Estate of Mims v. The South Carolina Department of Disabilities And Special Needs

Decision Date08 November 2017
Docket Number2017-UP-422
PartiesEstate of Edward James Mims, Laura M. Cole, Personal Representative, Appellant, v. The South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, Kathi Lacy, and Stan Butkus, Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2014-001373
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals


Heard June 8, 2017

Appeal From Richland County G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

Patricia Logan Harrison, of Columbia, for Appellant.

William H. Davidson, II and Kenneth P. Woodington, of Davidson & Lindemann, PA of Columbia, both for Respondents.


Edward Mims, a severely disabled adult, [1] sued Respondents South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN) and two of DDSN's employees, Kathy Lacy and Stan Butkus alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act; negligent supervision gross negligence, and negligence; and civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C § 1983. After a hearing, the circuit court granted Respondents' motion for summary judgment. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand to the circuit court.


Mims was born prematurely and, as a result, suffered both physical and mental disabilities. At age twenty-one, an evaluation found him to have the cognitive ability of a twenty-month-old child. During the first twenty-seven years of his life, Mims lived with and was cared for by his mother, Margaret Mims. In 1999, Ms. Mims fell ill, and Mims was voluntarily committed to full-time DDSN care in a residential facility known as "Clusters." While at Clusters, Mims experienced several ailments, including bruises on his groin, severe vomiting, and a twenty-eight pound weight loss. In 2001, Mims was beaten by a Clusters employee. Several months after the beating, Ms. Mims requested Mims be returned to her care. In response, DDSN petitioned the probate court to have Mims judicially committed to the residential facility. After a hearing, the probate court judicially admitted Mims to DDSN's care, concluding he was profoundly mentally retarded with complex medical needs.

In 2002, Mims was transferred from Clusters to another residential facility under contract with DDSN called "Kensington." In 2003, the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) investigated Clusters and found the facility failed to consistently provide the staffing or training necessary to protect residents.

Between 2002 and 2004, Mims was treated for a swollen and bruised hand, elevated blood pressure, pain, and an incident where he was discovered to have a large number of ant bites. In late 2004, one of Mims' co-residents died after choking on insufficiently pureed food, precipitating another investigation by CMS. In April 2005, CMS terminated Kensington's certification. As a result, some of Kensington's residents were relocated to other facilities; however, DDSN did not relocate Mims.

A month later, on May 27, 2005, Mims presented to the emergency room with a four centimeter laceration to the undersurface of his penis. Although the emergency-room doctor's notes described the injury as a "[s]uperficial laceration to penis, " the laceration was repaired with seven sutures. An internal investigation of the injury concluded "the origin remains unexplained." Upon learning of the injury, Ms. Mims initiated proceedings to become Mims' guardian.

An emergency hearing was held on Ms. Mims' petition for guardianship. Based on evidence presented indicating Kensington was decertified in April 2005 and Mims sustained a "serious unexplained injury" on May 27, 2005, the probate court appointed Ms. Mims as her son's guardian and custodian.

On May 29, 2007, Ms. Mims filed a complaint on Mims' behalf, suing DDSN for various torts and statutory violations. However, that complaint was never served. On May 7, 2008, Mims filed an amended complaint, adding Respondents Lacy and Butkus to the lawsuit and pleading the current allegations. The amended complaint was served on May 12, 2008.

Respondents filed a motion to dismiss for untimely service, which was originally denied but then granted after a hearing on the motion to reconsider. Mims ex rel. Mims v. Babcock Ctr., Inc., 399 S.C. 341, 343-44, 732 S.E.2d 395, 396 (2012). Mims appealed the dismissal, and the South Carolina Supreme Court found the amended complaint was timely served. Id. (holding Rule 15(a), SCRCP, allows for filing and service of an amended complaint without leave of court, even if the original complaint was not served).

The case was remanded, and Respondents moved for summary judgment. After a hearing, the circuit court granted summary judgment, finding: (1) Mims' lawsuit was limited in scope to potential liability for three incidents of personal injury: the 2001 beating by a Clusters employee, the 2004 "ant-bite incident, " and the 2005 penis injury; (2) the majority of Mims' causes of actions were time-barred; and (3) the remaining causes of action either failed as a matter of law because they were insufficiently pled or because Mims failed to satisfy his summary judgment burden.


