Aiken v. S.C. Dep't of Revenue, Appellate Case No. 2017-001790

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtJUSTICE JAMES
Citation839 S.E.2d 96,429 S.C. 414
Docket NumberOpinion No. 27944,Appellate Case No. 2017-001790
Decision Date12 February 2020
Parties Jimmie AIKEN, Leila Brown, Vernonda Cohen, Carla David, Anthony Sabb, James Ginn, and Shirley Rice, as named Plaintiffs representing a class of South Carolina citizens, Respondents, v. SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, Appellant.

429 S.C. 414
839 S.E.2d 96

Jimmie AIKEN, Leila Brown, Vernonda Cohen, Carla David, Anthony Sabb, James Ginn, and Shirley Rice, as named Plaintiffs representing a class of South Carolina citizens, Respondents,
v.
SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, Appellant.

Appellate Case No. 2017-001790
Opinion No. 27944

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard September 25, 2019
Filed February 12, 2020


General Counsel Jason P. Luther, Counsel for Litigation Dana R. Krajack and Counsel for Litigation Sean G. Ryan, all of Columbia, for Appellant.

Robert N. Hill, of Lexington, Mark B. Tinsley, of Gooding & Gooding, PA, of Allendale, Daniel W. Williams, of Bedingfield & Williams, LLC, of Barnwell and Charles H. Williams, of Williams & Williams, of Orangeburg, for Respondents.

JUSTICE JAMES :

429 S.C. 416

Respondents, individually and as members of a putative class, brought this declaratory judgment action against the Department of Revenue seeking refunds of amounts garnished from their wages by the Department to satisfy delinquent debts they allegedly owe to other governmental entities. The merits of the case are not before the Court, as the sole issue on appeal arises from the circuit court's grant of Respondents' motion to strike one defense from the Department's answer to Respondents' second amended complaint.

In the stricken defense, the Department alleges subsection 12-60-80(C) of the South Carolina Revenue Procedures Act (the RPA)1 prohibits this action from proceeding as a class action against the Department. The Department appealed the circuit court's order to the court of appeals, and we certified the Department's appeal pursuant to Rule 204(b) of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules. We reverse the circuit court

429 S.C. 417

and hold this case cannot proceed as a class action against the Department.

I.

Each named Respondent allegedly owes or owed money to either Allendale County Hospital or The Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg. Both hospitals are governmental entities. The hospitals contracted with the Department to collect the alleged debts pursuant to section 12-4-580 of the South Carolina Code (2014). Section 12-4-580 is known as the Governmental Enterprise Accounts Receivable (GEAR) program and provides in pertinent part:

The department and another governmental entity may contract to allow the department to collect an outstanding liability owed the governmental entity. In administering the provisions of those agreements, the department has all the rights and powers of collection provided pursuant to [Title 12] for the collection of taxes and all the rights and powers authorized the governmental entity to which the liability is owed.

S.C. Code Ann. § 12-4-580(A). Respondents contend the Department's use of

839 S.E.2d 98

section 12-4-580 (the GEAR program) and section 12-54-130 of the South Carolina Code (2014) (the wage garnishment statute) to collect these debts is unlawful for various reasons; the particulars of this contention are not before us.

Respondents seek to represent a class of all persons similarly situated to them, and also seek to include in the class those persons whose wages were garnished to collect other types of delinquent debts, including student loan debt, tenant debt, and child care debt. In its answer, the Department alleged subsection 12-60-80(C) of the RPA prohibits this action from proceeding as a class action. Subsection 12-60-80(C) provides:

Notwithstanding subsections (A) and (B), a claim or action for the refund of taxes may not be brought as a class action in the Administrative Law Court or any court of law in this State, and the department, political subdivisions, or their instrumentalities may not be named or made a defendant in any other class action brought in this State.

Respondents moved to strike this defense. The Department argued the delinquent debts it collects are "taxes" under

429 S.C. 418

subsection 12-60-30(27) of the RPA (2014); therefore, the Department contended, the first clause in subsection 12-60-80(C) prohibits Respondents' putative class action because it is an action seeking "the refund of taxes." The Department also argued that even if the delinquent debts are not "taxes," the second (or "catchall") clause of subsection 12-60-80(C) bars "any other" class action against the Department.

