567 S.E.2d 514 (S.C.App. 2002), 3512, Cheap-O's Truck Stop, Inc. v. Cloyd

Docket Nº:3512.
Citation:567 S.E.2d 514, 350 S.C. 596
Party Name:350 S.C. 596 CHEAP-O's TRUCK STOP, INC., Respondent, v. Chris CLOYD and United Oil Marketers, Inc., Appellants. Midland Gaming, Inc., Respondent, v. Chris Cloyd, United Oil Marketers, Inc., and United Gaming, Appellants.
Case Date:June 03, 2002
Court:Court of Appeals of South Carolina
 
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567 S.E.2d 514 (S.C.App. 2002)

350 S.C. 596

CHEAP-O's TRUCK STOP, INC., Respondent,

v.

Chris CLOYD and United Oil Marketers, Inc., Appellants.

Midland Gaming, Inc., Respondent,

v.

Chris Cloyd, United Oil Marketers, Inc., and United Gaming, Appellants.

No. 3512.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

June 3, 2002.

        Heard April 9, 2002.

        Rehearing Denied Aug. 23, 2002[350 S.C. 597].

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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        [350 S.C. 600] Timothy G. Quinn, of Columbia, for appellants.

        S. Jahue Moore, of Moore, Taylor, & Thomas, of W. Columbia, for respondents.

        ANDERSON, Judge:

        Chris Cloyd, United Oil Marketers, Inc., United Gaming (collectively "appellants") entered into an alleged settlement agreement with Cheap-O's Truck Stop, Inc., and Midlands Gaming, Inc. (collectively "respondents"). The appellants appeal the circuit court's order enforcing the settlement agreement, finding Chris Cloyd in contempt, and awarding attorney's fees in the amount of $1,050.00. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

        FACTS/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

        Cheap-O's Truck Stop, Inc. and Midland's Gaming, Inc., entered into various business arrangements with Chris Cloyd, United Oil Marketers, Inc., and United Gaming. Midlands Gaming filed a complaint against Cloyd, United Oil Marketers, and United Gaming. Cheap-O's filed a complaint against Cloyd and United Oil Marketers.

        [350 S.C. 601]The Midlands Gaming case was called for trial on July 17, 2000 in Lexington County before Judge Kenneth Goode. The Cheap O's case was scheduled to be heard the following week. The attorneys struck the jury in preparation for trial. Before the jury was sworn or opening statements delivered, both cases were settled. The parties put the settlement on the record and announced to the court that the defendants would pay the plaintiffs $80,000.00, of which $60,000.00 would be paid immediately, and $20,000.00 would be paid within two weeks. No order was signed in connection with this matter until August 15, 2000, when Judge Marc Westbrook signed a form order dismissing the case pursuant to Rule 43(k), SCRCP.

        Cheap-O's and Midlands Gaming filed a petition to enforce the settlement. In connection with the petition, Judge Goode issued a rule to show cause on August 14, 2000, directing the appellants to show cause why the petition should not be granted. On August 24, 2000, the Supreme Court issued an order vesting Judge Goode with concurrent jurisdiction in Lexington and Fairfield counties on August 24, 2000. Judge Goode held the rule to show cause hearing on that date in Fairfield County.

        Judge Goode subsequently entered an order on September 18, 2000, finding the settlement agreement complied with Rule 43(k) and enforcing it. Judge Goode held Chris Cloyd in contempt for refusing to comply with the settlement agreement, willfully disobeying a subpoena, and willfully disregarding the court's order approving the settlement. He also awarded attorney's fees in the amount of $1,050.00. Cloyd, United Oil Marketers, and United Gaming appeal.

        LAW/ANALYSIS

        I. SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

        The appellants argue the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to issue the rule to show cause, conduct the rule to show cause hearing, and issue the order in connection with the rule to show cause. They contend the circuit judge was required to exercise his judicial powers within the geographical boundaries of Lexington County. We disagree.

        [350 S.C. 602] The Supreme Court issued the following order in connection with the rule to show cause hearing:

Pursuant to the provisions of S.C. CONST. Art. V, § 4, IT IS ORDERED that the Honorable Kenneth G. Goode be vested with jurisdiction to hear and dispose of common pleas matters for Lexington County for the day of August 24, 2000. The jurisdiction is concurrent with his previously

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scheduled assignment to the term of the Court of Common Pleas for Fairfield County which is otherwise unaffected by this Order.

