Liberty Mut. Ins. v. Sc Second Injury Fund, No. 3949.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtAnderson
Citation363 S.C. 612,611 S.E.2d 297
PartiesLIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant, v. SOUTH CAROLINA SECOND INJURY FUND, Respondent. In re Timothy Paul Williams, Employee, v. Tate Metalworks/Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Employer/Carrier.
Docket NumberNo. 3949.
Decision Date22 February 2005

Page 297

611 S.E.2d 297
363 S.C. 612
LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant,
v.
SOUTH CAROLINA SECOND INJURY FUND, Respondent.
In re Timothy Paul Williams, Employee,
v.
Tate Metalworks/Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Employer/Carrier.
No. 3949.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard February 9, 2005.
Decided February 22, 2005.
Rehearing Denied April 21, 2005.

Page 298

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Page 299

Pope D. Johnson, III, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Robert M. Cook, II, of Batesberg-Leeseville, and Terry Michael Mauldin, of Columbia, for Respondent.

ANDERSON, J.:


Timothy Paul Williams (Claimant) lost his right leg in a work-related accident. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (Liberty) sought reimbursement for compensation benefit payments from the South Carolina Second Injury Fund (the Fund) based on Claimant's preexisting impairment. The circuit court ruled that Liberty was not entitled to reimbursement

Page 300

of the controverted payments. We affirm.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Claimant sustained a compensable injury when a steel I-beam fell on his legs. His right leg was essentially amputated above the knee in the accident, and his left leg was crushed. Claimant was awarded 100% permanent partial disability to his right leg and 45% permanent partial disability to his left leg. The orders of the single commissioner, the appellate panel, and the circuit court all found that Claimant's 100% disability to the right leg was caused by the industrial accident alone, and his diabetes, a preexisting impairment, played no role in the loss of that leg.

Liberty seeks reimbursement from the Fund pursuant to section 42-9-400 of the South Carolina Code (1985), because of Claimant's preexisting diabetes. The Fund reimbursed Liberty's claim regarding all medical payments and disability compensation, with the exception of the 100% permanent disability paid for the right leg. The Fund argues the claim does not qualify for reimbursement because the total loss of the right leg was solely attributable to the industrial accident. The hearing commissioner ruled in the Fund's favor. The appellate panel reversed. However, the appellate panel's decision was reversed by the circuit court.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The South Carolina Administrative Procedures Act (APA) establishes the standard for judicial review of decisions of the workers' compensation commission. Hargrove v. Titan Textile Co., 360 S.C. 276, 599 S.E.2d 604 (Ct.App.2004); see Lark v. Bi-Lo, Inc., 276 S.C. 130, 276 S.E.2d 304 (1981); Gibson v. Spartanburg Sch. Dist. No. 3, 338 S.C. 510, 526 S.E.2d 725 (Ct.App.2000). A reviewing court may reverse or modify a decision of an agency if the findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions of that agency are "clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record." Bursey v. South Carolina Dep't of Health and Envtl. Control, 360 S.C. 135, 141, 600 S.E.2d 80, 84 (Ct.App.2004); S.C.Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6)(e) (Supp.2003). Under the scope of review established in the APA, this Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the commission as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact, but may reverse where the decision is affected by an error of law. Stone v. Traylor Bros., Inc., 360 S.C. 271, 600 S.E.2d 551 (Ct.App.2004); Frame v. Resort Servs., Inc., 357 S.C. 520, 593 S.E.2d 491 (Ct.App.2004); Stephen v. Avins Constr. Co., 324 S.C. 334, 478 S.E.2d 74 (Ct.App.1996); S.C.Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6)(d) (Supp.2003).

The substantial evidence rule of the APA governs the standard of review in a workers' compensation decision. Frame, 357 S.C. 520, 593 S.E.2d 491; Corbin v. Kohler Co., 351 S.C. 613, 571 S.E.2d 92 (Ct.App.2002). This Court's review is limited to deciding whether the commission's decision is unsupported by substantial evidence or is controlled by some error of law. See Grant v. Grant Textiles, 361 S.C. 188, 603 S.E.2d 858 (Ct.App.2004); Gibson, 338 S.C. at 517, 526 S.E.2d at 728-29; see also Dukes v. Rural Metro Corp., 356 S.C. 107, 109, 587 S.E.2d 687, 688 (2003) ("This Court will not overturn a decision by the Workers' Compensation Commission unless the determination is unsupported by substantial evidence."); Lyles v. Quantum Chem. Co. (Emery), 315 S.C. 440, 434 S.E.2d 292 (Ct.App.1993) (noting that in reviewing decision of workers' compensation commission, court of appeals will not set aside its findings unless they are not supported by substantial evidence or they are controlled by error of law).

