Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

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Petitioners Edward and Tammy Dalsing (Foster Parents) sought to adopt a young girl (Child). Foster Parents' private action for termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption was consolidated with the South Carolina Department of Social Services' removal action against Erica Smith (Mother) and Andrew Myers (Father). At the final hearing, the family court: (1) adopted the permanent plan of TPR and adoption; (2) terminated Mother's parental rights; (3) found Father was not a person whose consent was required for Child's adoption, but as a further sustaining ground, terminated Father's parental rights; and (4) granted Foster Parents' petition for adoption. Father appealed, and the court of appeals vacated in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case to the family court for a new permanency planning hearing. The court of appeals ruled the family court erred in terminating Father's parental rights, finding Foster Parents failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence a statutory ground for TPR existed. The court of appeals found the record did not contain clear and convincing evidence to show that Father abandoned Child, willfully failed to visit Child, or willfully failed to support Child. The court of appeals remanded the matter to the family court for a new permanency planning hearing. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision. “Although the court of appeals' list of actions taken by Father may appear sufficient to find clear and convincing evidence did not support this statutory ground for TPR, a close analysis of the record reveals otherwise. Several of the actions listed separately by the court of appeals were not actually separate and distinct actions, but rather occurred within a month's time of one another, and approximately one year after Child's birth.” The Court found the trial court record contained clear and convincing evidence that Father abandoned Child. The Court therefore reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the family court's grant of adoption to Foster Parents. View "So. Carolina Dept. Social Svcs v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Nila Collean Carter sought to revoke her consent to the adoption of her two biological children. Throughout the proceedings, Petitioner was never provided an opportunity to be heard on the merits of her claim before the adoption was finalized. The South Carolina Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' unpublished decision affirming the family court's denial of Petitioner's motion to set aside the final adoption decree pursuant to Rule 60(b), SCRCP. Because Petitioner's Rule 60(b) motion was timely filed and sufficiently alleged extrinsic fraud, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded this matter to the family court for further proceedings. View "Ex Parte: Carter" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Nila Carter sought to revoke her consent to the adoption of her two biological children. Petitioner was never provided an opportunity to be heard on the merits of her claim before the adoption was finalized. The South Carolina Supreme Court issued a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' unpublished decision affirming the family court's denial of Petitioner's motion to set aside the final adoption decree pursuant to Rule 60(b), SCRCP. Because Petitioner's Rule 60(b) motion was timely filed and sufficiently alleged extrinsic fraud, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed and remanded this matter to the family court for further proceedings. View "Ex Parte: Carter" on Justia Law

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In this case, the South Carolina Supreme Court had to decide whether Petitioners Edward and Tammy Dalsing had standing to pursue a private action to adopt a child who had been placed in their foster care by the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS). Law enforcement took the minor child (Child) into emergency protective custody after discovering an active methamphetamine lab outside the home where Child resided with Allyssa and Jonathan Boulware. Child was sunburned, had several insect bites, suffered from severe diaper rash, and tested positive for methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana. DSS placed Child in foster care with Petitioners on the same day and then commenced an abuse and neglect removal action. Child's biological parents were Allyssa Boulware and John Stafford (Parents), and Child's legal father by marriage is Jonathan Boulware. The instant controversy began when DSS and Parents reached an agreement for Child to be placed with relatives Darryl and Ruth Ann Armstrong (Aunt and Uncle) in order to give Parents more time to work on a treatment plan. The proposed placement with Aunt and Uncle was not an adoptive placement. DSS intended to close its case after Parents completed the treatment plan. Petitioners immediately moved to intervene in DSS's removal action and commenced a private TPR and adoption action. The family court held a second permanency planning hearing, but declined to rule on DSS's new permanent plan of relative placement with Aunt and Uncle until the court ruled on Petitioners' motion to intervene. The family court found Petitioners did not have standing, and the court of appeals affirmed. S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Boulware. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the family court, concluding Petitioners had standing to pursue a private adoption under the facts of this case. View "S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Boulware" on Justia Law