        JEAN HOEFER TOAL, CHIEF JUSTICE

        By: Motte Talley

        Motte Talley, Assistant Director

        S.C. Court Administration

        "The Chief Justice shall set the terms of any court and shall have the power to assign any judge to sit in any court within the unified judicial system." S.C. Const. Art. V, § 4. Thus, the order vests Judge Goode with jurisdiction for Lexington and Fairfield counties pursuant to the power of the Chief Justice under article V of the South Carolina Constitution.

        Judge Goode heard this Lexington County matter on August 24, 2000, in Fairfield County. We find the order does not require Judge Goode to travel to Lexington to hear the Lexington County matter. He had jurisdiction in both counties concurrently. Further, in its order the circuit court stated, "once the court recognized Mr. Quinn was raising a jurisdictional objection it contacted the South Carolina Court Administration and received a directive to proceed with the Rule to Show Cause Hearing."

        II. ATTORNEY CONFLICT OF INTEREST

        Appellants declare the respondents' attorney should have been disqualified from representing the respondents in this suit. They claim the attorney's law firm previously represented appellant United Oil Marketers, Inc., in a substantially similar matter. We find this issue is moot.

        "An appellate court will not pass on moot and academic questions or make an adjudication where there remains no actual controversy." Curtis v. State, 345 S.C. 557, 567, 549 [350 S.C. 603] S.E.2d 591, 596 (2001) (citing Jackson v. State, 331 S.C. 486, 489 S.E.2d 915 (1997)). "Mootness has been defined as follows: 'A case becomes moot when judgment, if rendered, will have no practical legal effect upon existing controversy. This is true when some event occurs making it impossible for the reviewing Court to grant effectual relief.' " Byrd v. Irmo High School, 321 S.C. 426, 431, 468 S.E.2d 861, 864 (1996) (quoting Mathis v. S.C. State Highway Dep't, 260 S.C. 344, 346, 195 S.E.2d 713, 715 (1973)).

        Because we find the present case was settled and the settlement is enforceable, the issue is moot. See S.C. State Highway Dep't v. McKeown Food Store No. 9, 254 S.C. 180, 183, 174 S.E.2d 342, 343 (1970) (holding a settlement ended the litigation and rendered moot the issue on appeal); Stevens v. Stevens, 272 S.C. 130, 130, 249 S.E.2d 744, 744 (1978) (holding that as the result of a settlement entered into between the parties, all issues were moot in the case except that involving attorney fees).

        III. ENFORCEABILITY OF SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT

        Appellants argue the circuit court erred in finding the agreement was enforceable under Rule 43(k), SCRCP. They aver the purported settlement agreement was not reduced to writing and the agreement that is on the record does not contain material terms. We disagree.

        "No agreement between counsel affecting the proceedings in an action shall be binding unless reduced to the form of a consent order or written stipulation signed by counsel and entered in the record, or unless made in open court and noted upon the record." Rule 43(k), SCRCP. Rule 43(k) is applicable to settlement agreements. Ashfort Corp. v. Palmetto Constr. Group, Inc., 318 S.C. 492, 494, 458 S.E.2d 533, 534 (1995). The purpose of rules such as Rule 43(k) is to prevent fraudulent claims of oral stipulations, to prevent disputes as to the existence and terms of agreements, and to relieve the court of the necessity of determining such disputes. Reed v. Associated Invs. of Edisto Island, Inc., 339 S.C. 148, 152, 528 S.E.2d 94, 96 (Ct.App.2000) (citing Ashfort, 318 S.C. at 495, 458 S.E.2d at 535; 83 C.J.S. Stipulations § 4 (1953)).

        [350 S.C. 604] Even though the settlement agreement was not in writing, it complied with Rule 43(k) because it was made in open court and

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noted upon the record. In announcing the settlement, the respondents' attorney stated the following:

Yes, Sir. The terms are as follows: The defendants in those cases will pay to the plaintiffs in those cases the sum of Eighty-Thousand Dollars ($80,000.00). Sixty-Thousand Dollars ($60,000.00) of that eighty will be paid immediately; twenty thousand will be paid within the next two weeks. So this week, we'll have sixty, the balance will be within the next two weeks. There will be mutual releases, mutual orders for dismissals. Neither party will--after the payment of the eighty-thousand dollars, neither party owes anybody any money. They are completely released from any liability to each other. And the court can go ahead, if it would, and do a form order.

        The dissent latches on to the fact that the administrative judge, not the...

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