Supreme Court Seal
South Carolina
JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT
Site Map | Feedback
2012-UP-227 - Singh v. City of Greenville

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Amrik Singh and SBPS, Inc. d/b/a Travel Inn, Respondents,

v.

City of Greenville, Appellant.


Appeal From Greenville County
Edward W. Miller, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2012-UP-227
Heard March 15, 2012 – Filed April 18, 2012   


REVERSED


Ronald W. McKinney, of Greenville, for Appellant.

James Walter Fayssoux, Jr., and Ryan Lewis Beasley, both of Greenville, for Respondents.

PER CURIAM:  The City of Greenville (the City) appeals from an order of the circuit court reversing the City's revocation of a business license for the operation of Travel Inn at 755 Wade Hampton Boulevard.  The circuit court issued its order following a hearing on remand from this court, pursuant to the opinion in Amrik Singh & SBPS, Inc. v. City of Greenville (Singh I), 384 S.C. 365, 681 S.E.2d 921 (Ct. App. 2009).  In Singh I, this court directed the circuit court to review all police response calls to Travel Inn, from April 2004 through March 2007, to determine whether the City's decision to revoke Singh's license was arbitrary, unreasonable, or an obvious abuse of discretion.  384 S.C. at 371, 681 S.E.2d at 925.  The circuit court did not rule on this issue; instead, it concluded that City Council's directive to the City Manager to determine compliance with certain conditions placed on the license was an unlawful delegation of legislative authority.  The circuit court also concluded that the City Manager's subsequent revocation determination was arbitrary.  On appeal, the City challenges both of these conclusions, as well as the circuit court's failure to address the merits of City Council's revocation decision.  We reverse.

The City first argues that City Council's November 15, 2006 decision to confirm the City Manager's initial revocation, but to allow Singh a probationary period of operation under a Conditional Business License, was reasonable and fair.  After the circuit court failed to address this issue on remand pursuant to Singh I, the City filed a motion pursuant to Rule 59(e), SCRCP, requesting a ruling on the issue.  However, the circuit court declined to do so.  We now address the issue and uphold City Council's decision.

Section 8-43(b)(2) of the Greenville City Code (2004) includes "public nuisance" as one of the grounds for license revocation, provided that the licensee has actual or constructive knowledge of one or more of the activities listed in the ordinance as constituting a public nuisance.  Further, section 8-43(b)(2)(b) provides that an "unusually high number of response calls" by law enforcement qualifies as an activity from which a public nuisance arises.  In an effort to examine all available information relevant to this standard, the circuit court, on remand from this court, requested the City to supplement the record with data showing the volume and character of calls to all hotels in the City from 2004 to 2006.[1]  The City submitted the requested data, which included calls from April 1, 2004 through June 16, 2006, the same period covered by the testimony given by Lieutenant Randle Evett of the Greenville Police Department in the administrative proceedings before the City Manager's hearing officer. 

While the number of response calls shown in the supplemental data, i.e., 901 calls, was slightly less than the 918 calls previously indicated by Lieutenant Evett, this number nonetheless corroborated Lieutenant Evett's testimony that there was an unusually high volume of calls to the location when compared to other hotels in the City during the period in question.  The number of calls made to Travel Inn, 901, was by far the highest in the City.[2]  The second highest number of calls made to a hotel in the City was 581, and the third highest was 407.  Law enforcement made less than 300 calls to each of the other hotels in the City.   

The data also indicated 390 of the 901 calls to Travel Inn, over forty percent, were considered by the City to be "serious."  Singh points to the numbers of serious calls to four other hotels in the City: 347; 165; 146; and 112, respectively.  In our view, it is reasonable to characterize the 390 "serious" calls made to Travel Inn as "an unusually high number."  Further, we agree with the City that all of the calls, serious and non-serious, to each hotel potentially diverted law enforcement resources from responding to crimes in progress at other locations in the community.  Notably, the language in section 8-43(b)(2)(b) of the Greenville City Code does not differentiate between the types of service calls included in the "unusually high number."   