Substantial evidence is not a mere scintilla of evidence, nor the evidence viewed blindly from one side of the case, but is evidence which, considering the record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion the administrative agency reached in order to justify its action. Pratt v. Morris Roofing, Inc., 357 S.C. 619, 594 S.E.2d 272 (2004); Jones v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 355 S.C. 413, 586 S.E.2d 111 (2003); Etheredge v. Monsanto Co., 349 S.C. 451, 562

Page 301

S.E.2d 679 (Ct.App.2002); Broughton v. South of the Border, 336 S.C. 488, 520 S.E.2d 634 (Ct.App.1999). The appellate panel is the ultimate fact finder in workers' compensation cases and is not bound by the single commissioner's findings of fact. Gibson, 338 S.C. at 517, 526 S.E.2d at 729; Muir v. C.R. Bard, Inc., 336 S.C. 266, 519 S.E.2d 583 (Ct.App.1999). "The final determination of witness credibility and the weight to be accorded evidence is reserved to the Appellate Panel." Frame, 357 S.C. at 528, 593 S.E.2d at 495 (citing Shealy v. Aiken County, 341 S.C. 448, 535 S.E.2d 438 (2000)); Parsons v. Georgetown Steel, 318 S.C. 63, 456 S.E.2d 366 (1995); Gibson, 338 S.C. at 517, 526 S.E.2d at 729. The possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's findings from being supported by substantial evidence. Dukes, 356 S.C. 107, 587 S.E.2d 687; Sharpe v. Case Produce, Inc., 336 S.C. 154, 519 S.E.2d 102 (1999); DuRant v. South Carolina Dep't of Health & Envtl. Control, 361 S.C. 416, 604 S.E.2d 704 (Ct.App.2004); Corbin v. Kohler Co., 351 S.C. 613, 571 S.E.2d 92 (Ct.App.2002); Muir, 336 S.C. at 282, 519 S.E.2d at 591. Where there are conflicts in the evidence over a factual issue, the findings of the appellate panel are conclusive. Hargrove at 290, 599 S.E.2d at 611; Etheredge, 349 S.C. at 455, 562 S.E.2d at 681.

The findings of an administrative agency are presumed correct and will be set aside only if unsupported by substantial evidence. Anderson v. Baptist Med. Ctr., 343 S.C. 487, 541 S.E.2d 526 (2001); Hicks v. Piedmont Cold Storage, Inc., 335 S.C. 46, 515 S.E.2d 532 (1999); Frame at 528, 593 S.E.2d at 495. It is not within our province to reverse findings of the appellate panel which are supported by substantial evidence. Pratt, 357 S.C. at 622, 594 S.E.2d at 274-75; Broughton, 336 S.C. at 496, 520 S.E.2d at 637. The appellate court is prohibited from overturning findings of fact of the appellate panel, unless there is no reasonable probability the facts could be as related by the witness upon whose testimony the finding was based. Hargrove at 290, 599 S.E.2d at 611; Etheredge, 349 S.C. at 455-56, 562 S.E.2d at 681.

LAW/ANALYSIS

I. Principles of Statutory Construction

The cardinal rule of statutory interpretation is to ascertain the intent of the legislature. State v. Scott, 351 S.C. 584, 588, 571 S.E.2d 700, 702 (2002); Georgia-Carolina Bail Bonds, Inc. v. County of Aiken, 354 S.C. 18, 579 S.E.2d 334 (Ct.App.2003); see also Gordon v. Phillips Utils. Inc., 362 S.C. 403, 406, 608 S.E.2d 425, 427 (2005) ("The primary purpose in construing a statute is to ascertain legislative intent."); Olson v. Faculty House of Carolina, Inc., 344 S.C. 194, 205, 544 S.E.2d 38, 44 (Ct.App.2001) ("The quintessence of statutory construction is legislative intent."). A statute should be given a reasonable and practical construction consistent with the purpose and policy expressed in the statute. Davis v. NationsCredit Fin. Servs. Corp., 326 S.C. 83, 484 S.E.2d 471 (1997); Daisy Outdoor Adver. Co. v. South Carolina Dep't of Transp., 352 S.C. 113, 120, 572 S.E.2d 462, 466 (Ct.App.2002); Stephen v. Avins Constr. Co., 324 S.C. 334, 478 S.E.2d 74 (Ct.App.1996). All rules of statutory construction are subservient to the one that legislative intent must prevail if it can be reasonably discovered in the language used, and that language must be construed in the light of the intended purpose of the statute. McClanahan v. Richland County Council, 350 S.C. 433, 567 S.E.2d 240 (2002); Ray Bell Constr. Co. v. Sch. Dist. of Greenville County, 331 S.C. 19, 501 S.E.2d 725 (1998); State v. Morgan, 352 S.C. 359, 574 S.E.2d 203 (Ct.App.2002); State v. Hudson, 336 S.C. 237, 519 S.E.2d 577 (Ct.App.1999). The determination of legislative intent is a matter of law. Charleston County Parks & Recreation Comm'n v. Somers, 319 S.C. 65, 459 S.E.2d 841 (1995); South Carolina Uninsured Employer's Fund v. House, 360 S.C. 468, 602 S.E.2d 81 (Ct.App.2004); Olson, 344 S.C. at 207, 544 S.E.2d at 45.

