompasses two related, yet distinct principles: technical res judicata and collateral estoppel.  Henion v. Workers’ Comp Appeal Bd. (Firpo & Sons, Inc.), 776 A.2d. 362 (Pa. Cmwlth., 2001).  Technical res judicata provides that where a final judgment on the merits exists, a future lawsuit on the same cause of action is precluded.  Id.  Collateral estoppel acts to foreclose litigation in a subsequent action where issues of law or fact were actually litigated and necessary to a previous final judgment.  Id.

Technical res judicata requires the coalescence of four factors: (1) identity of the thing sued upon or for; (2) identity of the causes of action; (3) identity of the persons or parties to the action; and (4) identity of the quality or capacity of the parties suing or being sued.  Id.  Res judicata applies to claims that were actually litigated as well as those matters that should have been litigated.  Id.  Generally, causes of action are identical when the subject matter and the ultimate issues are the same in both the old and new proceedings.  Id.

Similarly, collateral estoppel bars a subsequent lawsuit where (1) an issue decided in a prior action is identical to one presented in a later action, (2) the prior action resulted in a final judgment on the merits, (3) the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted was a party to the prior action, or is in privity with a party to the prior actions, and (4) the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the prior action.  Rue v. K-Mart Corp., 552 Pa. 13, 713 A. 2d 82 (1998).

Stilp v. Commonwealth, 910 A. 2d 775, 783-84 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2006).

Moreover, “an order of dismissal ‘with prejudice’ made upon agreement or stipulation of the parties before trial, or by the court after trial, is a judgment on the merits and operates as res judicata of the issues addressed in the case, thus barring a subsequent suit on the same cause of action.”  Waynik v. Suhyda, 22 Pa. D. & C.2d 208, 213 (Pa.Ct.Com.Pl.1960).  Further, a dismissal upon preliminary objections is a final order which becomes res judicata if not timely appealed.  U.S. Nat’l Bank in Johnstown v. Johnson, 487 A.2d 809, 813 (Pa. 1985).

In essence, Appellants contend the Pennsylvania court did not make specific factual findings or issue any ruling concerning the South Carolina statute in question.  Thus, they argue, the circuit court erred in holding the issue of negligence per se based on the South Carolina statute was fully and fairly decided in the Pennsylvania action.  While the Pennsylvania court did not base its dismissal of the negligence per se cause of action on our statute, it did conclude that the Pennsylvania statute, like our statute, only prohibits intentional, as opposed to negligent conduct, and that the Appellants had not alleged that Weber and Shankle engaged in intentional conduct.  The court further concluded that “[b]y its nature, negligence cannot flow from an intentional act.”  Comparing the language of the two statutes, our statute reads in relevant part as follows:

(A) It is unlawful for a person willfully and knowingly, and without proper legal authority to:

(1) destroy or damage the remains of a deceased human being;

(2) . . .; or

(3) desecrate human remains.

S.C. Code Ann. § 16-17-600 (Supp. 2005).

          The Pennsylvania statute reads in pertinent part:

Except as authorized by law, a person who treats a corpse in a way that he knows would outrage ordinary family sensibilities commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.[2]

18 Pa. C.S.A. § 5510 (1972).

Although the two statutes read differently, the conduct both statutes prescribe is the intentional or willful abuse of a corpse.  Inasmuch as the Pennsylvania court held Weber and Shankle had not alleged an intentional abuse of the decedent’s body, and further held as a matter of law that negligence cannot be predicated on an intentional act, we are constrained to hold under principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel[3] that the circuit court did not err in dismissing Appellants’ negligence per se cause of action.

CONCLUSION

We find Appellants abandoned their issues on appeal relating to the dismissal of all of their causes of action except their claim based on negligence per se.  Based on the above reasoning, we conclude the circuit court did not err in dismissing Appellants’ negligence per se cause of action.  Accordingly, the decision of the circuit court is

AFFIRMED.

BEATTY and WILLIAMS, JJ., and CURETON, A.J., concur.


[1]  The motion to dismiss, in addition to arguing res judicata and collateral estoppel, also asserts that “[b]oth [states’] statutes relied upon by [Appellants] to support their claims for negligence per se prohibit intentional, as opposed to negligent, acts.  Because negligence cannot flow from an intentional act, the statutes relied upon provide no basis for a claim of negligence per se.”

[2]  Arguably, one could assert this statute permits recovery based on gross negligence.  However, Appellants did not appeal the Pennsylvania court’s holding that the statute prohibits only intentional acts.  That holding, therefore, becomes res judicata.

[3]  This court may affirm a decision of the trial court based on any ground appearing in the record.  Rule 220(c), SCACR.  Moreover, collateral estoppel was discussed during oral argument before this court.