The foregoing data provides strong support for City Council's determination that Travel Inn constituted a public nuisance requiring license revocation pursuant to section 8-43(b)(2).  Therefore, the City's decision to revoke Singh's license was reasonable.  See id. (listing a public nuisance as a ground for revocation, provided the licensee has actual or constructive knowledge of one or more of the listed activities qualifying as a public nuisance);[3] Gay v. City of Beaufort, 364 S.C. 252, 254, 612 S.E.2d 467, 468 (Ct. App. 2005) ("Where the city council of a municipality has acted after considering all of the facts, the court should not disturb the finding unless such action is arbitrary, unreasonable, or an obvious abuse of its discretion.").

As evidenced by the minutes of the public hearing, City Council carefully weighed the adverse effect of revocation on Singh's livelihood against the impact of Travel Inn's operation on the public welfare.  City Council attempted to accommodate both considerations in a reasonable and fair manner.  City Council acted well within its discretion in giving Singh another opportunity to correct the unsafe conditions at Travel Inn while providing for an automatic license revocation upon deviation from the terms of the conditional business license. 

Further, we find no delegation of legislative authority in City Council's directive to the City Manager to determine Singh's compliance with the conditions for Travel Inn's continued operation.[4]  This directive was no different from the administrative authority granted to the City Manager under section 8-43(a)(1) of the Greenville City Code (2004).  Section 8-43(a)(1) states: "The city manager . . . shall have authority to deny or revoke any business license under the provisions set forth in this article."  Singh has not challenged this provision, which is consistent with statutory and case law.  See S.C. Code Ann. § 5-13-90 (2004) ("The manager shall be the chief executive officer and head of the administrative branch of the municipal government.  He shall be responsible to the municipal council for the proper administration of all affairs of the municipality[.]"); Greenville City Code § 2-195(a)(2) (imposing on the City Manager the duty to "[s]ee that the ordinances of the city and the laws of the state are enforced therein"); City of Columbia v. Abbott, 269 S.C. 504, 508, 238 S.E.2d 177, 179 (1977) ("It is generally held that the granting of a license is an administrative function . . . ."). 

Moreover, implicit in City Council's decision to place Singh's license on probationary status were the requirements that (1) Travel Inn avoid triggering any of the factors establishing a public nuisance under section 8-43(b)(2) of the Greenville City Code (2004) and (2) the City Manager should be guided by those factors, in addition to the special conditions imposed on Singh's operation of Travel Inn.  The City Manager's discretion in determining compliance with the business license ordinance was properly limited by the ordinance's express guidelines for determining whether Singh's operation of Travel Inn constituted a "public nuisance."

Singh argues that the arbitrary nature of the City Manager's decision resulted from City Council's failure to "set a benchmark for the number of calls Mr. Singh should not exceed."  However, section 8-43(b)(2)(b) provides a sufficiently objective benchmark, i.e., "an unusually high number of response calls," that can be determined by comparison with other businesses in the community.  Travel Inn met this threshold prior to the revocation hearing before City Council.  Accordingly, when City Council granted Singh a conditional license, it justifiably set the triggering event for automatic revocation as being any deviation from the conditions.  This directive left little room for the exercise of judgment by the City Manager.  The City Manager was essentially left with the ministerial task of determining whether Travel Inn deviated, even once, from the license conditions City Council had placed on it.  Therefore, the circuit court erred in concluding that City Council improperly delegated legislative authority to the City Manager.

