Jeter v. South Carolina Dept. of Transp., No. 26168.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtCouch
Citation633 S.E.2d 143
Docket NumberNo. 26168.
Decision Date19 June 2006
PartiesCalvin L. JETER and Quantilla B. Jeter, Respondents, v. SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Petitioner, v. Phyllis P. Brown, Respondent.
633 S.E.2d 143
Calvin L. JETER and Quantilla B. Jeter, Respondents,
v.
SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Petitioner,
v.
Phyllis P. Brown, Respondent.
No. 26168.
Supreme Court of South Carolina.
Heard March 9, 2006.
Decided June 19, 2006.
Rehearing Denied July 20, 2006.

Page 144

Andrew F. Lindemann, of Davidson, Morrison and Lindemann, P.A., of Columbia; and Charles V. Verner, of Harley and Verner, L.L.P, of Newberry, for Petitioner.

Albert V. Smith, of Spartanburg, for Respondents Calvin L. Jeter and Quantilla Jeter.

Daryl G. Hawkins, of Columbia; and Howard Hammer, of Hammer and Hammer, of Columbia, for Respondent Phyllis P. Brown.

Acting Justice COUCH:


This Court granted South Carolina Department of Transportation's (SCDOT) writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' rulings on subject matter jurisdiction and venue in Jeter v. S.C. Dep't of Transp., 358 S.C. 528, 595 S.E.2d 827 (Ct.App.2004). We affirm in part and reverse in part.

FACTUAL/ PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On July 12, 1997, Calvin Jeter was operating a motorcycle on Secondary Road 37, also known as Herbert Road, in Union County, and Phyllis Brown was driving a vehicle in the opposite direction. SCDOT had recently resurfaced part of Herbert Road. After entering upon a resurfaced portion of the road, Brown saw a deer on the roadside and applied the brakes. She lost control of her vehicle and collided with Jeter's motorcycle. Brown claimed excessive, loose gravel on the road caused her to lose control of the vehicle.

Jeter and his wife, Quantilla, each filed complaints in the Union County Court of

Page 145

Common Pleas against SCDOT under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act (SCTCA).1 The Jeters alleged SCDOT had failed to safely maintain the roadway and failed to warn drivers of its dangerous condition.

SCDOT filed third-party complaints against Brown, naming her as a third-party defendant. SCDOT contended Brown was a necessary party to the litigation to permit apportionment of fault under S.C.Code Ann. § 15-78-100(c).2 Brown filed a counterclaim against SCDOT under the SCTCA for personal injuries she sustained from the accident.

After settling with the Jeters, Brown moved to dismiss the third-party complaints under Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP. The lower court ruled Brown was a necessary party to the action under Rule 19, SCRCP, and must remain a party to the action solely for the purposes of satisfying the statutory requirement of S.C.Code Ann. § 15-78-100(c).

Brown then filed an amended answer and counterclaim, alleging venue in Union County was improper and that as a matter of right should be transferred to Fairfield County, her county of residence. Brown subsequently filed a motion to change venue to Fairfield County. The lower court granted Brown's motion, over SCDOT's objection, and transferred venue to Fairfield County. The lower court subsequently denied SCDOT's motion to change venue back to Union County, pursuant to S.C.Code Ann. § 15-78-100(b).

During the trial, the lower court ruled Brown was not negligent as a matter of law and granted a directed verdict for Brown on the issue of her negligence. The lower court also granted Brown's motion for directed verdict on SCDOT's defense of unavoidable accident. The jury returned verdicts in favor of the Jeters and Brown.

SCDOT appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals interpreted S.C.Code Ann. § 15-78-100(b) to establish subject matter jurisdiction in the circuit court of South Carolina and venue in the county where the act or omission occurred. The Court of Appeals found the lower court did not abuse its discretion by transferring venue to Fairfield County under S.C.Code Ann. § 15-7-30 (2005). The Court of Appeals further found the lower court erred in directing a verdict for Brown on the issue of her negligence because the SCTCA requires the jury to apportion fault among all potential tortfeasors. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case. Jeter, 358 S.C. at 532-36, 595 S.E.2d at 829-31.3

ISSUES

I. Did the Court of Appeals err in construing S.C.Code Ann. § 15-78-100(b)?

II. Did the Court of Appeals err in finding the lower court did not abuse its discretion by transferring venue to Fairfield County under S.C.Code Ann. § 15-7-30?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Motions to change the venue of a trial are addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court. Garrett v. Packet Motor Express Co., 263 S.C. 463, 210 S.E.2d 912 (1975). This Court will not disturb the trial judge's decision on appeal unless a manifest abuse of discretion is found resulting in an error of law. Graham v. Beverly, 235 S.C. 222, 110 S.E.2d 923 (1959). Moreover, the error of law must be so opposed to the trial judge's sound discretion as to amount to a deprivation of the legal rights of the party.

Page 146

O'Shields v. Caldwell, 208 S.C. 245, 37 S.E.2d 665 (1946).

LAW/ANALYSIS
I. Construction of S.C.Code Ann. § 15-78-100(b)

SCDOT argues the Court of Appeals erred in finding § 15-78-100(b) is not a statutory provision solely setting forth subject matter jurisdiction. SCDOT argues this statutory provision provides that only the circuit court in the county where the act or omission occurred has subject matter jurisdiction over an action brought pursuant to the SCTCA. Accordingly, the only court having subject matter jurisdiction over this particular case is the Union County Court of Common Pleas. We disagree.

