Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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Pickens County, South Carolina sought a contested case hearing in the administrative law court (ALC) to challenge a landfill permit modification issued to MRR Pickens, LLC (MRR) by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). The ALC dismissed the County's challenge, finding the County failed to timely request DHEC to conduct a final review of the decision to issue the permit modification. The court of appeals reversed and remanded to the ALC for further proceedings. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals in part, vacated in part, and remanded to the ALC for further proceedings. The Court affirmed the court of appeals' rejection of MRR and DHEC's argument that the County's actual notice of the Permit Modification in December 2015 and January 2016 triggered the fifteen-day limitations period set forth in subsection S.C. Code Ann. sec. 44-1-60(E)(2). Because the ALC found the County's request for final review untimely under subsection 44-1-60(E)(2), the ALC did not rule upon the issue of whether DHEC properly classified the Permit Modification as a minor modification. The court of appeals correctly reversed the ALC on this point when it held the ALC should have determined whether DHEC properly classified the Permit Modification before ruling upon the statutory timeliness of the County's challenge. The ALC expressly refused to make any findings as to whether the County was entitled to notice and as to whether the Permit Modification was major or minor. While the Supreme Court held the ALC erred in not deciding whether the modification was major or minor, it was not for the court of appeals to make these findings of fact; therefore, the Court vacated this portion of the court of appeals' opinion. The Supreme Court also vacated other portions of the opinion that could be construed to make factual findings. The ALC must determine on remand whether DHEC properly classified the Permit Modification as a minor modification. Only after resolving that question can the ALC determine whether the County's request for a contested case hearing was untimely under subsection 44-1-60(E)(2). View "Pickens County v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals filed by Greenville County, South Carolina, the issue central to the cases involved a zoning dispute between the County and Greenville Bistro, LLC, d/b/a Bucks Racks & Ribs. Greenville Bistro filed suit against the County to enjoin the County from enforcing an ordinance to deny Greenville Bistro's desired method of operating Bucks Racks & Ribs. Citing other ordinances, the County counterclaimed and moved to enjoin Greenville Bistro from operating Bucks as a sexually oriented business. Both appeals concerned the legality of Greenville Bistro operating Bucks as a restaurant with the added feature of scantily clad exotic dancers. The circuit court granted Greenville Bistro's motion for a temporary injunction, and the County appealed. While the County's appeal was pending, another circuit court denied the County's motion for temporary injunctive relief, ruling that in light of the County's appeal it did not have jurisdiction to consider the County's motion. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed both rulings, dissolved the injunction granted to Greenville Bistro, and held the County was entitled to injunctive relief. The case was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Greenville Bistro, LLC. v. Greenville County" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court in this case involved two consolidated cross-appeals from the Public Service Commission's (PSC) determinations regarding ratemaking applications filed by Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC (DEC) and Duke Energy Progress, LLC (DEP) (collectively, Duke). Each Duke entity owned one coal-fired power plant in South Carolina and seven coal-fired power plants in North Carolina, for a total of sixteen affected plants. In their ratemaking applications, the two Duke entities sought recovery for expenses related to their plants in both states, with those costs shared proportionately between their North and South Carolina customers. The PSC allowed in part and disallowed in part the requested expenses. On appeal, Duke contended the PSC erred in disallowing: (1) environmental compliance costs associated with North Carolina law; (2) litigation costs incurred by Duke in defending itself from various lawsuits; and (3) carrying costs on specified deferred accounts. In the cross-appeal, the South Carolina Energy Users Committee (SCEUC) contended the PSC erred in allowing DEC recovery of costs associated with a now-abandoned nuclear project in Cherokee County because of the South Carolina General Assembly's repeal of the Base Load Review Act (BLRA). After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the PSC's decisions in full because its decisions were supported by substantial evidence in the record, were not arbitrary or capricious, and were not controlled by an error of law. View "Duke Energy Carolinas v. SC Office of Regulatory Staff" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court granted petitioners' request for a declaration with respect to Provisos 1.108 and 1.103 of the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act1 were invalid. Proviso 1.108 (enacted June 22, 2021,) was directed to the South Carolina Department of Education for South Carolina's kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) public schools, and banned face mask mandates at any of its education facilities. Proviso 1.103 permitted school districts to offer a virtual education program for up to five percent of its student population based on the most recent 135 day ADM [(average daily membership)]count without impacting any state funding. For every student participating in the virtual program above the five percent threshold, the school district would not receive 47.22% of the State per pupil funding provided to that district as reported in the latest Revenue and Fiscal Affairs revenue per pupil report pursuant to Proviso 1.3. Although the School District did not require its students to wear masks in its education facilities, it claimed Proviso 1.108 conflicted with local laws regarding mask requirements in schools and placed the School District in an untenable position. In addition, Petitioners claimed the School District reached the five percent cap for virtual enrollment and did not wish to risk losing state funds by exceeding the cap in Proviso 1.103. The School District asked for guidance on its options and obligations regarding face masks and virtual education. Petitioners contended: (1) Provisos 1.108 and 1.103 violate the one-subject rule of article III, section 17 of the South Carolina Constitution; (2) the plain language of Proviso 1.108 permitted the School District to implement and enforce mask mandates in its education facilities if the School District did so with funds not appropriated or authorized in the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act; (3) Provisos 1.108 and 1.103 improperly invade the authority of local school boards; and (4) Provisos 1.108 and 1.103 denied equal protection to students and violated their constitutional right to free public education. The Supreme Court held the provisos were constitutional, and rejected the remaining challenges to the validity of the provisos. View "Richland County School District 2 v. Lucas" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Jennifer Pinckney, Howard Duvall, and Kay Patterson challenged the constitutionality of section 10-1-165 of the South Carolina Code (2011). Petitioners also sought an injunction prohibiting enforcement of section 10- 1-165. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted the petition to hear the case in its original jurisdiction and found unconstitutional the procedural provision in subsection 10-1-165(B) purporting to restrict the General Assembly's legislative power by imposing a supermajority voting requirement to amend or repeal section 10-1-165. The Court found no constitutional violation in the substantive provisions in subsection 10-1-165(A) preventing the relocation, removal, renaming, or rededication of monuments, memorials, streets, bridges, parks, or other structures. The Court denied petitioners' request for an injunction. View "Pinckney v. Peeler" on Justia Law

