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Court of Appeals Published Opinions - February 2012

Note: Beginning in June 2012, opinions will be posted as Adobe PDFs. You can download a free copy of Adobe Reader here.

The summary following each opinion is prepared to offer lawyers and the public a general overview of what a particular opinion decides. The summary is not necessarily a full description of the issues discussed in an opinion.

2-1-2012 - Opinions

4937 - Solley v. Navy Federal Credit Union

Barbara Solley filed suit for conversion, slander of title, and negligence against Navy Federal Credit Union (the Bank) after Jimmy L. Mullins, Sr., with whom she owned a house, obtained a mortgage on the house from the Bank without her knowledge. The Bank was held in default after it failed to answer Solley's complaint. After the special referee required Solley to elect the theory of damages, she proceeded with slander of title and was awarded damages, including punitive damages. Solley appeals the special referee's requiring her to elect her remedy prior to the damages hearing, failing to find she was a consumer under federal regulations, and not allowing her to reform her complaint to conform to the evidence and issues actually tried. The Bank appeals arguing the default judgment should be vacated because Solley failed to plead the elements for slander of title. The Bank also argues the special referee committed several errors in awarding damages because Solley did not establish she suffered any damages; she did not establish its conduct was willful, wanton, or reckless; and the punitive damages are excessive compared to the actual damages. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand. Few, C.J., concurs in part and dissents in part.

2-8-2012 - Opinions

4938 - Smith v. State

In this belated appeal from the denial of his application for post-conviction relief (PCR), Marlon Jermaine Smith asserts the PCR judge erred in denying and dismissing his claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel based on trial counsel's failure to (1) adequately communicate with petitioner, (2) interview or present the testimony of witnesses, and (3) advise petitioner to testify in his defense. We affirm.

4940 - York County v. SCDHEC

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) issued C&D Management Company a permit for a construction, demolition, and land-clearing debris landfill in York County. The County challenged that decision before the Administrative Law Court (ALC), which ruled in favor of C&D Management. The County appeals the ALC's judgment, arguing DHEC impermissibly ignored a County ordinance purporting to impose a moratorium on the construction of any new landfills. We affirm. Judge Lockemy dissents in a separate opinion.

2-15-2012 - Opinions

4941 - State v. Collins

Bentley Collins was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and three counts of owning a dangerous animal after his dogs killed a ten-year-old boy. Collins appeals the convictions claiming the trial court erred by (1) admitting seven autopsy photographs of the boy's partially eaten body and (2) denying his directed verdict motions as to both crimes. Because we find the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the photos, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

4942 - State v. Robinson

WILLIAMS, J.: Jomar Antavis Robinson (Robinson) was convicted of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute, possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute within one-half mile of a public park, unlawful carrying of a pistol, possession of marijuana, and resisting arrest. The circuit court sentenced Robinson to life imprisonment. Robinson appeals, arguing the circuit court erred in (1) denying Robinson's motion to suppress drugs found as a result of an illegal search and seizure; and (2) allowing the State to qualify the Commander of the Drug Enforcement Unit as an expert witness. We affirm.

4943 - Magnolia North POA v. Heritage Communities, Inc.

Appellants, Heritage Communities, Inc. (HCI), Heritage Magnolia North, Inc. (HMNI), and BuildStar Corporation (BuildStar) (collectively, Appellants), seek review of the jury's verdict in this construction defect action. [1] Appellants assign error to the trial court's: (1) finding of an amalgamation of Appellants' corporate interests, entities, and activities so as to blur the legal distinction between the corporations and their activities; (2) admitting evidence of construction defects at other HCI projects; (3) instructing the jury regarding actual and punitive damages; (4) granting of a directed verdict for Respondent Magnolia North Property Owners' Association, Inc. (the POA) on its claims for negligence and breach of the warranty of workmanlike services; (5) denying Appellants' motions for a directed verdict and a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV); and (6) upholding the jury's punitive damages award. We affirm.

2-22-2012 - Opinions

4944 - Consumer Advocate v. Department of Insurance

The Consumer Advocate appeals the administrative law court's ruling that section 38-73-910(A) of the South Carolina Code does not require notice to be published to the public when loss cost rates are subject to an overall decrease. We reverse.

4945 - State v. Coker

The circuit court revoked Phillip Coker's probation based solely on the failure to pay money and imposed a portion of the prison sentence originally suspended. Coker appeals arguing the circuit court failed to make the necessary findings of fact as to whether the violation was willful. We agree and reverse.

4946 - Walker v. State

In this post-conviction relief action arising out of Joseph Walker's convictions for kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual conduct, the circuit court granted Walker's PCR application based on trial counsel's failure to investigate a potential alibi witness and the cumulative prejudicial effect of three other alleged instances of deficient performance. We agree with the PCR court that trial counsel's performance regarding the alibi witness was deficient under the Sixth Amendment. However, we find the witness's testimony presented at the PCR hearing did not meet the legal definition of an alibi, and thus Walker failed to prove prejudice. We also find the PCR court erred in granting relief based on the cumulative effect of counsel's deficient performance. We reverse.

2-29-2012 - Opinions

4947 - Ferguson Fire v. Immedion

On appeal, Ferguson Fire and Fabrication, Inc. (Ferguson Fire) argues the circuit court erred in holding Immedion, LLC (Immedion) was not liable on the materialman's lien when Immedion paid its general contractor in full after receiving notice from Ferguson Fire. Ferguson Fire also contends the circuit court erred in holding its notice to Immedion was ineffective under South Carolina law. In addition, Ferguson Fire claims the circuit court erred in determining South Carolina law does not protect a materialman's lien until after the materialman records and serves a statement of the lien. Finally, Ferguson Fire argues the circuit court erred in awarding Immedion attorney's fees related to the filing and prosecution of a third-party claim. We affirm.

4948 - Hennes v. Shaw

In this dispute between two upstate realtors, the Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's denial of a directed verdict on Adrienne Hennes' breach of contract claim against John Shaw and affirmed the circuit court's grant of a directed verdict on Mr. Shaw's unfair trade practices claim against Ms. Hennes. Because the Court of Appeals concluded the circuit court erred in sua sponte charging the jury on conversion when this cause of action was neither pled nor tried by consent, the Court of Appeals reversed for a new trial on the remaining causes of action.