The issue of interpretation of a statute is a question of law for the court. Charleston County Parks Rec. Comm'n v. Somers, 319 S.C. 65, 459 S.E.2d 841 (1995) (holding the determination of legislative intent is a matter of law). This Court is free to decide questions of law with no particular deference to the lower court. Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 341 S.C. 320, 534 S.E.2d 672 (2000).

The Court of Appeals held § 15-78-100(b) addressed subject matter jurisdiction to the extent that such jurisdiction was conferred in the circuit court. The Court of Appeals further held the statutory provision established venue in the county in which the act or omission occurred. Jeter, 358 S.C. at 532-33, 595 S.E.2d at 829-30.

Subject matter jurisdiction is the power to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the proceedings in question belong. Venue is the place or geographical location of trial. The propriety of either is independent of the other. Dove v. Gold Kist, Inc., 314 S.C. 235, 236, 442 S.E.2d 598, 600 (1994); State v. Gentry, 363 S.C. 93, 610 S.E.2d 494 (2005).

The South Carolina Constitution in Article V, § 11, states, "The Circuit Court shall be a general trial court with original jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases, except those cases in which exclusive jurisdiction shall be given to inferior courts, and shall have such appellate jurisdiction as provided by law."4 Section 15-78-100(b) states, "Jurisdiction for any action brought under this chapter is in the circuit court and brought in the county in which the act or omission occurred."

In Dove, Dove appealed a worker's compensation claim to the circuit court, which dismissed his appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On appeal, the Court construed S.C.Code Ann. § 42-17-60 (Supp. 1993), which provided in relevant part: "[E]ither party . . . may appeal from the decision of the commission to the court of common pleas of the county in which the alleged accident happened, or in which the employer resides or has his principal office." Dove, 314 S.C. at 238, 442 S.E.2d at 600. The Court discerned, "There is but one Circuit Court in South...

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32 practice notes
  • Williamson v. Middleton, No. 4243.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 7, 2007
    ...of interpretation of a statute is a question 649 S.E.2d 66 of law for the court." Jeter v. S.C. Dep't of Transp., 369 S.C. 433, 633 S.E.2d 143 (2006) (Shearouse Adv. Sh. No. 23 at 43) citing Charleston County Parks & Recreation Comm'n v. Somers, 319 S.C. 65, 459 S.E.2d 841 (1995); ......
  • Budden v. U.S. Beth Drake, Case No. 8:18-cv-01159-RMG-JDA
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • February 11, 2019
    ...their official capacities"), superseded by statute, S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-100(b), as recognized in Jeter v. S.C. Dep't of Transp., 633 S.E.2d 143 (S.C. Ct. App. 2006). Since the Eleventh Amendment bars the relief that Plaintiff requests against Keyes, Plaintiff's claim against Keyes i......
  • Stoney v. Stoney, Appellate Case No. 2011–203410
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 27, 2016
    ...discretion as to amount to a deprivation of the legal rights of the party.Id. (quoting Jeter v. S.C. Dep't of Transp. , 369 S.C. 433, 633 S.E.2d 143, 146 (2006) ). Rule 24(a), SCRCP, provides:Upon timely application anyone shall be permitted to intervene in an action: (1) when a statute con......
  • Moccia v. Laurens Cnty. Det. Ctr., C/A No. 6:18-cv-2718-BHH-JDA
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • October 16, 2018
    ...their official capacities"), superseded by statute, S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-100(b), as recognized in Jeter v. S.C. Dep't of Transp., 633 S.E. 2d 143 (S.C. Ct. App. 2006). Since the Eleventh Amendment bars the relief that Plaintiff requests against the Laurens County Detention Center, th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
32 cases
  • Williamson v. Middleton, No. 4243.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 7, 2007
    ...of interpretation of a statute is a question 649 S.E.2d 66 of law for the court." Jeter v. S.C. Dep't of Transp., 369 S.C. 433, 633 S.E.2d 143 (2006) (Shearouse Adv. Sh. No. 23 at 43) citing Charleston County Parks & Recreation Comm'n v. Somers, 319 S.C. 65, 459 S.E.2d 841 (1995); ......
  • Budden v. U.S. Beth Drake, Case No. 8:18-cv-01159-RMG-JDA
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • February 11, 2019
    ...their official capacities"), superseded by statute, S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-100(b), as recognized in Jeter v. S.C. Dep't of Transp., 633 S.E.2d 143 (S.C. Ct. App. 2006). Since the Eleventh Amendment bars the relief that Plaintiff requests against Keyes, Plaintiff's claim against Keyes i......
  • Stoney v. Stoney, Appellate Case No. 2011–203410
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 27, 2016
    ...discretion as to amount to a deprivation of the legal rights of the party.Id. (quoting Jeter v. S.C. Dep't of Transp. , 369 S.C. 433, 633 S.E.2d 143, 146 (2006) ). Rule 24(a), SCRCP, provides:Upon timely application anyone shall be permitted to intervene in an action: (1) when a statute con......
  • Moccia v. Laurens Cnty. Det. Ctr., C/A No. 6:18-cv-2718-BHH-JDA
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • October 16, 2018
    ...their official capacities"), superseded by statute, S.C. Code Ann. § 15-78-100(b), as recognized in Jeter v. S.C. Dep't of Transp., 633 S.E. 2d 143 (S.C. Ct. App. 2006). Since the Eleventh Amendment bars the relief that Plaintiff requests against the Laurens County Detention Center, th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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