Fleming v. Rose, No. 25500.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtChief Justice TOAL.
Citation350 S.C. 488,567 S.E.2d 857
PartiesLt. J.A. FLEMING, Jr., Respondent, v. Boykin ROSE and James Caulder, Defendants, of whom Boykin Rose is, Petitioner.
Docket NumberNo. 25500.
Decision Date22 July 2002

350 S.C. 488
567 S.E.2d 857

Lt. J.A. FLEMING, Jr., Respondent,
v.
Boykin ROSE and James Caulder, Defendants, of whom Boykin Rose is, Petitioner

No. 25500.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard April 3, 2002.

Decided July 22, 2002.


350 S.C. 490
James A. Stuckey and Alexia Pittas-Giroux, both of Stuckey Law Offices, of Charleston, for petitioner

John A. O'Leary, of O'Leary Associates, of Columbia, and John S. Nichols, of Bluestein & Nichols, of Columbia, for respondent.

Jay Bender, of Baker, Ravenel & Bender, of Columbia, for amici curiae South Carolina Broadcasters Association and South Carolina Press Association.

Chief Justice TOAL.

This Court granted Boykin Rose's ("Rose") petition for certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' opinion in Fleming v. Rose, 338 S.C. 524, 526 S.E.2d 732 (Ct.App.2000). Rose argues the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the trial

350 S.C. 491
court's grant of summary judgment on the cause of action for libel

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case arose from the investigation of a December 19, 1991, traffic accident. In the early morning hours of December 19, a car struck a van carrying four troopers and their wives home from a holiday party. Several of the troopers and their wives were injured. An investigation was ordered. However, the investigation was handled very poorly, a possible cover-up ensued, and the incident resulted in a public relations debacle for the South Carolina Department of Public Safety ("SCDPS").1 A second investigation was conducted by Internal Affairs, SLED, solicitor Ralph Wilson, and special prosecutors Donnie Myers and Dick Harpootlian. The troopers in the van and some others involved in the cover-up were indicted,2 and SCDPS was sued by the other driver involved in the accident. The other driver, who was a civilian, was charged with felony DUI, but the charges were later dropped.

In July 1993, Rose became director of SCDPS. Rose ordered a third investigation of the alleged cover-up and appointed Robert Ivey ("Ivey") and John Murphy ("Murphy") to head the inquiry. Ivey and Murphy interviewed 100-125 people over the approximate five month investigation. During the investigation, the investigators determined that Respondent, Lt. James Fleming ("Fleming") had been contacted by one of the troopers involved in the accident, Jerry Cobb ("Cobb"). Cobb radioed Fleming, who was his supervisor, and

350 S.C. 492
asked him to meet him in Georgetown. According to Fleming, the meeting began with a discussion of golf and social matters. In addition, Cobb expressed his anger that Trooper Cottingham, who was also involved in the accident, was going to receive most of the insurance money and that the people in Georgetown had collected money for the Cottinghams but not for Cobb and his wife. Cobb indicated he and his attorney were going to get his original statement concerning the accident back from SLED because it was false. Furthermore, Fleming testified Cobb complained that "all his supervisors in every place he had been were always bringing him to Florence over things he had done wrong and he was tired of it" and "the s—was about to hit the fan." According to Fleming's testimony, his conversation with Cobb took place on a Saturday, and on Monday, Fleming relayed the conversation to his supervisor, James Caulder ("Caulder")

The main debate concerns whether Cobb told Fleming: (1) that the van was speeding at the time of the accident; and (2) that he had lied about the speed to the initial investigating officers. This was considered vital because if Fleming had passed this information on to Caulder, the investigation could have been concluded more quickly. Ivey testified that in his interview, Fleming indicated Cobb had told him the van was speeding at the time of the accident. The interview report form indicates Fleming recalled Cobb talking about the speed of the van. Fleming testified he could not recall Cobb mentioning a specific speed, but that he could have mentioned the van was speeding. However, Fleming stated he absolutely relayed the entire conversation to his supervisor Caulder the next work day.3

At the close of the investigation, Ivey and Murphy issued a report to Rose. They recommended Fleming receive a five-day suspension for failing to carry out his duties as a lieutenant by not reporting the entire contents of his conversation with Cobb to his supervisor. However, this discipline was reduced to a written reprimand.4

350 S.C. 493
After the investigation was concluded, Rose and the SCDPS issued a press release. Many articles were published by various newspapers around the state based on this release. It is this release Fleming alleges is defamatory. The release provides, in relevant part: "Lt. James Fleming learned key details about the accident from ... Jerry Cobb within a few months of the accident, including the approximate speed of the van. Fleming did not report this information to his superiors."

