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2009-UP-089 - Moore v. SC Department of Corrections

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

Lishawn Moore, Appellant,

v.

South Carolina Department of Corrections, Employer, and the State Accident Fund, Carrier, Respondents.


Appeal From Richland County
 G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2009-UP-089
Heard January 21, 2009 – Filed February 23, 2009   


REVERSED AND REMANDED


Charles Edward Johnson, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Andrew E. Haselden, of Columbia, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  The Appellate Panel of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission (Appellate Panel) awarded benefits to Lishawn Moore.  The circuit court reversed this award, and Moore appeals.  We reverse.   

FACTS

Moore was employed by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (Department) as a corrections officer at Allendale Correctional Institution (ACI).  From June 1 to June 3, 2004, Moore worked twelve-hour shifts, from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.  Because she worked three days and was off two days, Moore was not scheduled to work June 4.  At the end of her shift on June 3, 2004, Moore left ACI and drove to her home in Denmark, thirty minutes away.  Upon arriving at home at about 7:45 a.m., Moore received a telephone call from Officer Holman at ACI, asking if Moore had taken home a pair of handcuffs from ACI's Bamberg B-Wing.  Moore located the handcuffs in her jacket pocket.  Although Moore testified she believed she needed to return the handcuffs to ACI immediately, Officer Holman testified she told Moore she could do so the next time she came into work.[1]   

With her young son in the car, Moore drove back to ACI and returned the handcuffs.  The officer at the front gate, who was expecting Moore, accepted the handcuffs and returned them to Bamberg B-Wing.  After leaving ACI, Moore stopped at a convenience store and purchased a drink for her son.  She testified the next thing she remembered was waking up with her car off the highway, down an embankment, and crashed into a tree.  The injuries Moore sustained in the wreck left her paraplegic.  

The first single commissioner who reviewed Moore's claim for workers' compensation benefits held Moore's injuries were compensable.  The Department appealed, and the Appellate Panel remanded for a new hearing.  The second single commissioner also found Moore's injuries compensable, and the Appellate Panel affirmed.  The Department appealed to the circuit court, which reversed, holding Moore's claim was not compensable.  Moore appealed to this court.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing workers' compensation decisions, the appellate court ascertains "whether the circuit court properly determined whether the [A]ppellate [P]anel's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the [Appellate P]anel's decision is affected by an error of law."  Baxter v. Martin Bros., Inc., 368 S.C. 510, 513, 630 S.E.2d 42, 43 (2006) (citations omitted); see also S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(5) (Supp. 2008).  "'Substantial evidence' is evidence which, considering the entire record, would allow reasonable minds to arrive at the same conclusion reached by the administrative agency."  S.C. Second Injury Fund v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 353 S.C. 117, 122, 576 S.E.2d 199, 202 (Ct. App. 2003).  The Administrative Procedures Act does not permit an appellate court to "substitute its judgment for that of the [Appellate Panel] as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact."  West v. Alliance Capital, 368 S.C. 246, 251, 628 S.E.2d 279, 282 (Ct. App. 2006); see also § 1-23-380(5).    

LAW/ANALYSIS

Moore argues the circuit court erred in reversing the Appellate Panel's award of benefits because the award was supported by substantial evidence in the record and was not affected by an error of law.  We agree.

In reviewing the Appellate Panel's decision, the circuit court's role is limited to determining whether substantial evidence in the record supports the Appellate Panel's findings of fact and whether the decision is affected by an error of law.  Baxter v. Martin Bros., Inc., 368 S.C. 510, 513, 630 S.E.2d 42, 43 (2006) (citations omitted); see also S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(5) (Supp. 2008).  

In reversing the Appellate Panel's decision in favor of its own interpretation of the evidence, the circuit court improperly extended the substantial-evidence standard of review.  Sitting in an appellate capacity, the circuit court was tasked with reviewing the Appellate Panel's decision to determine whether substantial evidence supported the Appellate Panel's findings.  See Baxter, 368 S.C. at 513, 630 S.E.2d at 43; § 1-23-380(5).  Here, the circuit court made its own determinations of credibility, holding substantial evidence indicated Moore's trip was not done to advance the Department's interest and conferred no actual benefit on the Department.  At the same time, the circuit court failed to determine whether the Appellate Panel's findings were supported by substantial evidence.  Rather, the circuit court conducted its own evaluation of the merits of the case and improperly substituted its judgment for that of the Appellate Panel as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact.  See West, 368 S.C. at 251, 628 S.E.2d at 282.  This expansion of the scope of review was error.   

Inasmuch as we have reversed the circuit court's decision because it impermissibly expanded the scope of its review, we need not reach whether application of the special errand doctrine amounted to an error of law.  See Futch v. McAllister Towing of Georgetown, Inc., 335 S.C. 598, 613, 518 S.E.2d 591, 598 (1999) (ruling an appellate court need not review remaining issues when its determination of a prior issue is dispositive of the appeal). 

CONCLUSION

We find the circuit court impermissibly substituted its own judgment for that of the Appellate Panel in violation of the substantial evidence scope of review.  Therefore, the order of the circuit court is

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

SHORT and KONDUROS, JJ., and CURETON, A.J., concur.


[1] Although testimony indicated Department policy required weapons to be returned immediately, the witnesses were aware of no such policy specifically pertaining to handcuffs and no other incidents involving handcuffs inadvertently removed from ACI.