City of Rock Hill v. Harris

Decision Date24 January 2011
Docket NumberNo. 26917.,26917.
Citation705 S.E.2d 53,391 S.C. 149
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesCITY OF ROCK HILL, Respondent,v.Tyler M. HARRIS, Appellant.

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Bobby G. Frederick and Laura L. Hiller, both of Myrtle Beach, for Appellant.Solicitor Paula Knox Brown, of Rock Hill, for Respondent.Chief Justice TOAL.

In this case, Tyler M. Harris (Appellant) claims that section 20–7–8920 of the South Carolina Code, now section 63–19–2440 (hereinafter section 63–19–2440), is unconstitutional because it conflicts with Article XVII, section 14 of the South Carolina Constitution. Section 63–19–2440 makes it illegal for persons under the age of twenty-one to “consume, or knowingly possess beer, ale, porter, wine, or other similar malt or fermented beverage.” Article XVII, section 14 of the our Constitution deems citizens over eighteen to have full legal rights and responsibilities, with the sole exception that the General Assembly may restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages to persons until the age of twenty-one. We construe the term “sale” broadly and therefore affirm Appellant's conviction.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 10, 2007, Appellant was a rear passenger in a vehicle stopped for a traffic violation in the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina. After admitting to the officer that he had consumed two beers, Appellant, who was then twenty years old, was cited for possession of beer under twenty-one, pursuant to section 20–7–8920, and for public disorderly conduct.

The municipal court convicted Appellant of the possession charge. Appellant thereafter appealed his conviction to the circuit court, arguing three grounds: (1) the city of Rock Hill failed to prove jurisdiction over the matter, (2) beer is not an alcoholic beverage as defined by the statute, and (3) the statute under which Appellant was convicted is unconstitutional. The circuit court affirmed the conviction. Appellant then filed a timely appeal to the court of appeals. This case is before this Court under Rule 204(b), SCACR. Appellant preserves only the constitutional issue in this appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

An issue regarding statutory interpretation is a question of law. Jeter v. S.C. Dept. of Transp., 369 S.C. 433, 438, 633 S.E.2d 143, 146 (2006). In a case raising a novel question of law, the appellate court is free to decide the question with no particular deference to the lower court. Ex parte Capital U–Drive–It, Inc., 369 S.C. 1, 6, 630 S.E.2d 464, 467 (2006); Hagood v. Sommerville, 362 S.C. 191, 194, 607 S.E.2d 707, 708 (2005).

LAW/ANALYSIS

I. Construction of Article XVII, section 14 of the South Carolina Constitution

Appellant argues that section 63–19–2440 of the South Carolina Code conflicts with Article XVII, section 14 of the South Carolina Constitution because the statute restricts more than the sale of alcoholic beverages to eighteen to twenty year olds by also restricting their possession and consumption. We disagree.

A. Applicable Law

An amendment to the South Carolina Constitution originates by proposal before the General Assembly and, if passed by two-thirds vote in each House, is then submitted to the people of South Carolina in the next general election. S.C. Const. art. XVI, § 1. If the electorate votes in favor of the amendment, the General Assembly makes the final decision as to its ratification by securing a simple majority vote in each House. Id.

When this Court is called to interpret our Constitution, it is guided by the principle that both the citizenry and the General Assembly have worked to create the governing law. See Miller v. Farr, 243 S.C. 342, 133 S.E.2d 838, 841 (1963) (stating that the Court's efforts in construing the South Carolina Constitution are aimed at assessing the intent of its framers and the people who adopted it). Therefore, the Court will look at the “ordinary and popular meaning of the words used,” Richardson v. Town of Mount Pleasant, 350 S.C. 291, 294, 566 S.E.2d 523, 525 (2002), keeping in mind that amendments to our Constitution become effective largely through the legislative process. Miller v. Farr, 243 S.C. 342, 347, 133 S.E.2d 838, 841 (1963). For this reason, “the Court applies rules similar to those relating to the construction of statutes to arrive at the ultimate goal of deriving the intent of those who adopted it. Id.

In determining whether a statute complies with the South Carolina Constitution, the Court will, if possible,

construe[ ] [the statute] so as to render it valid; every presumption will be made in favor of the constitutionality of a legislative enactment; and a statute will be declared unconstitutional only when its invalidity appears so clearly as to leave no room for reasonable doubt that it violates some provision of the Constitution.

Moseley v. Welch, 209 S.C. 19, 26–27, 39 S.E.2d 133, 137 (1946).

