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2007-UP-549 - Frierson v. InTown Suites

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


Patricia Frierson, Appellant,

v.

InTown Suites, Two Notch Road, Inc., Respondent.


Appeal From Richland County
 John C. Hayes, III, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2007-UP-549
Submitted November 1, 2007 – Filed December 14, 2007


AFFIRMED


Patricia Frierson, pro se, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Griffin Littlejohn and Ned Nicholson, both of Columbia, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  Patricia Frierson appeals the magistrate court’s dismissal of her case against InTown Suites (InTown) without prejudice.  We affirm.[1]

FACTS

According to her Complaint dated July 1, 2002, Frierson began staying at InTown Suites on October 17, 2001, at a weekly rate of $165.00.  She allegedly encountered several problems during her eight-month stay at InTown, including noise from other guests, waste spilling out of the toilet, harassment by means of a warning on Frierson’s car stating it might be towed, and blood stains on her mattress.  Frierson claims InTown participated in unfair trade practices and she suffered severe emotional distress as a result of the above events.  She sought actual damages of $5,775 and $1,725 for pain and suffering.  In addition, Frierson sought “any costs resulting in this action and any punitive damages the court deems appropriate.” 

As part of its defense, InTown filed a motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP, or alternatively, because Frierson’s alleged damages exceeded the $7,500 jurisdictional limit of the magistrate’s court. The matter was originally heard by Magistrate Golie Augustus on July 8, 2003, when he denied the motion to dismiss and set the case for trial on July 21, 2003.  Magistrate William Womble took over for Magistrate Augustus on an emergency basis and heard the case on July 21, 2003, and orally dismissed Frierson’s Complaint with prejudice. Frierson appealed Magistrate Womble’s oral ruling to the circuit court on July 22, 2003.  By written order dated July 23, 2003, Magistrate Womble dismissed the complaint with prejudice in its entirety.  

Judge John Milling heard Frierson’s appeal on February 11, 2005.  At the hearing, Frierson complained that Magistrate Womble’s signed order went outside the issues heard on July 21, 2003.  Because Judge Milling was concerned that Magistrate Womble granted the motion to dismiss after Magistrate Augustus had denied the motion, he remanded the case to Magistrate Augustus for the preparation of a return concerning the events of July 8, 2003.  In Magistrate Augustus’s return to the appeal, he stated he held a pretrial conference on July 8 and determined that the case would be bound over for trial.

Based on Magistrate Augustus’s return, Judge L. Casey Manning ordered the case remanded to the magistrate’s court for trial.  Frierson then sent a fax to Magistrate Womble, dated September 19, 2005, wherein she sought to amend her pleadings to seek $500,000 in actual damages and $300,000 in punitive damages.  She also requested the magistrate forward her case file to the circuit court.  On October 10, 2005, Magistrate Shealy found the amendment for additional damages would take the case outside of his jurisdiction and dismissed Frierson’s case without prejudice so she could file in the circuit court.  Having commenced the lawsuit on July 1, 2002, Frierson could not file the action with the circuit court because the statute of limitations had run.

Frierson appealed the dismissal without prejudice to the circuit court, arguing the magistrate should have transferred the case rather than dismiss it.  Judge John C. Hayes, III, heard the appeal on April 24, 2006.  In his order filed May 17, 2006, Judge Hayes dismissed Frierson’s appeal and found the legislature has not granted jurisdiction to the magistrates’ courts to transfer civil cases such as Frierson’s to the circuit court when the magistrate no longer has jurisdiction.  This appeal follows.

LAW/ANALYSIS

Frierson argues on appeal that the magistrate erred in not transferring her case to the circuit court or hearing the case in its original jurisdiction in the interest of justice.  She also argues the trial judge failed to address her right to a jury trial and failed to address the issue of InTown’s allegedly frivolous defense.  We affirm.

Frierson’s primary argument is that the magistrate should have transferred her case to the circuit court rather than dismiss it without prejudice.  Frierson presents no case law to support her position, stating instead that nothing prevents a magistrate from sending a case to circuit court.  We note that although her argument is conclusory, we choose to address it on the merits.

The trial court relied upon Rock Hill Body Co. v. Rainey, 294 S.C. 426, 429, 365 S.E.2d 228, 231 (Ct. App. 1987), for the proposition that in an action with a disputed amount in excess of the magistrate’s jurisdiction, the case “must be determined by the circuit court in its original jurisdiction” (emphasis added).  We agree with the trial court’s interpretation of Rainey.  Original jurisdiction is defined as “[a] court’s power to hear and decide a matter before any other court can review the matter.”  Black’s Law Dictionary 856 (7th ed. 1999) (emphasis added).

The jurisdiction of the magistrates’ court is statutorily limited by South Carolina Code section 22-3-10 (2007).  Although we note there are limited circumstances where the legislature has allowed magistrates to transfer a case to the circuit court, such as when a counterclaim is filed pursuant to South Carolina Code section 22-3-30 (2007), we believe the legislature intentionally limited the scope of a magistrate’s power to transfer cases to the circuit court.  In addition to Rainey, we find the statutory guidelines that govern magistrates’ court support this view by not expressly authorizing magistrates to transfer any type of case to the circuit court. 

Having determined that the magistrate properly dismissed Frierson’s case once he lost jurisdiction, we find her additional issues are moot.[2]  See Sloan v. Friends of Hunley, Inc., 369 S.C. 20, 630 S.E.2d 474 (2006) (holding a case is moot where a judgment by the court will have no practical legal effect); McDill v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 368 S.C. 29, 31, 627 S.E.2d 749, 750 (Ct. App. 2006) (“An appellate court will not pass on moot and academic questions or make an adjudication where there remains no actual controversy.”).

AFFIRMED.

HUFF and PIEPER, JJ., and CURETON, A.J., concur.


[1] We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR. 

[2] Frierson did not assert on appeal that she should have been allowed at least to proceed on her original $7,500 claim in the magistrate’s court.