Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

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In this familial dispute over property, it was uncontradicted that the decedent Kenneth Walker deeded to his sister, Catherine Brooks, approximately forty acres of property in two separate transfers before his death. The question was whether the property was deeded to Brooks freely, or subject to an equitable mortgage which would require her to return it to Decedent's estate. After review, the Supreme Court held that no equitable mortgage existed; accordingly, the Court remanded. View "Walker v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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Kenneth Poch and Kevin Key were temporary workers contracted through Personnel Resources of Georgia, Inc. and Carolina Staffing, Inc. d/b/a Job Place of Conway, to work for Bayshore Concrete Products/South Carolina, Inc. to clean up a concrete casting worksite and dismantle equipment used to produce concrete forms. As a result of a tragic, work-related accident, Poch was killed and Key was injured. Poch's estate and Key received workers' compensation benefits through Job Place. Subsequently, Key and his wife and the estate of Poch filed suit against Bayshore SC and its parent company, Bayshore Concrete Products Corporation. The circuit court granted the company's motion to dismiss the actions on the ground that workers' compensation was Petitioners' exclusive remedy and, therefore, the company was immune from liability in a tort action. The Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's order. Though the Supreme Court agreed with the result reached by the Court of Appeals, it found the court incorrectly analyzed Petitioners' arguments. Accordingly, the Court affirmed as modified. View "Poch v. Bayshore Concrete" on Justia Law

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This action involved competing claims to the retirement benefits of the late Thomas Sullivan, a former National Football League (NFL) running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. Thomas married Lavona Hill in Maryland in 1979. They separated in 1983, but never divorced. In 1986, Thomas purported to marry Barbara Sullivan in South Carolina. Sullivan was unaware of Thomas' prior marriage to Hill. In 1991, Thomas submitted pension forms to the NFL indicating Sullivan was his current spouse. Thomas died in 2002. Thereafter, Sullivan filed a claim with the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan (the Plan), which provided benefits to a player's surviving spouse, defining the term as "a [p]layer's lawful spouse, as recognized under applicable state law." In November 2002, the Plan began paying Sullivan monthly benefits. Four years later, Hill contacted the Plan to request benefits. Following an investigation, the Plan suspended payments to Sullivan pending a court order identifying Thomas's surviving spouse. After Hill failed to obtain that order, the Plan resumed payments to Sullivan. In 2009, Hill filed this action against the Plan in Pennsylvania state court, claiming entitlement to Thomas's retirement benefits. The Plan promptly removed the case to federal district court and filed an interpleader counterclaim, joining Sullivan as a party. The United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question to the South Carolina Supreme Court over whether South Carolina law recognized the "putative spouse" or "putative marriage" doctrine. The Supreme Court answered the certified question "no." View "Hill v. Bell" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Decedent Robert L. Gilmore executed his Will, which was filed with the probate court upon his death in August of 2010. He bequeathed his entire estate to Respondents Francis D. Daniels and Patricia C. Daniels, who are unrelated to Decedent. Appellant Jennifer Turner was born on November 8, 1972. It is undisputed that Appellant and Decedent did not know each other, but she later learned that Decedent was her biological father. Appellant filed a claim of inheritance with the probate court based on section 62-2-302(b) of the South Carolina Code. The issue before the Supreme Court centered on whether Appellant qualified as a pretermitted child. Because the presumed facts of this case fell outside the clear language of section 62-2-302(b), the Supreme Court concluded that the probate court, and the circuit court on review, correctly dismissed Appellant's claim. View "Turner v. Daniels" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted Dana Medlock's petition for certiorari to determine whether a non-attorney who files a claim in probate court for a business entity engages in the unauthorized practice of law. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that a non-attorney may present claims against an estate on behalf of a business without unduly engaging in the practice of law. View "Medlock v. University Health Services" on Justia Law

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Appellants were initially appointed by the circuit court in March 2007 as Special Administrators with limited duties to oversee the handling of entertainer James Brown's estate after petitions were filed by some of Brown's family members seeking the removal of Respondents Albert Dallas, Alfred Bradley, and David Cannon as personal representatives. The court made the selection after the parties could not agree on who should be appointed. Ultimately, the three original fiduciaries either resigned or were removed from their positions as personal representatives and trustees. Appellants Robert Buchanan, Jr. and Adele Pope, formerly personal representatives for The Estate of James Brown and trustees of The James Brown 2000 Irrevocable Trust, appealed circuit court orders that: (1) approved a settlement agreement pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. 62-3-1102 (2009) of pending litigation concerning the estate; and (2) removed Appellants from their fiduciary positions and appointed Russell Bauknight as personal representative and trustee. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's removal of Appellants from their fiduciary positions, and, in light of the Court's decision invalidating the circuit court's approval of the compromise agreement, it likewise voided the appointment of Bauknight. The Court directed the circuit court, upon proper application, to appoint fiduciaries to oversee matters in accordance with the provisions of Brown's estate and trust documents, and to evaluate the propriety of all fees related to this case. View "Wilson v. Dallas" on Justia Law

