Garrison v. Target Corp., Appellate Case No. 2017-000267

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtGEATHERS, J.
Citation838 S.E.2d 18,429 S.C. 324
Parties Carla Denise GARRISON and Clint Garrison, Appellants/Respondents, v. TARGET CORPORATION, Respondent/Appellant.
Docket NumberOpinion No. 5711,Appellate Case No. 2017-000267
Decision Date15 January 2020

429 S.C. 324
838 S.E.2d 18

Carla Denise GARRISON and Clint Garrison, Appellants/Respondents,
v.
TARGET CORPORATION, Respondent/Appellant.

Appellate Case No. 2017-000267
Opinion No. 5711

Court of Appeals of South Carolina.

Heard May 15, 2019
Filed January 15, 2020
Rehearing Denied February 20, 2020


Joshua Thomas Hawkins and Helena LeeAnn Jedziniak, both of Hawkins & Jedziniak, LLC, of Greenville; and G. Todd Butler, of Phelps Dunbar LLP, of Jackson, Mississippi, all for Appellants/Respondents.

Lewis F. Powell, III and George P. Sibley, III, both of Hunton & Williams LLP, of Richmond, Virginia; and Knox L. Haynsworth, III, of Brown, Massey, Evans, McLeod & Haynsworth, LLC, of Greenville, all for Respondent/Appellant.

GEATHERS, J.:

429 S.C. 335
838 S.E.2d 24

In this negligence action, Appellants/Respondents, Carla Denise Garrison and Clint Garrison (the Garrisons), challenge the circuit court's order setting aside the jury's $4.5 million punitive damages award, arguing (1) there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that the conduct of Respondent/Appellant Target Corporation (Target) was reckless, willful, or wanton; (2) the verdict was not excessive; and (3) Target waived the application of the punitive damages caps set forth in section 15-32-530(A) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2019). The Garrisons also challenge the circuit court's pre-judgment interest award, arguing the circuit court erred by calculating the interest on compensatory damages only. Target appeals the circuit court's denial of its motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) as to liability, arguing there was insufficient evidence of Target's constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition on its premises.

429 S.C. 336

Target also appeals the denial of its motion for a new trial absolute, arguing the punitive damages award reflected the jury's passion, caprice, and prejudice. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for a remittitur of the jury's punitive damages award.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 21, 2014, Appellant/Respondent Carla Denise Garrison (Denise) and her eight-year-old daughter (Daughter) visited the Target store in Anderson. After parking her car, Denise retrieved her coupon book and placed it on the hood of the car to examine it. As she was examining the coupon book, Denise heard Daughter ask, "Mommy, what is this?" Denise turned her attention to Daughter and saw her holding a syringe with a needle in it. Denise "immediately reacted" by swatting the syringe out of Daughter's hand, exclaiming, "Don't ever pick anything like that up, that's dirty, that's nasty." When Denise swatted the syringe, the needle punctured her right palm, and she noticed a bead of blood emerge from the puncture site.

Denise went inside the store to wash her hands several times and called her husband, Appellant/Respondent Clint Garrison (Clint). Clint advised Denise to report the incident, so Denise spoke to the store manager, Shelby Brintnall, and they both took photographs of the syringe lying in the parking lot. Brintnall took possession of the syringe and completed a "Guest Incident Report" form, recounting the incident as Denise had relayed it to her.1 In response to the form's question, "Was the floor/ground clean and dry," Brintnall checked the "No" box. Brintnall also advised Denise to get medical treatment and give the bill to her. After Denise left the store, Brintnall completed a second report that was entitled "LOD Investigation Report."2 In this report, Brintnall indicated that she did not see a needle in the syringe.

429 S.C. 337

The next day, Denise visited the local hospital emergency room, where a nurse referred Denise to an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Potts,3 at AnMed Health Specialty Clinic. The clinic collected a blood sample to have it tested for HIV and hepatitis, and Dr. Potts prescribed several medications targeted at preventing HIV and hepatitis. The medications caused Denise to feel dizzy and lose her balance. They also upset her stomach, put her into a "zombie-like state," and caused her to have night terrors. Clint testified that Denise was bedridden during this time. Clint had to take unpaid leave from work to care for Denise, and Clint's mother had to help care for the Garrisons' four children. Further, Denise had to have her blood tested every three months for approximately one year.

838 S.E.2d 25

Soon after Denise started taking the medications, an investigator for Target telephoned Denise and asked her if she thought Target was responsible for her injury. She told the investigator that Target was "supposed to take care of the parking lot" but she was asking only that Target pay her medical bills. Denise eventually filed an action against Target seeking damages for negligence and violation of the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act. Subsequently, Denise submitted to Target a $12,000 offer of judgment, but Target did not accept the offer. Denise and Clint later filed a second action against Target, asserting causes of action for negligence and loss of consortium. The circuit court consolidated the two actions and conducted a trial on September 5 through 8, 2016.

At trial, Brintnall testified that Target's Anderson store did not have a formal policy for regular "safety sweeps" of the parking lot but there were measures in place to keep the parking lot in order. She stated that the store had cart attendants who retrieved carts from the parking lot and simultaneously checked for debris and picked it up. The attendants also advised the team lead-on-duty of anything they saw that "need[ed] to be noted." However, Brintnall admitted that management did not "have a set time" for the cart attendants to perform these tasks; rather, they did them "every so often." Brintnall added that the store's Property Maintenance Technician, Jonathan Jackson, "walk[ed] the building" in the mornings.

