Hawkins v. City of Greenville

Decision Date22 March 2004
Docket NumberNo. 3764.,3764.
Citation358 S.C. 280,594 S.E.2d 557
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals
PartiesLouie D. HAWKINS, individually and d/b/a Servicemaster of Greenville, Servicemaster of Greenville, LLC, and Dixie P. Hawkins, Appellants, v. CITY OF GREENVILLE, Respondent.

Robert C. Childs, III, of Greenville, for Appellants.

W. Howard Boyd, Jr., Luanne L. Runge and Fred W. Suggs, III, all of Greenville, for Respondent.


Louie D. Hawkins brought this action, claiming the city of Greenville ("City") improperly and negligently designed and maintained its municipal drainage system in the area where his business was located. He alleged the City's malfeasance caused his property to flood after a rainstorm in 1997. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the City on all of Hawkins' claims. We affirm.1


On July 24, 1997, Hawkins' business, Servicemaster of Greenville, was flooded during a heavy rainfall, causing substantial damage to the business and surrounding property. Hawkins blamed the City for the damage, arguing the flooding was caused by the City's neglect in designing and maintaining its stormwater drainage system. Accordingly, he brought the present action asserting various causes of action stemming from the City's alleged acts and failures to act.

I. The Servicemaster Property and Surrounding Drainage System

The Servicemaster property is located in a low-lying area on the east side of Greenville. This part of Greenville has been heavily developed with retail businesses and other large commercial developments.

The immediate area surrounding the Servicemaster property forms a 3.24-square-mile stormwater basin. Rainwater falling into the basin drains downhill into nearby Laurel Creek. Over the years, the City and private developers made several improvements to the drainage system in the basin. When Hawkins moved Servicemaster to its Haywood Road location, drainage around the property was handled primarily by two ninety-six-inch pipes installed in Laurel Creek to expand the creek's ability to effectively handle runoff in the area. After a severe storm in 1991 caused flooding in the area, the City installed an additional large, elliptical arched pipe in Laurel Creek to further increase the creek's stormwater capacity. In early July 1997, the City installed "riprap" along the banks of the creek to stem erosion that had occurred.2

II. The 1991 Flood, Lawsuit and Settlement

A heavy rainstorm in July 1991 caused the Servicemaster property and surrounding area to flood. The Servicemaster property suffered substantial damage when the excess runoff flooded into the building, bringing mud and other debris. As in the present case, Hawkins brought suit against the City, claiming its actions caused the flooding. Hawkins specifically alleged the City was negligent "in failing to design" and "maintain a reasonably adequate surface water drainage system" and "in failing to properly supervise the surface water drainage system to ensure adequate flow of water during periods of inc[l]ement weather."

The case was settled in 1994. The City paid Hawkins $4,000 in exchange for a "full, complete and final release of all damages arising out of the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of the water drainage system on or adjacent to Bryland [sic] Drive." This release was executed in March 1994. It provides:

[Servicemaster] does hereby release, relieve and forever acquit the City of Greenville, South Carolina, a municipal corporation, their agents, employees, officers, successors, and assigns from any and all liability arising out of or in any way connected with the water and mud damage to [Hawkins'] place of business located at 1 Byrdland Drive which occurred on or about July 30, 1991 and it is the intention in executing this Release to forever discharge the City of Greenville from any and all claims, demands, actions or causes of action which may exist, known or unknown, of any and all damages, past, present and future, in any way connected with or arising out of the aforesaid damages.
It is acknowledged and understood that this is a full, complete and final release of all damages arising out of the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of the water drainage system on or adjacent to Bryland [sic] Drive, that no future or further payments will be paid as a result thereof and that the persons and corporations in whose favor this Release runs are herewith fully finally and forever discharged from any and all liability with respect to the aforementioned property.
III. The 1997 Flood and the Present Action

On July 24, 1997, a record amount of rain fell in and around Greenville in a short period of time.3 Stormwater draining into Laurel Creek overwhelmed the creek's capacity, causing water to flood onto the Servicemaster property and several nearby businesses. In July 1999, Hawkins brought the present action against the City, alleging causes of action for: (1) inverse condemnation, (2) negligence in the City's design and maintenance of its stormwater drainage system, (3) violation of South Carolina Code section 5-31-450, (4) trespass, (5) conversion, and (6) nuisance. Finding no genuine issue of material fact with respect to any of these claims, the trial court granted the City's motion for summary judgment.


