Home Builders Ass'n v. State

Decision Date10 March 2021
Docket NumberMemorandum Opinion No. 2021-MO-003,Appellate Case No. 2020-000612
PartiesHome Builders Association of South Carolina, Home Builders Association of York County, Soni Construction, Inc., Shea Investment Fund 2, LLC, and Shea Investment Fund 3, LLC, Appellants, v. State of South Carolina and York County, Respondents.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina


Appeal from York County

William A. McKinnon, Circuit Court Judge


Keith M. Babcock and Ariail E. King, both of Lewis Babcock L.L.P., of Columbia, for Appellants.

Sarah P. Spruill, of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, P.A., of Greenville, for Respondent York County; and Attorney General Alan Wilson, Solicitor General Robert D. Cook, and Deputy Solicitor General J. Emory Smith Jr., all of Columbia, for Respondent the State.

PER CURIAM: This direct appeal involves a facial challenge to the validity of the South Carolina Development Impact Fee Act (the Act), S.C. Code Ann. §§ 6-1-910 to -2010 (2020). See generally J.K. Constr., Inc. v. W. Carolina Reg'l Sewer Auth., 336 S.C. 162, 172 n.2, 519 S.E.2d 561, 566 n.2 (1999) ("Local governing bodies have turned to impact fees in recent years as funds from the federal government dried up, mandates from state and federal governments increased, and local residents fought property tax hikes. The purpose of an impact fee is to fairly distribute the capital improvement costs of growth and development among those who are generating the need for the improvements." (internal citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted)). We affirm.

In this case, York County imposed an impact fee on new home construction in its School District No. 4, which comprises Fort Mill, Tega Cay, and the surrounding unincorporated areas. Local developers opposed the fee, claiming the Act was unconstitutionally vague and therefore violated their right to substantive due process. Specifically, the developers argued that although the Act required the County to consider the impact on affordable housing caused by a proposed development impact fee, it did not provide sufficient guidance on how to accomplish that directive. We find the Act is valid on its face.

Pursuant to the Act, before imposing a development impact fee, a governmental entity must "prepare a report which estimates the effect of recovering capital costs through impact fees on the availability of affordable housing" in the area. S.C. Code Ann. § 6-1-930(A)(2). The Act defines affordable housing as "housing affordable to families whose incomes do not exceed [80%] of the median income for the service area or areas within the jurisdiction of the governmental entity." Id. § 6-1-920(1). While the Act does not provide additional guidance on how to assess the impact to affordable housing, the developers' expert witness conceded that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has established a "fairly standard threshold looking at housing affordability." Specifically, HUD defines a household as cost-burdened if it spends more than 30% of its income on housing, and severely cost-burdened if it spends more than 50% of its income on housing.1 Neither party (nor their experts) offered any other possible standard to assess the degree of burden resulting from housing costs other than the 30% number. Given the apparent consensus in the industry that 30% isthe "standard" measure for determining the degree of burden a household faces due to housing expenses, we find the Act's definition of affordable housing is sufficient to avoid being facially void for vagueness. See S.C. Hum. Affs. Comm'n v. Chen, 430 S.C. 509, 529-30, 846 S.E.2d 861, 871-72 (2020) ("All the Constitution requires is that the [statutory] language convey sufficiently definite warnings as to the proscribed conduct when measured by common understanding and practices. The requirement that statutory language must be reasonably certain is satisfied by the use of ordinary terms which find adequate interpretation in common usage and understanding, or if the term can be given meaning by reference to other definable sources. The [United States] Supreme Court has observed that the precise point of differentiation in some instances is not easy of statement, but as a general rule, decisions upholding statutes as having sufficient certainty have rested upon the conclusion that they employed words or phrases having a technical or other special meaning, well enough known to enable those within their reach to correctly apply them, or a well-settled common-law meaning, notwithstanding an element of degree in the definition as to which estimates might differ, or, that, for reasons found to result either from the text of the statutes involved or the subjects with which they dealt, a standard of some sort was afforded." (internal alteration and quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added) (quoting Connally v. Gen. Constr. Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391-92 (1926); S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Michelle G., 407 S.C. 499, 506, 757 S.E.2d 388, 392 (2014))).

We also find that, on its face, the Act does not violate an individual's right to substantive due process. "In reviewing substantive due process challenges to [a statute], a court must consider whether the [statute] bears a reasonable relationship to any legitimate interest of government." Dunes W. Golf Club, L.L.C. v. Town of Mount Pleasant, 401 S.C. 280, 296, 737 S.E.2d 601, 609 (2013) (quoting McMaster v. Columbia Bd. of Zoning App., 395 S.C. 499, 505, 719 S.E.2d 660, 663 (2011)). The party asserting a violation of his right to substantive due process must "show that he was arbitrarily and capriciously deprived of a cognizable property interest rooted in state law." Id. (citation omitted). Impact fees are becoming increasingly common throughout the United States, with a great number of states utilizing them in one form or another. As is relevant here, the Act permits, but does not require, a county or municipality to impose a development impact fee representing a proportionate share of the cost of new school construction necessary to serve the people utilizing that school. See S.C. Code Ann. §§ 6-1-920(8), -920(17), -930(D), -980(A), -990(A), -1000. Local governments unquestionably have a legitimate interest in providing for the education of our youth. The Act gives...

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