429 S.C. 338

The parties also introduced testimony regarding Target's loss of the syringe and the Garrisons' loss of photographs of the syringe. Brintnall explained that after she took possession of the syringe, she thought that a co-worker disposed of it but later learned that it was still at the store. Subsequently, an employee of the Garrisons' counsel took photographs of the syringe with her cell phone, but those photographs could not be produced for trial. Brintnall then lost track of the syringe once again, and its location at the time of trial was a "great mystery." Moreover, Clint was unable to retrieve from his own cell phone photographs purportedly showing the needle in the syringe. In light of all of this testimony, the circuit court gave a jury instruction on the doctrine of spoliation.4

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict for Denise that included $100,000 in compensatory damages and $4.5 million in punitive damages. The jury also awarded Clint $3,500 for lost wages and $5,000 for loss of consortium. The circuit court granted Target's motion for a JNOV as to punitive damages but denied Target's remaining post-trial motions. The circuit court granted the Garrisons' motion for costs, pre-judgment interest, and post-judgment interest but calculated pre-judgment interest on compensatory damages only. These cross-appeals followed.

ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Was there sufficient evidence of Target's constructive knowledge of a dangerous condition on its premises to allow the issue of Target's liability to go to the jury?

2. Was there sufficient evidence of Target's recklessness, willfulness, or wantonness to support the jury's punitive damages award?

3. Did the amount of the punitive damages award violate due process?

429 S.C. 339

4. Did Target waive the application of the punitive damages caps in section 15-32-530 ?5

838 S.E.2d 26

5. Did the punitive damages award reflect the jury's passion, caprice, and prejudice such that a new trial absolute was required?

6. Did the circuit court err by calculating pre-judgment interest on compensatory damages only?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

JNOV

"When ruling on a JNOV motion, the trial court is required to view the evidence and the inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Williams Carpet Contractors, Inc. v. Skelly , 400 S.C. 320, 325, 734 S.E.2d 177, 180 (Ct. App. 2012). "This court must follow the same standard." Id. "If more than one reasonable inference can be drawn or if the inferences to be drawn from the evidence are in doubt, the case should be submitted to the jury." Id. (quoting Chaney v. Burgess , 246 S.C. 261, 266, 143 S.E.2d 521, 523 (1965) ).

"In considering a JNOV, the trial judge is concerned with the existence of evidence, not its weight." Curcio v. Caterpillar, Inc. , 355 S.C. 316, 320, 585 S.E.2d...

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6 practice notes
  • Garrison v. Target Corp., Appellate Case No. 2020-000523
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 26, 2022
    ...JUSTICE BEATTY :869 S.E.2d 800435 S.C. 570 We granted cross-petitions for a writ of certiorari to review Garrison v. Target Corporation , 429 S.C. 324, 838 S.E.2d 18 (Ct. App. 2020) and determine whether the court of appeals erred in (1) affirming the trial court's denial of Target's motion......
  • Garrison v. Target Corp., 28080
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 26, 2022
    ...and Industry Groups. BEATTY CHIEF JUSTICE We granted cross-petitions for a writ of certiorari to review Garrison v. Target Corporation, 429 S.C. 324, 838 S.E.2d 18 (Ct. App. 2020) and determine whether the court of appeals erred in (1) affirming the trial court's denial of Target's motion f......
  • O'Shields v. Columbia Auto., LLC, Appellate Case No. 2017-000902
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 11, 2021
    ...amount of the verdict or award from the date of the offer; ...[15 ]This court recently addressed this issue in Garrison v. Target Corp. , 429 S.C. 324, 377, 838 S.E.2d 18, 46 (2020) (cert. granted , S.C. Sup. Ct. Order dated October 19, 2020). The court indicated the use of the term "determ......
  • McCree v. Chester Police Dep't, Civil Action 0:20-cv-00867-JMC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • August 20, 2021
    ...amount of recovery allowed under the SCTCA is not a waiver of the statutory limitations on recovery. See Garrison v. Target Corporation, 838 S.E.2d 18, 39 (S.C. App. 2020) (“the damages cap in the Tort Claims Act does not require any special findings that would affect the proof at trial”); ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Garrison v. Target Corp., Appellate Case No. 2020-000523
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 26, 2022
    ...JUSTICE BEATTY :869 S.E.2d 800435 S.C. 570 We granted cross-petitions for a writ of certiorari to review Garrison v. Target Corporation , 429 S.C. 324, 838 S.E.2d 18 (Ct. App. 2020) and determine whether the court of appeals erred in (1) affirming the trial court's denial of Target's motion......
  • Garrison v. Target Corp., 28080
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • January 26, 2022
    ...and Industry Groups. BEATTY CHIEF JUSTICE We granted cross-petitions for a writ of certiorari to review Garrison v. Target Corporation, 429 S.C. 324, 838 S.E.2d 18 (Ct. App. 2020) and determine whether the court of appeals erred in (1) affirming the trial court's denial of Target's motion f......
  • O'Shields v. Columbia Auto., LLC, Appellate Case No. 2017-000902
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • August 11, 2021
    ...amount of the verdict or award from the date of the offer; ...[15 ]This court recently addressed this issue in Garrison v. Target Corp. , 429 S.C. 324, 377, 838 S.E.2d 18, 46 (2020) (cert. granted , S.C. Sup. Ct. Order dated October 19, 2020). The court indicated the use of the term "determ......
  • McCree v. Chester Police Dep't, Civil Action 0:20-cv-00867-JMC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • August 20, 2021
    ...amount of recovery allowed under the SCTCA is not a waiver of the statutory limitations on recovery. See Garrison v. Target Corporation, 838 S.E.2d 18, 39 (S.C. App. 2020) (“the damages cap in the Tort Claims Act does not require any special findings that would affect the proof at trial”); ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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