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Diane and Otis Bass had three children: Brittany, Hanna, and Alex. All three children were special needs, but Hanna and Alex were also autistic. Otis worked outside the home, and Diane cared for the children. Due to their forms of autism and their other cognitive issues, both Hanna and Alex were prescribed Clonidine to help them sleep at night, in addition to other medications. A compounding pharmacy filled the Clonidine prescription. In April 2008, the prescription was inadvertently mixed at one thousand times the recommended concentration. Diane administered the wrongly compounded Clonidine to Hanna and later to Alex. Both children had serious reactions that required hospitalization. DSS received a report that two special needs children were in the hospital due to "possible poisoning by parents." The agency assigned an overall danger rating of "medium" to the case. A caseworker assigned to the case recommended the children be removed from the Bass home and placed with Diane's sister, Linda. Linda would later learn that the compounding pharmacy improperly filled the Clonidine prescription. Linda notified DSS, and the agency subsequently concluded that the medication was the cause of the children's hospitalization. This revelation led to the eventual return of the children to Diane and Otis. However, DSS continued to make announced and unannounced visits at the Bass home through the end of 2008 and refused to remove its finding that Diane and Otis "harmed their children" from the agency's file on Petitioners. Petitioners filed a lawsuit against DSS, the compounding pharmacy, and the pharmacist, alleging negligence and gross negligence, and seeking actual and punitive damages. After settling with the pharmacy and the pharmacist, Petitioners served DSS with an amended complaint alleging causes of action for gross negligence, defamation, and outrage, and sought actual damages. DSS moved for a directed verdict at the conclusion of Petitioners' case, and again at the conclusion of all of the evidence. The trial judge denied both motions. At the conclusion of the evidence, Petitioners withdrew their defamation cause of action, and moved for a directed verdict regarding DSS's defenses of discretionary immunity and negligence of a third party. The trial judge granted Petitioners' motions for directed verdict as to those defenses. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict for Petitioners, and awarded them $4 million in damages. DSS subsequently filed motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), for new trial absolute, and to reduce the verdict. The trial court issued an order denying DSS's post-trial motions. However, the trial court granted DSS's motion to reduce the verdict. The court of appeals reversed the jury's verdict. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, finding the trial court did not err in its decision. View "Bass v. SCDSS" on Justia Law

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In August 2012, then-sixteen-year-old Appellant Stephen W. was charged with possession of marijuana. At the adjudicatory hearing, Appellant moved for a jury trial, claiming that he was entitled to a jury trial under the United States and South Carolina Constitutions. The family court denied Appellant's motion. The family court adjudicated Appellant delinquent and ordered that Appellant spend six consecutive weekends at the Department of Juvenile Justice, complete an alternative educational program, and continue with his prior probation for a period of time not to exceed his eighteenth birthday or until he obtained a G.E.D. Appellant directly appealed to the Supreme Court. He argued that the family court erred in denying his motion for a jury trial in a family court juvenile proceeding. Because there was no constitutional right to a jury trial in a family court juvenile proceeding, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Interest of Stephen W." on Justia Law

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Appellant-wife Shirley Crossland contended on appeal to the Supreme Court that the court of appeals erred in reversing the family court's award of alimony, in modifying the equitable division of the marital estate, and in remanded an issue over attorney fees. With regard to the alimony issue, Wife argued the court of appeals erred in holding that, for the purposes of awarding alimony, income should be imputed to her based on her eligibility for social security retirement benefits she has not applied to receive. "Indeed, the family court may, but is not in all cases required to, consider eligibility for government benefits, and under the circumstances of this case, the family court did not commit reversible error. Thus the court of appeals erred in finding the family court was required to impute income to Wife based on social security benefits she is eligible to receive at age sixty-two. Although voluntary decreases in income may prompt a family court to consider a party's earning capacity instead of actual income, it is clear that 'the failure to reach earning capacity, by itself, does not automatically equate to voluntary underemployment such that income must be imputed.'" The Supreme Court agreed with Wife with regard to her remaining issues, reversed, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Crossland v. Crossland" on Justia Law

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Jane Doe appealed a family court's order declaring her to be a "vulnerable adult" and in need of protective services pursuant to the South Carolina Omnibus Adult Protection Act. Doe contended the South Carolina Department of Social Services ("DSS") failed to prove that she was at substantial risk of neglect due solely to her advanced age. Doe wanted reversal of the family court's order so that she may be released from involuntary protective custody and returned to her home. Because the Supreme Court found that Doe did not meet the statutory definition of a vulnerable adult under the Act, the Court reversed. However, because there may have been significant changes to Doe's physical and mental health and to the condition of Doe's home during the pendency of this appeal, the Court remanded the case in order for the family court to conduct a review hearing to assess the current status of Doe's case. View "In the Interest of Jane Doe" on Justia Law

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In an expedited appeal, Michelle G. challenged the termination of her parental rights to two of her three sons. The family court terminated her rights as to two, and denied the mother's motion to dismiss on grounds that section 63-7-2570(1) was unconstitutionally vague. On appeal, the mother argued that the TPR statute violated the Fourteenth Amendment and was void for vagueness. After review of the facts of this case, the Supreme Court found no reversible error, and affirmed the family court's termination decision. View "SCDSS v. Michelle G." on Justia Law

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Jetter Pittman (Husband) and Gloria Pittman (Wife) were married in April 2000 and separated in March 2007. Wife petitioned for divorce on adultery grounds. Wife argued to the family court that Husband's land surveying business, Pittman Professional Land Surveying, Inc., was transmuted into marital property and was thus subject to equitable apportionment. Husband challenged the court of appeals' decision that affirmed the family court's finding of transmutation, which resulted in the inclusion of the land surveying business in the marital estate. Although the Supreme Court found the court of appeals erred in affirming the family court's reliance on the parties' premarital conduct in the transmutation analysis, it nevertheless affirmed based on the parties' conduct during the marriage. The Supreme Court found the evidence supported the finding that the parties intended the land surveying business to be the common property of the marriage. View "Pittman v. Pittman" on Justia Law