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South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson sought a declaration by the South Carolina Supreme Court concerning the use of facemasks in the public schools of South Carolina during the coronavirus pandemic. The Court construed Proviso 117.190 of the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act relating to public institutions of higher learning, and determined from the language in that proviso that the University of South Carolina was not precluded from issuing a universal mask mandate that applied equally to vaccinated and unvaccinated students and faculty alike. This case involved a different proviso from the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act: Proviso 1.108, relating to public schools serving students grades kindergarten through 12 (K-12). Proviso 1.108 manifestly set forth the intent of the legislature to prohibit mask mandates funded by the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act in K-12 public schools. The Attorney General contended the City of Columbia passed ordinances in direct opposition to Proviso 1.108, mandating masks in all K-12 public schools in the City of Columbia. "While allowing school districts flexibility to encourage one policy or the other, the state legislature has elected to leave the ultimate decision to parents. Conversely, the City of Columbia has attempted to mandate masks for all school children by following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, which has the effect of disallowing parents a say in the matter." The Supreme Court upheld Proviso 1.108 and declared void the challenged ordinances of the City of Columbia insofar as they purported to impose a mask mandate in K-12 public schools. View "Wilson v. City of Columbia" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Public Service Commission (PSC) was a quasi-judicial body established by the South Carolina General Assembly, to which the legislature delegated "power and jurisdiction to supervise and regulate the rates and service of every public utility in this State and to fix just and reasonable standards, classifications, regulations, practices, and measurements of service to be furnished, imposed, or observed, and followed by every public utility in this State." Part of this power includes the authority "to create incentives for utilities to improve their business practices." The PSC's order on appeal here was primarily focused on providing incentives to the utility to improve its business practices. Appellant, Blue Granite Water Co. (Blue Granite), was a utility that provided water and sewer services. Blue Granite was formerly known as Carolina Water Service (CWS). CWS changed its name to Blue Granite as part of a rebranding campaign, in part because the utility had earned an unfavorable reputation throughout the state. In rejecting Blue Granite's request for an approximate 50% rate increase, and in an effort to incentivize Blue Granite to improve its business practices, the PSC set a lower return on equity (ROE) than requested and allowed only certain portions of Blue Granite's requested costs, citing to the utility's known, poor reputation and service problems. On appeal, Blue Granite contended the PSC's attempts to incentivize the utility actually unfairly punished the company in violation of law. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part. As to the issues involving the ROE, storm costs, and bond, the Court found the PSC's decision was not unfairly punitive, not arbitrary or capricious, and not clearly erroneous. However, as to the Greenville office expenses, the Court found the PSC's decision to completely deny yearly rental expenses was arbitrary and capricious. The Court therefore remanded this case back to the PSC for additional proceedings. View "In re Application of Blue Granite" on Justia Law

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Lucille Ray sued the City of Rock Hill, South Carolina (the City) for inverse condemnation, claiming her property was taken as a result of stormwater flowing through pipes under City streets and into a terra cotta pipe that ran underneath and behind her property. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the City, and the court of appeals reversed, holding a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the City engaged in an affirmative, positive, aggressive act sufficient to support Ray's claim. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals (as modified), and remanded the case back to the circuit court for a determination on the merits as to whether the City's reconnection of its three stormwater pipes to the catch basin and the resumed flow of water through the Pipe constituted an affirmative, positive, aggressive act causing damage to the Property over and above any damage that had occurred before the three pipes were severed and reconnected. "Given the posture of this case and the above discussion, Ray cannot recover for any damage to the Property caused by the flow of water though the Pipe before the City reconnected its three pipes to the catch basin in November 2012." View "Ray v. City of Rock Hill" on Justia Law

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Greenville County Council implemented what it called a "road maintenance fee" to raise funds for road maintenance and a "telecommunications fee" to upgrade public safety telecommunication services. Plaintiffs, three members of the South Carolina General Assembly, claimed the two charges were taxes and, therefore, violated section 6-1-310 of the South Carolina Code (2004). The South Carolina Supreme Court agreed: the road maintenance and telecommunications taxes were invalid under South Carolina law. View "Burns v. Greenville County Council" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, several Summerville residents and public interest groups (Petitioners) asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to invalidate approval granted by the Town of Summerville Board of Architectural Review (the Board) for construction of a proposed development project (the Project). Petitioners contended the Board violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and various Summerville ordinances. At some point during Petitioners' appeal of the Board's decision, Applegate & Co. (the Developer) decided not to go forward with the Project. Since there remained no actual controversy for the Supreme Court to decide, it vacated the court of appeals' decision and dismissed Petitioners' appeal as moot. View "Croft v. Town of Summerville" on Justia Law