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Appellants Robert Buchanan, Jr. and Adele Pope, formerly personal representatives for The Estate of James Brown and trustees of The James Brown 2000 Irrevocable Trust, appealed circuit court orders that: (1) approved a settlement agreement of pending litigation concerning the estate; and (2) removed Appellants from their fiduciary positions and appointed Russell L. Bauknight as personal representative and trustee. At the heart of this case is the estate of singer-entertainer James Brown, estimated to be worth between $5 million to $100 million. Brown devised all of his personal and household effects to six named adult children, with the remainder left to the James Brown 2000 Irrevocable Trust. Albert Dallas, Alfred Bradley, and David Cannon were named as the co-personal representatives of Brown's estate and as the co-trustees of the 2000 Irrevocable Trust. Brown's will and trust each contained a no-contest clause, which provided that any beneficiary who challenged the will or the 2000 Irrevocable Trust "shall forfeit his or her entire interest thereunder." Brown expressly disavowed any other potential beneficiaries. In 2001, Brown and Tommie Rae Hynie executed a prenuptial agreement whereby she waived any right to Brown's property or the receipt of alimony, including any claim for an interest in his estate. In 2004, Brown sought to annul the marriage, finding Tommie Rae was married to someone else. The couple had one child born prior to the prenuptial agreement or marriage. The parties dismissed their respective suits in a consent order late 2004, whereby Tommie Rae waived any claim of common law marriage. In 2007, five of the six adult children Brown named in his will and Tommie Rae, brought actions to set aside Brown's will and the 2000 Irrevocable Trust based on undue influence. They alleged Brown's estate should pass by the laws of intestate succession. Tommie Rae claimed that she was entitled to an elective share or an omitted spouse's share of Brown's estate and that her son, James B. (via a guardian ad litem), was entitled to a share of the estate as an omitted child. The probate court transferred these claims to the circuit court. Ultimately, the three original fiduciaries either resigned or were removed from their positions as personal representatives and trustees. A (New) Charitable Trust, similar to the existing Charitable Trust formed from the 2000 Irrevocable Trust, was to be created by the Attorney General (AG) with the advice and counsel of the parties. An Advisory Board was to be established, whose members would "serve at the pleasure of and on such terms as the [AG] shall decide." The number of members on the Advisory Board was to be determined by the AG, but would include a member selected by Tommie Rae and one selected by each of Brown's adult children, and the roles of all members of the board were expressly stated to "be solely advisory." A trust similar to the Brown Family Education Trust was to be established for the education of the grandchildren and their issue, to be funded with $2 million. The circuit court approved the compromise agreement and directed Appellants to execute the agreement. At the request of the settling parties, the circuit court appointed Bauknight to have full authority as the personal representative for Brown's estate and as trustee, and Appellants were removed from those positions. Appellants appealed these rulings as well as additional, related orders, and the Court of Appeals consolidated the appeals. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's removal of Appellants from their fiduciary positions, but, in light of its decision invalidating the circuit court's approval of the compromise agreement, the Court directed the circuit court to appoint new, neutral fiduciaries to oversee these matters. View "In re: The Estate of James Brown" on Justia Law

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The parties in this case were married for thirty years. Following the onset of serious health problems (for both), they separated. A family court judge was tasked with identifying and dividing the marital estate upon dissolution of the marriage. The issue before the Supreme Court in this matter centered on whether trust distributions could be considered marital property. The Court ruled that they can in limited circumstances. Further, the Court affirmed the family court's division of the marital estate, but reversed the inclusion of one tract of timber. The Court also reversed the reservation of alimony to the wife and modified that portion of the order that required the husband to pay the wife's attorney's fees and costs. View "Wilburn v. Wilburn" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court certified the following question to the South Carolina Supreme Court: "Does the 'dual persona' doctrine allow an injured employee to bring an action in tort against his employer as a successor in interest who, through a corporate merger, received all liabilities of a predecessor corporation that never employed the injured person but allegedly performed the negligent acts that later caused the employee's injuries, or is such action barred by the exclusivity provision of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act?" The decedent-employee of Walterboro Veneer, Inc. died resulting from a fall into a vat of heated milling solution while trying to access a leak to repair. the defendant-employers removed the case to federal court and subsequently moved to dismiss the case brought by the employee's estate, arguing that they were immune from suit under the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act. Each defendant sought dismissal based on the Act's exclusivity provision. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that South Carolina recognizes the "dual persona" doctrine: "under South Carolina law, whether the dual persona doctrine applies in a particular case turns on whether the duty claimed to have been breached is distinct from those duties owed by virtue of the employer's persona as such. In this case, that determination lies with the federal court." View "Mendenall v. Anderson Hardwood Floors" on Justia Law

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In this wrongful death and survival action involving a train collision, Appellant Connie Carson as personal representative of the estate of Beryl Harvey, argued on appeal that the circuit court erroneously excluded certain evidence, charged the jury, and permitted an inconsistent verdict in the survival action. Upon review of the circuit court's ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed the court's evidentiary determinations and jury charge, but reversed the circuit court's decision denying Appellant's request for a new trial nisi additur and remanded the survival action for a new trial. View "Carson v. CSX Transportation" on Justia Law