In granting Respondents' motion to strike, the circuit court ruled the first portion of subsection 12-60-80(C) does not apply to this case because the delinquent debts garnished from Respondents' wages are not "taxes" as that term is defined in subsection 12-60-30(27) of the RPA or as that term is commonly understood. The circuit court also rejected the Department's contention that the catchall clause of subsection (C) bars any other class actions against the Department. The circuit court's reasoning was threefold. First, the circuit court ruled this interpretation runs afoul of the one-subject rule set forth in Article III, section 17 of the South Carolina Constitution because it "multiplies the number of subjects within the same Act" that enacted subsection (C). In support of this ruling, the circuit court noted subsection (C) was enacted as part of Act No. 69 of 2003, and the title to Act 69 contains no reference to the RPA barring all class actions against the Department. Second, the circuit court ruled that had the General Assembly intended to bar class actions over non-tax debt, the General Assembly would have placed the bar in the GEAR statute ( section 12-4-580 ) and not in...

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4 practice notes
  • Jones v. Lexington Health Servs. Dist., Inc. (In re), C/A No. 18-06304-DD, 14-00864-DD, 17-02620-DD
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Fourth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of South Carolina
    • July 8, 2020
    ...in this action. The defendant relies on the South Carolina Supreme Court's recent case, Aiken v. South Carolina Department of Revenue , 429 S.C. 414, 839 S.E.2d 96 (2020), in which the court found that South Carolina Code § 12-60-80(C) provides that a state agency cannot be named in any cla......
  • Flowers v. Giep, 5864
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 6, 2021
    ...evidence of its intent, and this [c]ourt is bound to give effect to the legislature's expressed intent." Aiken v. S.C. Dep't of Revenue, 429 S.C. 414, 419, 839 S.E.2d 96, 99 (2020). "When a statute's terms are clear and unambiguous on their face, there is no room for statutory construction ......
  • Flowers v. Giep, Appellate Case No. 2017-002299
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 6, 2021
    ...evidence of its intent, and this [c]ourt is bound to give effect to the legislature's expressed intent." Aiken v. S.C. Dep't of Revenue , 429 S.C. 414, 419, 839 S.E.2d 96, 99 (2020). "When a statute's terms are clear and unambiguous on their face, there is no room for statutory construction......
  • Munday v. Beaufort Cnty., 9:20-cv-02144-DCN-MHC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • July 14, 2022
    ...BCDC and the County. In support of this argument, defendants suggest that in Aiken v. South Carolina Department of Revenue, 839 S.E.2d 96 (S.C. 2020), the South Carolina Supreme Court held that the “catch-all” language of § 12-60-80(C) precludes all class actions against governmental entiti......
4 cases
  • Jones v. Lexington Health Servs. Dist., Inc. (In re), C/A No. 18-06304-DD, 14-00864-DD, 17-02620-DD
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Fourth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of South Carolina
    • July 8, 2020
    ...in this action. The defendant relies on the South Carolina Supreme Court's recent case, Aiken v. South Carolina Department of Revenue , 429 S.C. 414, 839 S.E.2d 96 (2020), in which the court found that South Carolina Code § 12-60-80(C) provides that a state agency cannot be named in any cla......
  • Flowers v. Giep, 5864
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 6, 2021
    ...evidence of its intent, and this [c]ourt is bound to give effect to the legislature's expressed intent." Aiken v. S.C. Dep't of Revenue, 429 S.C. 414, 419, 839 S.E.2d 96, 99 (2020). "When a statute's terms are clear and unambiguous on their face, there is no room for statutory construction ......
  • Flowers v. Giep, Appellate Case No. 2017-002299
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 6, 2021
    ...evidence of its intent, and this [c]ourt is bound to give effect to the legislature's expressed intent." Aiken v. S.C. Dep't of Revenue , 429 S.C. 414, 419, 839 S.E.2d 96, 99 (2020). "When a statute's terms are clear and unambiguous on their face, there is no room for statutory construction......
  • Munday v. Beaufort Cnty., 9:20-cv-02144-DCN-MHC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • July 14, 2022
    ...BCDC and the County. In support of this argument, defendants suggest that in Aiken v. South Carolina Department of Revenue, 839 S.E.2d 96 (S.C. 2020), the South Carolina Supreme Court held that the “catch-all” language of § 12-60-80(C) precludes all class actions against governmental entiti......

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