In re Treatment and Care of Luckabaugh

Citation351 S.C. 122,568 S.E.2d 338
Decision Date22 July 2002
Docket NumberNo. 25503.,25503.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
PartiesIn the Matter of the TREATMENT AND CARE OF Clair LUCKABAUGH, Respondent.

351 S.C. 122
568 S.E.2d 338

In the Matter of the TREATMENT AND CARE OF Clair LUCKABAUGH, Respondent

No. 25503.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard January 8, 2002.

Decided July 22, 2002.

351 S.C. 128
Attorney General Charles M. Condon, Deputy Attorney General Treva Ashworth, Senior Assistant Attorney General Kenneth P. Woodington and Assistant Attorney General Steven G. Heckler, all of Columbia, for appellant

Andrew J. Savage, III, of Savage & Savage, of Charleston; and Cain Denny, of Charleston, for respondent.

Justice BURNETT.

The State appeals a lower court's order releasing Clair Luckabaugh ("Luckabaugh") from custody and finding the Sexually Violent Predator Act (the "Act") unconstitutional.1 For reasons set forth below we vacate, reverse and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Luckabaugh was sentenced to prison in 1996 for Assault with Intent to Commit Criminal Sexual Conduct in the Third

351 S.C. 129
Degree of a comatose patient in his care. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. See State v. Luckabaugh, 327 S.C. 495, 489 S.E.2d 657 (Ct.App.1997). Subsequent to his scheduled release he came under review as a sexually violent predator

Judge Daniel E. Martin, Sr., convened a commitment hearing after Luckabaugh's scheduled release. Two experts testified for the State: Doctor Brad Clayton ("Dr.Clayton") and Doctor Donna Schwartz-Watts ("Dr.Schwartz-Watts"). Dr. Randolph Waid ("Dr.Waid") testified for Luckabaugh.

Dr. Schwartz-Watts and Dr. Clayton conducted a clinical evaluation of Luckabaugh. Both concluded Luckabaugh suffers from sexual sadism, a major mental abnormality, characterized by "preoccupation with and intrusive problems with thoughts, feelings, fantasies, urges, and behaviors that focus around behavior or thoughts of behavior, about causing harm to others, humiliating, [and] torturing [them]." Sadism is treatable but not curable.

Dr. Schwartz-Watts' report suggests Luckabaugh's disease dates to 1967 when he began struggling with obsessive thoughts of torturing others.2 Dr. Schwartz-Watts testified Luckabaugh wrote numerous, graphic stories involving themes of kidnaping, torture and murder.3 She found the themes consistent with sadism, particularly his obsession with having sex with unconscious individuals. Further, the results of Luckabaugh's penile plethysmography4 indicated he was aroused by images of coercive sexual acts.

351 S.C. 130
Dr. Schwartz-Watts opined Luckabaugh was a high risk to re-offend and needed extensive inpatient treatment. Additionally, she stated her belief that Luckabaugh was the most dangerous person she had evaluated under the Act

Dr. Waid, testifying for Luckabaugh, stated his diagnosis was essentially the same as Dr. Schwartz-Watts'. Specifically, Dr. Waid believed Luckabaugh was a sexual sadist, with at least a moderate risk for "re-event," and in need of aggressive therapy. Dr. Waid differed with Dr. Schwartz-Watts' opinion by concluding Luckabaugh could obtain outpatient treatment.

Luckabaugh, testifying at the hearing, refused to accept the diagnosis of sexual sadism. He admitted attempting to publish his writings but stated he did not because: "at some point they got too violent and gross, even for me." However, he felt he would not re-offend after growing spiritually in prison and building a mentor relationship with church members.

I. Did the lower court err in concluding the State failed to meet its burden proving Luckabaugh was a sexually violent predator?
II. Did the lower court err in concluding the Sexually Violent Predator Act violated the ex post facto provision of the South Carolina Constitution?
III. Is the Sexually Violent Predator Act unconstitutional on other grounds raised by Luckabaugh?
A. Does the Sexually Violent Predator Act violate the substantive due process clause of the United States and South Carolina Constitutions?
B. Does the Sexually Violent Predator Act violate the procedural due process clause of the United States and South Carolina Constitutions?
C. Does the Sexually Violent Predator Act violate the equal protection clause of the United States and South Carolina Constitutions?

351 S.C. 131


Burden of Proof

Initially, the State argues the effect of the order below is to grant a directed verdict. We disagree. The record establishes the court below issued its order as a hearing court conducting an action at law, sitting without a jury pursuant to South Carolina Code Ann. § 44-48-100 (Supp.2000).