The power of our state legislature is plenary, and therefore, the authority given to the General Assembly by our Constitution is a limitation of legislative power, not a grant. Id. at 26, 39 S.E.2d at 137. This means that “the General Assembly may enact any law not expressly, or by clear implication, prohibited by the State or Federal Constitutions....” Id. At the same time, when determining the effect of statutory language, “the canon of construction ‘ expressio unius est exclusio alterius ’ or ‘ inclusio unius exclusio alterius ’ holds that ‘to express or include one thing implies the exclusion of another, or the alternative.’ State v. Bolin, 378 S.C. 96, 100, 662 S.E.2d 38, 40 (2008) (quoting Hodges v. Rainey, 341 S.C. 79, 533 S.E.2d 578 (2000)).

Absent ambiguity, the court will look to the plain meaning of the words used to determine their effect. Hodges, 341 S.C. at 85, 533 S.E.2d at 581. However, the plain meaning rule is subject to this caveat:

However plain the ordinary meaning of the words used in a statute may be, the courts will reject that meaning when to accept it would lead to a result so plainly absurd that it could not possibly have been intended by the Legislature or would defeat the plain legislative intention. If possible, the court will construe the statute so as to escape the absurdity and carry the intention into effect.

Id. (quoting Kiriakides v. United Artists Commc'ns, Inc., 312 S.C. 271, 275, 440 S.E.2d 364, 366 (1994)).

1. State v. Bolin

Appellant relies partly upon this Court's finding in State v. Bolin, 378 S.C. 96, 662 S.E.2d 38 (2008), to support its argument that section 63–19–2440 is unconstitutional. In Bolin, this Court held that the General Assembly exceeded its authority under Article XVII, section 14 by restricting hand gun possession among persons aged eighteen to twenty. 378 S.C. at 100, 662 S.E.2d at 40. The Court looked at the plain language of the amendment to find that the constitution's preservation of authority for the General Assembly to regulate this age group with respect to alcoholic beverages necessarily implied the exclusion of any authority the General Assembly may have had to restrict other rights of this age group. Id.

The same canons of statutory construction used in Bolin lead to a different conclusion here. Therefore, in reaching the conclusion that sale has a broad meaning, Bolin remains intact.

B. Construing “Sale”

Sale is defined as “the exchange of goods or services for money.” American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.2001). It is our opinion, however, that the exchange of a good necessarily implies it will be possessed by the buyer. Further, if the Court were to narrowly read sale as authorizing the General Assembly to restrict only the exchange of alcoholic beverages for money, an absurd result could follow that might defeat the will of the people of South Carolina and the General Assembly. In this instance, the exchange of money would be the only technicality sitting between an eighteen year old and her access to alcohol. For example, bars could supply alcoholic beverages for free in efforts to attract older, paying patrons; retailers could give free beer in exchange for the purchase of other store merchandise; and persons over the age of twenty could openly purchase alcohol for this age group with impunity. The possibility of an absurd result compels us to look beyond the face of the amendment to ascertain the intent of its adopters.

1. Legislative History

During the 1973 legislative session, the General Assembly considered and passed Joint Resolution H.1018 (Resolution) to submit a constitutional amendment to voters regarding the legal rights of eighteen year olds. H.R.J. Res. 1018, 100th Gen. Assemb., 1st Reg. Sess. (S.C.1973). At the time the legislature considered this Resolution, it was unlawful in South Carolina for persons under the age of twenty-one to purchase or possess any alcoholic liquors. S.C.Code Ann. § 1–4–96.1 (1962). Retailers were similarly prohibited from selling, bartering, exchanging, giving, transferring, or delivering alcoholic liquors to minors. S.C.Code Ann. § 1–4–78(3)(c). The same rules applied to the purchase, possession, and sale of beer and wine, except that the prohibitions affected persons under age eighteen. See S.C.Code Ann. §§ 1–4–203 & 1–4–203.4 (1962).

The original reading of the Resolution gave unrestricted rights to eighteen year olds, providing that “persons eighteen years of age or older shall be endowed with full legal capacity.” H.R.J. Res. 1018, 100th Gen. Assemb., 1st Reg. Sess. (S.C. Feb. 8, 1973). Incorporating this amendment into the constitution would have created a number of new rights for eighteen year olds, 1 including the right to purchase, possess, and consume alcoholic liquors. The House passed this Resolution, and after three readings on the Senate floor, the Senate designated it to be carried over. Id. at Apr. 3, 1973. However, the motion to carry the Resolution forward was suddenly withdrawn and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee proposed to amend the Resolution by inserting, provided, that the General...

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