Finally, we agree with the City that the City Manager's March 30, 2007 decision to terminate Singh's probationary license was reasonable.  In Singh I, this court stated: "The four incidents that occurred within the month after the extension of the conditional license cannot, and should not, be viewed in isolation from the 918 other calls for service on which the license was initially revoked."  384 S.C. at 371, 681 S.E.2d at 925.  Further, the City Manager's March 30, 2007 letter properly focused on the seriousness of the four incidents and how they reflected a resumption of the previous nuisance pattern from 2004 to 2006 and its adverse effect on the community.  For example, on or about March 7, 2007, police found Lucky living at Travel Inn despite the previous representation of Singh's counsel that Lucky would not be allowed to resume her residence at Travel Inn due to her criminal activity there.  On this date, Lucky was arrested and charged with two counts of forgery for stealing credit cards from customers at her restaurant, "Taste of India," which adjoined Travel Inn.  Police learned that prior to her arrest, she had been hiding inside the hotel office while talking to deputies on the phone and representing to them that she was out of town.

Singh's argument that he did not have full control over decisions affecting Travel Inn's operation until he obtained the deed to the property is unavailing.  Singh was the licensee from 2004 through most of 2006.  On his business license applications, Singh listed himself as the owner of the business.  Further, Singh's 2004 agreement with the owner of the real property gave him the option to buy the property, and he consistently made payments toward ownership of the property.  In December 2004, a representative of the property's owner advised the business license supervisor for the City that the property owner was "no longer responsible for the license because [Singh] had an option to buy."  Singh does not point to any evidence in the record showing precisely how the prior property owner interfered with Singh's managerial decisions or impeded Singh's investment in improvements necessary to maintain a  nuisance-free business.

Based on the foregoing, we reverse the circuit court's decision and uphold the City's decision to revoke Singh's privilege of operating Travel Inn so that the City may fulfill its duty to protect the public.  See Carter v. Linder, 303 S.C. 119, 122, 399 S.E.2d 423, 424 (1990) ("A license tax upon persons and businesses is an excise tax on the privilege of doing business . . . .") (emphasis added); cf. Summersell v. S.C. Dep't of Pub. Safety, 334 S.C. 357, 366, 513 S.E.2d 619, 624 (Ct. App. 1999), vacated in part on other grounds, 337 S.C. 19, 522 S.E.2d 144 (1999) (holding that a driver's license is not a property right but a mere privilege subject to reasonable regulations under the police power in the interest of the public safety and welfare and such a privilege is always subject to revocation or suspension for any cause relating to public safety).

 REVERSED.

PIEPER, KONDUROS, and GEATHERS, JJ., concur.


[1] Because the City did not object to the circuit court's request to supplement the administrative record, we express no opinion on the propriety of the request.

[2] In his testimony before the City Manager's hearing officer, Lieutenant Evett estimated that approximately ten percent of the calls originated from Travel Inn management.  He also stated that in 2004, he had spoken to Singh's daughter, Maninder Kaur, a/k/a "Lucky," who was acting as manager of Travel Inn, about the high number of calls.  Subsequently, however, the number of calls for service increased.  Two of the numerous calls requiring incident reports resulted in criminal charges against Lucky for selling crack-cocaine in March 2006.  On another occasion, Lucky gave a statement in which she admitted fabricating an armed robbery at Travel Inn in May 2006 for the alleged purpose of obtaining bail money for a friend.

[3] The record contains ample evidence showing, at the very least, Singh's constructive knowledge of the number of police response calls to Travel Inn during the period in question.

[4] Section 5-13-30 of the South Carolina Code (2004), which applies to the council-manager form of government, provides that all legislative powers of a municipality and the determination of all policy matters shall be vested in the municipal council.  Our supreme court interpreted section 5-13-30 in Todd v. Smith and stated that the city council for the City of Myrtle Beach did not have the authority to delegate matters of policy and the city manager did not have the authority to set city policy.  305 S.C. 227, 231, 407 S.E.2d 644, 646-47 (1991).  In the present case, because this court may analyze the question of the alleged delegation of legislative authority under section 5-13-30, we need not address whether Article I, section 8 of the South Carolina Constitution, addressing separation of powers, applies to municipalities.  See Futch v. McAllister Towing of Georgetown, Inc., 335 S.C. 598, 613, 518 S.E.2d 591, 598 (1999) (noting an appellate court need not address an appellant's remaining issues when its determination of a prior issue is dispositive).