On January 22, 1996, Fleming filed a cause of action against Rose and Caulder for libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and due process violations. Rose and Caulder moved for summary judgment. On September 11, 1998, the circuit judge granted summary judgment and dismissed the action, ruling that Fleming was a public official and the publication had been limited to fair comment without actual malice. Fleming and Caulder appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment to Caulder but reversed the grant to Rose, holding there was evidence in the record from which the jury could infer Rose acted with actual malice. Fleming v. Rose, 338 S.C. 524, 526 S.E.2d 732 (2000). Rose petitioned this Court for certiorari. The sole issue now before this Court is:

Did the Court of Appeals err in reversing the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Rose, and holding the record contained sufficient evidence to send the question of whether Rose acted with actual malice to the jury?

LAW/ANALYSIS

Rose argues the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the trial court's grant of summary judgment as to the cause of action for libel. We agree.

When reviewing the grant of summary judgment, the appellate court applies the same...

To continue reading

Request your trial
252 practice notes
  • Erickson v. Jones Street Publishers, No. 26133.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • April 10, 2006
    ...actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm caused by the publication. Fleming v. Rose, 350 S.C. 488, 494, 567 S.E.2d 857, 860 (2002); Holtzscheiter II, 332 S.C. at 506, 506 S.E.2d at 518 (Toal, J., A defamation action is analyzed primarily u......
  • Anderson v. The Augusta Chronicle, No. 3597.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 3, 2003
    ...statement concerning him to a third party that either caused him special harm or was actionable irrespective of harm. See Fleming v. Rose, 350 S.C. 488, 567 S.E.2d 857 (2002); Boone v. Sunbelt Newspapers, Inc., 347 S.C. 571, 556 S.E.2d 732 Although defamation is substantively a matter of ou......
  • WILLIAMSBURG RURAL v. WILLIAMSBURG, No. 3707.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 8, 2003
    ...judgment, the appellate court applies the same standard applied by the trial court pursuant to Rule 56(c), SCRCP." Fleming v. Rose, 350 S.C. 488, 493, 567 S.E.2d 857, 860 (2002). Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on ......
  • Garrard v. Charleston Cnty. Sch. Dist., Appellate Case No. 2016-002525
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • November 6, 2019
    ...judgment, the appellate court applies the same standard applied by the [circuit] court pursuant to Rule 56(c), SCRCP." Fleming v. Rose , 350 S.C. 488, 493, 567 S.E.2d 857, 860 (2002). Summary judgment shall be granted when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
252 cases
  • Erickson v. Jones Street Publishers, No. 26133.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • April 10, 2006
    ...actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm caused by the publication. Fleming v. Rose, 350 S.C. 488, 494, 567 S.E.2d 857, 860 (2002); Holtzscheiter II, 332 S.C. at 506, 506 S.E.2d at 518 (Toal, J., A defamation action is analyzed primarily u......
  • Anderson v. The Augusta Chronicle, No. 3597.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 3, 2003
    ...statement concerning him to a third party that either caused him special harm or was actionable irrespective of harm. See Fleming v. Rose, 350 S.C. 488, 567 S.E.2d 857 (2002); Boone v. Sunbelt Newspapers, Inc., 347 S.C. 571, 556 S.E.2d 732 Although defamation is substantively a matter of ou......
  • WILLIAMSBURG RURAL v. WILLIAMSBURG, No. 3707.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 8, 2003
    ...judgment, the appellate court applies the same standard applied by the trial court pursuant to Rule 56(c), SCRCP." Fleming v. Rose, 350 S.C. 488, 493, 567 S.E.2d 857, 860 (2002). Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on ......
  • Garrard v. Charleston Cnty. Sch. Dist., Appellate Case No. 2016-002525
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • November 6, 2019
    ...judgment, the appellate court applies the same standard applied by the [circuit] court pursuant to Rule 56(c), SCRCP." Fleming v. Rose , 350 S.C. 488, 493, 567 S.E.2d 857, 860 (2002). Summary judgment shall be granted when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT