Etheredge v. Richland School Dist. I

Decision Date30 March 1998
Docket NumberNo. 2823.,2823.
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals
PartiesLinda L. ETHEREDGE, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Ernest Dunlap, III, Deceased, Appellant, v. RICHLAND SCHOOL DISTRICT I, Respondent.

Henry Hammer and John W. Carrigg, Jr., of Hammer, Hammer, Carrigg & Potterfield; and Douglas N. Truslow, Columbia, for Appellant.

Donald V. Richardson, Georgia Anna Mitchell, Charles E. Carpenter, Jr., and Tara S. Taggart, all of Richardson, Plowden, Carpenter & Robinson, Columbia, for Respondent.

ANDERSON, Judge:

Linda L. Etheredge, as personal representative of the estate of Ernest Dunlap, III (Etheredge), appeals from the trial court's order granting summary judgment to Richland School District I (School District). We reverse and remand.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 25, 1994, Floyd Brown, a student at Eau Claire High School, shot and killed Dunlap, a student at the school. Dunlap was shot while standing in the hallway during class change. Eau Claire High School is in the Richland County School District.

Etheredge, as personal representative of Dunlap's estate, filed this action against the Richland County School District alleging causes of action for wrongful death and survival damages arising from the shooting death of Dunlap. In the complaint, Etheredge maintained that, as Dunlap lay "in agony and pain on the floor from the gunshot wounds, [Adrian Hammond] ruthlessly and violently kicked [Dunlap] about the head and face until blood flowed from his mouth and nose." The School District averred the actions were barred by the South Carolina Tort Claims Act.1 The School District moved for summary judgment. At the summary judgment hearing, the School District submitted the affidavits of two Eau Claire High School employees: (1) Dorothy Walker, a teacher and (2) Ellen Mosely, the principal at the time of the shooting. Etheredge submitted the affidavit of Harland Brown, one of the campus monitors employed by the school.

According to Mosely, "[o]n January 20, 1993, school officials did find a pistol in Earnest [sic] Dunlap's possession." Further, "[o]n January 25, 1994, Adrian Hammond was on suspension. [Mosely] had not given [her] approval for Adrian Hammond to be present on campus that day."

Brown worked as a campus monitor at Eau Claire High School from September of 1993 until February of 1994. Brown's job encompassed "breaking up fights and preventing drugs and alcohol on the premises at the high school, to keep the hallways clear and provide security for the school." The School District employed only two campus monitors to enforce security inside and outside Eau Claire High School, which housed a student body of approximately 800-1000 students on three floors.

Brown received no training from the School District or Eau Claire High School regarding maintaining safety and security at the school. Further, Brown was not provided the proper equipment "to handle the situation that existed with the students." According to Brown, the School District had no policies, procedures, or other methods in effect to maintain control of the school or to ensure the safety and security of the students. If such policies existed, they were never communicated to Brown. He stated, in order to properly perform his duties involving security on the campus and inside the school, he "would have needed to have been given equipment such as a uniform; a badge to display authority; possibly a side arm; certainly a night stick; flash light; chemical mace; handcuffs and/or other restraining devices and appropriate communication equipment." The only equipment supplied to Brown was a walkie-talkie.

Odell Sumter, the other campus monitor, "was as illequipped to enforce the security" as was Brown. Brown declared he asked the principal and assistant principals, on numerous occasions, to provide appropriate equipment, such as night sticks and mace, to assist him in doing his job. Neither Brown nor Sumter received any of the requested equipment. They were told to "do the best [they] could." Brown was "never given the authority to search the persons, book bags or lockers of the students even though that would have been necessary for [him] to properly provide security in the building."

In his affidavit, Brown averred:

At and around the time the shooting occurred, the situation at Eau Claire High School was very volatile. I observed students curse at teachers; I observed students push and shove teachers; students were bringing weapons such as knives on campus; I regularly smelled the odor of marijuana and alcohol in the hallways; I regularly saw liquor bottles almost daily at the school. I once witnessed five (5) guys rush into a classroom and jump on one of the students while class was in session. At least twice a week, I would observe students in a drunken state; on a daily basis, I observed students under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. On one occasion, I witnessed students involved in explicit sexual activity on the school grounds. I reported all of this and still nothing was done.