The State next contends the lower court erred because it failed to substantially comply with Rule 52(a), SCRCP. When reviewing an action at law, on appeal of a case tried without a jury, this Court will not disturb the judge's findings of fact "unless found to be without evidence which reasonably supports the judge's findings." Townes Associates, Ltd. v. City of Greenville, 266 S.C. 81, 86, 221 S.E.2d 773, 775 (1976). The South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure require "[i]n all actions tried upon the facts without a jury or with an advisory jury, the court shall find the facts specially and state separately its conclusions of law thereon." Rule 52(a), SCRCP. The rule is directorial in nature so "where a trial court substantially complies with Rule 52(a) and adequately states the basis for the result it reaches, the appellate court should not vacate the trial court's judgment for lack of an explicit or specific factual finding." Noisette v. Ismail, 304 S.C. 56, 58, 403 S.E.2d 122, 123 (1991)(emphasis added).

The court below, in deciding that Luckabaugh was not a sexually violent predator, wrote:

Upon hearing the evidence I find that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant meets the definition of a `sexually violent predator'. . . [e]ven if Defendant suffers from the personality disorder known as sexual sadism, the State failed to show this condition makes it likely that the Defendant will engage in future acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility for longer term control, care and treatment.

The order did not find any facts to support its legal conclusion that the State failed to carry its burden of proof.

351 S.C. 132
This Court has had the opportunity to review the adequacy of similar orders, particularly in family court and administrative law decisions. See, e.g., State v. 192 Coin-Operated Video Game Machines, 338 S.C. 176, 525 S.E.2d 872 (2000); Kiawah Property Owners Group v. Public Serv. Com'n of South Carolina, 338 S.C. 92, 525 S.E.2d 863 (1999) (administrative law decision); Holcombe v. Hardee, 304 S.C. 522, 405 S.E.2d 821 (1991) (family court order).

Appellants in State v. 192 Coin-Operated Video Game Machines, supra, argued the magistrate's order and returns were invalid under Rule 52(a), SCRCP. The relevant part of the return stated:

After carefully reviewing these machines, I find them to be slot machines. These machines register varying amounts of winnings depending upon which combination of various symbols are displayed after a coin is inserted and a button is pushed. They require no skill to play. I have considered the Court's reasoning in State v. Four Video Slot Machines, 317 S.C. 397, 453 S.E.2d 896 (1995) and State v. One Coin-Operated Video Game Machine, 321 S.C. 176, 467 S.E.2d 443 (1996), as well as the 1993 amendments to Title 1-2 of the South Carolina Code concerning video games. I find and conclude that the defendant machines are in violation of [South Carolina law].

Id. at 198, 525 S.E.2d at 884.

We found the magistrate's order "clearly set out what statute was violated and how the machines violated it." Id. Therefore, we found the order substantially complied with Rule 52(a), SCRCP.

Trial courts, sitting without juries in an action at law, write their findings specially and separately:

to allow a reviewing court to determine from the record whether the judgment—and the legal conclusions which underlie it—represent a correct application of the law. The requirement for appropriately detailed findings is thus not a mere formality or a rule of empty ritual; it is designed instead to dispose of the issues raised by the pleadings and to allow the appellate courts to perform their proper function in the judicial system.

351 S.C. 133
Coble v. Coble, 300 N.C. 708, 712, 268 S.E.2d 185, 189 (N.C. 1980) (internal citations omitted) (applying North Carolina's equivalent of our Rule 52(a), SCRCP); see also United States v. Birnbach, 400 F.2d 378 (8th Cir.1968). Compliance with the rule also allows the trial judge to satisfy the interest of judicial economy by dealing fully and properly with all issues before the court. See In re Las Colinas, Inc., 426 F.2d 1005 (1st Cir.1970)(construing Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 52 on which our rule is based).

We do not require a lower court to set out findings on all the myriad factual questions arising in a particular case. See Golf City, Inc. v. Wilson Sporting Goods, Co., Inc., 555 F.2d 426 (5th Cir.1977). But the findings must be sufficient to allow this Court, sitting in its appellate capacity, to ensure the law is faithfully executed below. The absence of factual findings makes our task of reviewing the court order impossible because "the reasons underlying the decision [are] left to speculation." Kiawah Property Owners Group v. Public Serv. Com'n of South Carolina, 338 S.C. at 96, 525 S.E.2d at 866 (quoting Able Communications, Inc. v. S.C. Public Serv. Comm'n, 290 S.C. 409, 411, 351 S.E.2d 151, 152 (1986)). To leave the chore of sorting through the record to review contradictory testimony taxes the judicial system and is unfair to the litigants as well as the lower court to whose factual determinations we give deference. See Welsh Co. of California v. Strolee of California, Inc., 290 F.2d 509 (9th Cir.1961).

The order now before us fails to substantially comply with Rule 52(a), SCRCP, thus failing to accomplish these purposes....

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