Law v. South Carolina Dept. of Corrections

Decision Date10 April 2006
Docket NumberNo. 26134.,26134.
Citation629 S.E.2d 642
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesAnthony LAW, Vondeste G. Mole, Mark Holmes, Arthur A. Vaughan, Harry Jenkins, and Kenneth Green, Appellants, v. SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.

Charles E. Johnson, of Columbia, for Appellants.

Marvin C. Jones and R. Clenten Campbell, both of Bogoslow, Jones, Stephens & Duffie, P.A., of Walterboro, for Respondent.

Justice BURNETT:

Anthony Law, Vondeste Mole, Mark Holmes, Arthur Vaughan, Harry Jenkins, and Kenneth Green (Appellants) appeal the trial court's grant of summary judgment for South Carolina Department of Corrections (Respondent) on their malicious prosecution claims, the trial court's grant of directed verdict for Respondent on their wrongful termination claims, and the trial court's grant of judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) for Respondent on their false imprisonment claims. We affirm as modified.


In early 1999, Willie Harrison, an inmate at the Allendale Correctional Institution (Institution), contacted Geraldine Miro, the Institution's warden. Harrison alleged Appellants, who were correctional officers at Institution, were trafficking drugs into and within the Institution. He further alleged Appellants gave him drugs to sell to other inmates and he, in return, gave them money from those drug transactions. Harrison also claimed Appellants would shake him down to collect the monetary proceeds from the drug sales. Miro contacted Al Waters, Director of Internal Affairs for Respondent, who set up an internal investigation and assigned Investigators Melissa Nettles and Joseph Baker to the case.

As part of the internal investigation, Nettles contacted the Greenville County Sheriff's Department to verify Harrison's credibility, and they advised her that Harrison had provided them with reliable information on prior occasions. Nettles and Baker interviewed at least four inmates prior to March 25, 1999, who corroborated Harrison's allegations. At trial, Nettles gave the following examples of information corroborated prior to March 25: inmate Larry David asserted Holmes was his drug supplier; inmate Eckerin Frazier said he received marijuana from Holmes and had paid Holmes over $4,700 from June 1998 to January 1999; Frazier also claimed Law, Holmes, Jenkins, and Green worked together to sell drugs in the Institution; and inmate Terry Fuller said he observed Law and Holmes give drugs to Harrison.

Nettles and Baker interviewed at least thirty-eight inmates at the Institution from March 15, 1999 to April 20, 1999, with at least twenty inmates corroborating Harrison's allegations. Nettles and Baker also searched bank records for Mole and Vaughan which showed large cash deposits and wire transfers during the latter part of 1998 and the early part of 1999.

Nettles testified Harrison told her that Vaughan had purchased a mobile home with the money received from Harrison through the drug deals. Harrison gave Nettles a specific description of the mobile home, including where Vaughan purchased it and the purchase price. Nettles confirmed these two details. Harrison also picked Vaughan's mobile home from a photo lineup.

Waters testified the senior staff met and decided Nettles and Baker would apply for arrest warrants for Appellants. Nettles testified she assisted in preparing the affidavits and she and Baker gave sworn, oral testimony to support the warrants. She told the magistrate that Harrison's allegations had been corroborated and gave the magistrate the same kind of examples of corroboration that she gave during trial.

On March 25, 1999, Law, Mole, Holmes, Jenkins, and Vaughan were charged with conspiracy to traffic cocaine greater than 100 grams. Law, Holmes, Jenkins, and Vaughan were arrested while at work and were held at the Institution from approximately 6:30 p.m. on March 25 until 2:00 a.m. on March 26, at which time they were transported to the county jail. Mole was also arrested by the Dorchester County Police Department on March 25 while traveling through Dorchester County.

Upon arrest, Holmes admitted he had received $200 from Harrison in exchange for one ounce of marijuana but denied giving Harrison the marijuana. Upon arrest, Law admitted receiving money from Harrison and accused Holmes, Vaughan, Jenkins, and Green of running a drug ring within the Institution. On March 26, 1999, Law and Holmes were charged with misprision of a felony, common law, and acceptance of rebates or extra compensation, and Mole was charged with misprision of a felony, common law.