Students apprehended for criminal activity were never disciplined in a manner consistent with the severity of their offense. Usually, they were given detention or some other minor punishment. Brown asserted "the students were in control of the school" and the "security was totally ineffective." Two people "were charged with trying to maintain security on three (3) halls, on three (3) different floors with almost one thousand (1,000) students, and [they] were also charged with maintaining security for the remainder of the campus." He stated his job was "almost impossible to do and the later shooting of Ernest Dunlap was an inevitability given the situation at the school at that time."

The trial court granted summary judgment to the School District based on S.C.Code Ann. § 15-78-60 (Supp.1996). The court explicitly relied upon five subsections of § 15-78-60: subsections (4), (5), (9), (20), and (25). Etheredge filed a motion to reconsider, which the court denied.

ISSUE
Did the trial court err in granting summary judgment to the School District?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is clear there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Summer v. Carpenter, 328 S.C. 36, 492 S.E.2d 55 (1997); True v. Monteith, 327 S.C. 116, 489 S.E.2d 615 (1997); Rule 56(c), SCRCP. See also Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Marine Contracting and Towing Co., 301 S.C. 418, 392 S.E.2d 460 (1990)

(motion for summary judgment shall be granted if pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and moving party is entitled to judgment as matter of law). In determining whether any triable issue of fact exists, as will preclude summary judgment, the evidence and all inferences which can be reasonably drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Summer, supra; Koester v. Carolina Rental Ctr., Inc., 313 S.C. 490, 443 S.E.2d 392 (1994); Pye v. Aycock, 325 S.C. 426, 480 S.E.2d 455 (Ct.App.1997). See also Bates v. City of Columbia, 301 S.C. 320, 391 S.E.2d 733 (Ct.App.1990) (in determining whether to grant summary judgment, pleadings and documents on file must be liberally construed in favor of nonmoving party who must be given benefit of all favorable inferences that might reasonably be drawn from record). If triable issues exist, those issues must go to the jury. Rothrock v. Copeland, 305 S.C. 402, 409 S.E.2d 366 (1991).

Summary judgment is not appropriate where further inquiry into the facts of the case is desirable to clarify the application of the law. Tupper v. Dorchester County, 326 S.C. 318, 487 S.E.2d 187 (1997); Baugus v. Wessinger, 303 S.C. 412, 401 S.E.2d 169 (1991). Even when there is no dispute as to evidentiary facts, but only as to the conclusions or inferences to be drawn from them, summary judgment should be denied. Tupper, supra; Koester, supra, Gilliland v. Elmwood Properties,

301 S.C. 295, 391 S.E.2d 577 (1990). See also Hamilton v. Miller, 301 S.C. 45, 389 S.E.2d 652 (1990) (trial court should deny summary judgment if there is genuine issue as to conclusions or inferences to be drawn from undisputed evidentiary facts). However, when plain, palpable, and indisputable facts exist on which reasonable minds cannot differ, summary judgment should be granted. Trico Surveying, Inc. v. Godley Auction Co., 314 S.C. 542, 431 S.E.2d 565 (1993); Rothrock, supra; Pye, supra. All ambiguities, conclusions, and inferences arising from the evidence must be construed most strongly against the movant. True, supra; Tupper, supra; Baugus, supra.

The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of clearly establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Baughman v. American Tel. and Tel. Co., 306 S.C. 101, 410 S.E.2d 537 (1991); Standard Fire Ins. Co., supra. For summary judgment to be granted, it must be perfectly clear no issue of fact is involved. Piedmont Engineers, Architects and Planners, Inc. v. First Hartford Realty Corp., 278 S.C. 195, 293 S.E.2d 706 (1982). See also State ex rel. McLeod v. Brown, 278 S.C. 281, 294 S.E.2d 781 (1982) (summary judgment should be granted only where it is perfectly clear no issue of fact is involved). With respect to an issue upon which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof, this initial responsibility may be discharged by showing the trial court there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Baughman, supra.

The moving party need not support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim. Id.

Once the party moving for summary judgment meets the initial burden of showing an absence of evidentiary support for the opponent's...

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