The circuit court ruled the statute of limitations barred most of Mims' claims, including: (1) the § 1983 claims that arose before May 12, 2005, and (2) the state tort claims that arose before May 12, 2006. In so ruling, the circuit court found Mims' lawsuit commenced on May 12, 2008, the day his amended complaint was served. The circuit court additionally found Mims was not entitled to disability tolling under section 15-3-40 of the South Carolina Code (2005) because he was not "insane" for purposes of the statute when his causes of action accrued and, alternatively, even if he was "insane, " his disability ceased when Ms. Mims was appointed his guardian. We reverse.

Initially, we find Mims' lawsuit commenced on May 7, 2008, the day Mims' amended complaint was filed. S.C. Code Ann. § 15-3-20(B) (2005) ("A civil action is commenced when the summons and complaint are filed with the clerk of court if actual service is accomplished within one hundred twenty days after filing." (emphasis added)); Rule 3(a), SCRCP ("A civil action is commenced when the summons and complaint are filed with the clerk of court . . . . "(emphasis added)).

While this reading of section 15-3-20(B) and Rule 3(a), SCRCP, is a departure from pre-2004 jurisprudence, [2] it is the only logical way to interpret and apply the current version of Rule 3(a)(2), SCRCP, which explicitly permits commencement of a lawsuit when a pleading has been served after the statute of limitations has run. See Mims, 399 S.C. at 346, 732 S.E.2d at 397-98 ("[Section 15-3-20(B)] and [Rule 3(a), SCRCP], read together, provide that (1) an action is commenced upon filing the summons and complaint, if service is made within the statute of limitations, and (2) if filing but not service is accomplished within the statute of limitations, then service must be made within 120 days of filing."); S.C. Dep't of Transp. v. First Carolina Corp. of S.C., 369 S.C. 150, 154, 631 S.E.2d 533, 535 (2006) (stating that whenever possible, legislative intent should be found in the plain language of the statute itself).[3]

Next, we find that under section 15-3-40, Mims is entitled to tolling of the statute of limitations. Section 15-3-40 permits tolling if a claimant is "insane." In Wiggins v. Edwards, 314 S.C. 126, 442 S.E.2d 169 (1994), the South Carolina Supreme Court defined the term "insane" for purposes of the tolling statute by stating:

Insanity or mental incompetency that tolls the statute of limitations consists of a mental condition which precludes understanding the nature or effects of one's acts, an incapacity to manage one's affairs, an inability to understand or protect one's rights, because of an over-all inability to function in society, or the mental condition is such as to require care in a hospital.

314 S.C at 129, 442 S.E.2d at 170 (quoting 54 C.J.S. Limitations of Actions § 117). We find there is no material fact in dispute regarding the severe mental disabilities Mims experienced since birth. The uncontroverted evidence presented to the circuit court demonstrates Mims was never able to manage his own affairs or protect his rights, and Mims required consistent one-on-one care to accomplish daily tasks of living. We therefore find Mims was entitled to the statutory tolling protection of section 15-3-40. See Wiggins, 314 S.C at 129, 442 S.E.2d at 170.

Additionally we find the circuit court erred in ruling section 44-26-90 of the South Carolina Code (2018), [4] permits tolling for only those who were declared legally incapacitated by a formal court order before their actions accrued. There is no explicit language in section 44-26-90 that restricts the effect of the disability tolling statute in this way, and both statutes were passed by the Legislature to protect vulnerable people. To interpret section 44-26-90 as removing the protections created by section 15-3-40 for someone who meets the definition of "insane" from Wiggins, but who has not yet been declared incompetent by a probate court, is contrary to the general policy in South Carolina of affording special protection to the mentally disabled, especially in civil legal proceedings. See Lancaster Cty. Bar Ass'n v. S.C. Comm'n on Indigent Def., 380 S.C. 219, 222, 670 S.E.2d 371, 373 (2008) ("In construing a statute, [an appellate court] will reject an interpretation when such an interpretation leads to an absurd result that could not have been intended by the [L]egislature." (citing Auto Owners Ins. Co. v. Rollison, 378 S.C. 600, 663 S.E.2d 484 (20...

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