Green was arrested at work on April 15, 1999 and detained for approximately six to seven hours. He was charged with conspiracy to traffic crack cocaine, greater than 10 grams but less than 28 grams.

Based on the charges and the ongoing investigation, Respondent administratively suspended Appellants effective on the date of their arrests. A review meeting before the warden was scheduled for each Appellant. Respondent sent letters of termination to several Appellants but later rescinded the terminations.

Jenkins and Law voluntarily resigned on March 29, 1999; Green and Holmes voluntarily resigned on April 30, 1999, and May 21, 1999, respectively. None of the Appellants who voluntarily resigned filed a grievance with Respondent, but Green did request a review hearing. Mole was terminated on May 7, 1999, and Vaughan was terminated on May 20, 1999. After his termination, Mole filed a grievance report with Respondent and an investigative review was conducted by Respondent's General Counsel's Office. The Deputy Director of Operations upheld Mole's termination and the Director of Respondent subsequently upheld the termination. Also after his termination, Vaughan filed a grievance.

The indictments against Appellants were nolle prossed because "[t]he arresting agency has chosen to pursue these charges in federal court." Nettles and Baker testified after making the arrests they consulted with Solicitor Randolph Murdaugh, who decided to turn the cases over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Nettles and Baker continued to help the FBI with the investigation until the end of their employment with Respondent.

After filing verified claims with Respondent, Appellants individually sued Respondent on February 21, 2001. Each Appellant sued under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act1 for: (1) civil conspiracy, (2) defamation, (3) false imprisonment, (4) malicious prosecution, and (5) wrongful discharge. Respondent simultaneously filed motions to dismiss and Answers on April 16, 2001.

Appellants' cases were consolidated for trial. Prior to trial, Appellants' causes of actions for defamation and civil conspiracy were dismissed by Appellants' consent. Respondent also moved for summary judgment on all causes of action. The trial judge granted summary judgment on the malicious prosecution claims only.

At the close of Appellants' cases, the trial judge granted a directed verdict for Respondent on the wrongful termination claims. The jury returned a verdict for Appellants on their false imprisonment claims, awarding $25,000 to each Appellant. The trial judge granted Respondent's motion for JNOV. This appeal follows, and this Court certified the case for review from the Court of Appeals, pursuant to Rule 204(b), SCACR.


I. Did the trial court err in granting Respondent's motion for summary judgment on the malicious prosecution claims?

II. Did the trial court err in granting Respondent's motion for directed verdict on the wrongful termination claims?

III. Did the trial court err in granting Respondent's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the false imprisonment claims?


In reviewing the grant of a summary judgment motion, the appellate court applies the same standard that governs the trial court under Rule 56(c), SCRCP. Under Rule 56, SCRCP, a party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law if 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. In determining whether any triable issues of fact exist for summary judgment purposes, the evidence and all the inferences which can be reasonably drawn from the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Fleming v. Rose, 350 S.C. 488, 493-94, 567 S.E.2d 857, 860 (2002); Conner v. City of Forest Acres, 348 S.C. 454, 462, 560 S.E.2d 606, 610 (2002).

In ruling on motions for directed verdict and JNOV, 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 party opposing the motions and to deny the motions where either the evidence yields more than one inference or its inference is in doubt. Jinks v. Richland County, 355 S.C. 341, 345, 585 S.E.2d 281, 283 (2003). The appellate court will reverse the trial court's ruling on a JNOV motion only when there is no evidence to support the ruling or where the ruling is controlled by an error of law. Hinkle v. Nat'l Cas. Ins. Co., 354 S.C. 92, 96, 579 S.E.2d 616, 618 (2003).

I. Summary Judgment on Malicious Prosecution

Appellants argue the trial court erred in granting Respondent's motion for summary judgment on the malicious prosecution claims.2 We disagree.

"[T]o maintain an action for malicious prosecution, a plaintiff must establish: (1) the institution or continuation of original judicial proceedings; (2) by or at the instance of the defendant; (3) termination of such proceedings in plaintiff's favor; (4) malice in instituting such proceedings; (5) lack of probable cause; and (6) resulting injury or damage." Parrott v. Plowden Motor Co., 246 S.C. 318, 321, 143 S.E.2d 607, 608 (1965)...

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