A trial court should grant a motion for summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(c), SCRCP; accord Trivelas v. South Carolina Dep't of Transp., 348 S.C. 125, 130, 558 S.E.2d 271, 273 (Ct.App.2001)

; Wells v. City of Lynchburg, 331 S.C. 296, 301, 501 S.E.2d 746, 749 (Ct.App.1998); see also Tupper v. Dorchester County, 326 S.C. 318, 325, 487 S.E.2d 187, 191 (1997) ("Summary judgment is proper where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.").

"The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of clearly establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." McNair v. Rainsford, 330 S.C. 332, 342, 499 S.E.2d 488, 493 (Ct.App.1998) (citing Baughman v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Co., 306 S.C. 101, 410 S.E.2d 537 (1991); Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Marine Contracting & Towing Co., 301 S.C. 418, 392 S.E.2d 460 (1990)). "In determining whether any triable issues of fact exist, the evidence and all inferences which can be reasonably drawn therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Lanham v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of South Carolina, Inc., 349 S.C. 356, 361-62, 563 S.E.2d 331, 333 (2002) (citing Summer v. Carpenter, 328 S.C. 36, 492 S.E.2d 55 (1997)); accord Strother v. Lexington County Recreation Comm'n, 332 S.C. 54, 61, 504 S.E.2d 117, 121 (1998)

. "Summary judgment is not appropriate where further inquiry into the facts of the case is desirable to clarify the application of the law." Lanham, 349 S.C. at 362, 563 S.E.2d at 333 (citing Brockbank v. Best Capital Corp., 341 S.C. 372, 534 S.E.2d 688 (2000)).

"All ambiguities, conclusions, and inferences arising from the evidence must be construed most strongly against the moving party." Hall v. Fedor, 349 S.C. 169, 173, 561 S.E.2d 654, 656 (Ct.App.2002) (citing Young v. South Carolina Dep't of Corr., 333 S.C. 714, 511 S.E.2d 413 (Ct.App.1999)). "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." Id. at 173-74, 561 S.E.2d at 656. "Because it is a drastic remedy, summary judgment should be cautiously invoked so no person will be improperly deprived of a trial of the disputed factual issues." Murray v. Holnam, Inc., 344 S.C. 129, 138, 542 S.E.2d 743, 747 (Ct.App. 2001) (citing Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment v. South Carolina Dep't of Labor, Licensing & Regulation, 337 S.C. 476, 523 S.E.2d 795 (1999)).

In reviewing the grant of a summary judgment motion, this court applies the same standard which governs the trial court: Summary judgment is proper when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(c), SCRCP; accord Baughman, 306 S.C. at 114-15,

410 S.E.2d at 545; Murray, 344 S.C. at 138,

542 S.E.2d at 747 (citing Brockbank, 341 S.C. 372,

534 S.E.2d 688; Wells, 331 S.C. at 301,

501 S.E.2d at 749).


Hawkins contends genuine issues of fact exist for each of his claims that should have compelled the trial court to deny the City's motion for summary judgment. We disagree.

I. Inverse Condemnation

Hawkins first argues the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the City on his inverse condemnation claim, contending he was deprived of his full rights to the Servicemaster property without just compensation as a result of the City's design and maintenance of the drainage system. We disagree. An action for inverse condemnation is appropriate where the government takes private property for public use. Quality Towing Inc. v. City of Myrtle Beach, 340 S.C. 29, 38, 530 S.E.2d 369, 373 (2000). Inverse condemnation is a cause of action against a governmental defendant to recover the value of property which has been taken in fact by the governmental defendant, even though no formal exercise of the power of eminent domain has been attempted by the taking agency. Horry County v. Ins. Reserve Fund, 344 S.C. 493, 498, 544 S.E.2d 637, 640 (Ct.App.2001). While the typical taking occurs when the government acts to condemn property in the exercise of its power of eminent domain, the entire doctrine of inverse condemnation is predicated on the proposition that a taking may occur without such formal proceedings....

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