The legislature's intent should be ascertained primarily from the plain language of the statute. State v. Landis, 362 S.C. 97, 606 S.E.2d 503 (Ct.App.2004); Morgan, 352 S.C. at 366, 574 S.E.2d at 206; Stephen, 324 S.C. at 339, 478 S.E.2d at 77.

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The language must also be read in a sense which harmonizes with its subject matter and accords with its general purpose. Mun. Ass'n of South Carolina v. AT&T Communications of S. States, Inc., 361 S.C. 576, 606 S.E.2d 468 (2004); Hitachi Data Sys. v. Leatherman, 309 S.C. 174, 420 S.E.2d 843 (1992); Morgan, 352 S.C. at 366, 574 S.E.2d at 206; Hudson, 336 S.C. at 246, 519 S.E.2d at 582. The court's primary function in interpreting a statute is to ascertain the intent of the General Assembly. Smith v. South Carolina Ins. Co., 350 S.C. 82, 87, 564 S.E.2d 358, 361 (Ct.App.2002). A statute must receive a practical and...

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62 practice notes
  • Hall v. United Rentals, Inc., No. 4166.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 23, 2006
    ...on questions of fact, but may reverse where the decision is affected by an error of law. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. S.C. Second Injury Fund, 363 S.C. 612, 611 S.E.2d 297 (Ct.App. The substantial evidence rule of the APA governs the standard of review in a Workers' Compensation decision. Gadso......
  • Thompson ex rel. Harvey v. Cisson Const., No. 4339.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 1, 2008
    ...be as related by the witness upon whose testimony the finding was based. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. South Carolina Second Injury Fund, 611 S.E.2d 297, 301, 363 S.C. 612, 621 (Ct.App. 2005) cert. denied July 2007; Hargrove, 360 S.C. at 290, 599 S.E.2d at 611; Etheredge, 349 S.C. at 455-56, 562......
  • Hernandez-Zuniga v. Tickle, No. 4253.
    • United States
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    • June 14, 2007
    ...v. City of Myrtle Beach, 340 S.C. 405, 409-10, 532 S.E.2d 289, 292 (2000); Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. South Carolina Second Injury Fund, 363 S.C. 612, 622, 611 S.E.2d 297, 302 (Ct.App.2005); University of Southern California v. Moran, 365 S.C. 270, 276, 617 S.E.2d 135, 138 (Ct.App.2005); see ......
  • Coastal Conservation v. Dept. of Health, No. 4450.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 23, 2008
    ...378, 656 S.E.2d 772, 774 (Ct.App.2008); McGriff, 376 S.C. at 109, 654 S.E.2d at 859; Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. S.C. Second Injury Fund, 363 S.C. 612, 619, 611 S.E.2d 297, 300 (Ct.App.2005); Corbin v. Kohler Co., 351 S.C. 613, 617, 571 S.E.2d 92, 95 (Ct.App.2002). Substantial evidence is more......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
63 cases
  • Hall v. United Rentals, Inc., No. 4166.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 23, 2006
    ...on questions of fact, but may reverse where the decision is affected by an error of law. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. S.C. Second Injury Fund, 363 S.C. 612, 611 S.E.2d 297 (Ct.App. The substantial evidence rule of the APA governs the standard of review in a Workers' Compensation decision. Gadso......
  • Thompson ex rel. Harvey v. Cisson Const., No. 4339.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 1, 2008
    ...be as related by the witness upon whose testimony the finding was based. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. South Carolina Second Injury Fund, 611 S.E.2d 297, 301, 363 S.C. 612, 621 (Ct.App. 2005) cert. denied July 2007; Hargrove, 360 S.C. at 290, 599 S.E.2d at 611; Etheredge, 349 S.C. at 455-56, 562......
  • Hernandez-Zuniga v. Tickle, No. 4253.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 14, 2007
    ...v. City of Myrtle Beach, 340 S.C. 405, 409-10, 532 S.E.2d 289, 292 (2000); Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. South Carolina Second Injury Fund, 363 S.C. 612, 622, 611 S.E.2d 297, 302 (Ct.App.2005); University of Southern California v. Moran, 365 S.C. 270, 276, 617 S.E.2d 135, 138 (Ct.App.2005); see ......
  • Coastal Conservation v. Dept. of Health, No. 4450.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 23, 2008
    ...378, 656 S.E.2d 772, 774 (Ct.App.2008); McGriff, 376 S.C. at 109, 654 S.E.2d at 859; Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. S.C. Second Injury Fund, 363 S.C. 612, 619, 611 S.E.2d 297, 300 (Ct.App.2005); Corbin v. Kohler Co., 351 S.C. 613, 617, 571 S.E.2d 92, 95 (Ct.App.2002). Substantial evidence is more......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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