Paradis v. Charleston Cnty. Sch. Dist., 28030

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtBEATTY, CHIEF JUSTICE
PartiesLeisel Paradis, Petitioner, v. Charleston County School District, James Island Charter High School, Robert Bohnstengel and Stephanie Spann, in their individual capacities, Respondents.
Docket Number28030,Appellate Case 2018-002025
Decision Date18 August 2021

Leisel Paradis, Petitioner,

Charleston County School District, James Island Charter High School, Robert Bohnstengel and Stephanie Spann, in their individual capacities, Respondents.

No. 28030

Appellate Case No. 2018-002025

Supreme Court of South Carolina

August 18, 2021

Heard December 12, 2019

Filed May 19, 2021

Appeal from Charleston County J.C. Nicholson Jr., Circuit Court Judge

J. Lewis Cromer and J. Paul Porter, both of Cromer Babb Porter & Hicks, LLC, of Columbia, for Petitioner.

Rene Stuhr Dukes, of Rosen Rosen & Hagood, LLC, of Charleston, for Respondent Robert Bohnstengel; and Caroline Cleveland, Bob J. Conley, and Emmanuel Joseph Ferguson, all of Cleveland & Conley, LLC, of Charleston, for Respondent Stephanie Spann.

Donald W. Beatty C.J., John W. Kittredge J., Kaye G. Hearn J., George C. James, Jr. J.


John Cannon Few J.

After careful consideration of the petition for rehearing, the Court is unable to discover that any material fact or principle of law has been either overlooked or disregarded, and hence, there is no basis for granting a rehearing. Consequently, the petition for rehearing is denied. However, for clarification, a new footnote 9 has been added in the attached opinion, which is substituted for the previous opinion, and the previous opinion is withdrawn.

I stand by my original writing, but I do not believe my differences with the majority warrant the granting of rehearing. I vote with the majority, therefore, to substitute the revised majority opinion and refile.


A civil conspiracy claim brought by Leisel Paradis ("Petitioner") was dismissed by the circuit court for failing to plead special damages, and the dismissal was upheld by the court of appeals. We granted a petition for a writ of certiorari to consider the narrow question whether South Carolina's requirement of pleading special damages should be abolished. We conclude that it should. South Carolina is the only state with this unique requirement as an element, and we find it resulted from a misinterpretation of law. We overrule precedent that requires the pleading of special damages and return to the traditional definition of civil conspiracy in this state. Consequently, we reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand the matter to the circuit court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Petitioner, a teacher, filed a complaint asserting a defamation claim against the Charleston County School District and James Island Charter High School (respectively, "the District" and "the High School"). In addition, Petitioner asserted a civil conspiracy claim against the High School's principal and assistant principal, Robert Bohnstengel and Stephanie Spann ("Respondents"), [1] in their individual capacities. Petitioner alleged Respondents targeted her for an unwarranted and invasive performance evaluation because they were unhappy with her desire to report a student's misconduct to the police, causing her to be blacklisted and ostracized and, ultimately, terminated from her teaching position.

The circuit court dismissed both the defamation and the civil conspiracy claims. The circuit court ruled, inter alia, that Petitioner failed to plead special damages as required to advance her civil conspiracy claim. The court of appeals affirmed. Paradis v. Charleston Cty. Sch. Dist., 424 S.C. 603, 819 S.E.2d 147 (Ct. App. 2018). Petitioner sought a writ of certiorari, raising several issues regarding the civil conspiracy claim. This Court granted the petition for a writ of certiorari as to Petitioner's first question, which asks the Court to abolish the rule imposing a special pleading requirement for civil conspiracy claims-i.e., requiring a plaintiff to plead special damages-which evolved after the Court's decision in Todd v. South Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co., 276 S.C. 284, 278 S.E.2d 607 (1981). This pleading requirement has been informally referred to as the Todd rule.


Petitioner contends this Court should overrule precedent requiring the pleading of special damages for civil conspiracy claims, which arose after the issuance of the Todd decision in 1981. We agree.

Civil conspiracy has long given rise to uncertainty as to its elements and proper application. See 4 James Lockhart, Cause of Action for Civil Conspiracy, Causes of Action § 4, at 530 (2d ed. 1994) ("The elements of civil conspiracy are not always defined in exactly the same way."). Over 100 years ago, a law professor analyzed the emerging action, noting its varying definitions and the distinction between civil and criminal conspiracy, and he distilled the following core principles:

A combination between two or more persons to accomplish a criminal or unlawful purpose, or some purpose not in itself criminal or unlawful by criminal or unlawful means, subjects the confederates to criminal prosecution; and, if injury ensues to an individual therefrom, it subjects them to a civil action by their victim

Francis M. Burdick, Conspiracy as a Crime, and as a Tort, 7 Colum. L. Rev. 229, 246 (1907).

South Carolina employed similar language in defining civil conspiracy. In an early case involving motions to strike and to make the pleadings for civil conspiracy more definite and certain, this Court stated:

[A] definition of conspiracy has been given as the conspiring together to do an unlawful act to the detriment of another or the doing of a lawful act in an unlawful way to the detriment of another

Charles v. Texas Co., 192 S.C. 82, 101, 5 S.E.2d 464, 472 (1939) (Charles I).

The Court reiterated this description in the appeal from the verdict in the same case, finding no error in a jury charge defining a civil conspiracy in these terms. See Charles v. Texas Co., 199 S.C. 156, 176, 18 S.E.2d 719, 727 (1942) (Charles II) ("Ordinarily a conspiracy is where two or more persons combine or agree to do something to the detriment or hurt of another. If they agree to do an unlawful thing for the detriment or hurt of another or if they agree to do a lawful thing but agree to do it in an unlawful manner that would be a conspiracy."); cf. Hosp. Care Corp. v. Commercial Cas. Ins. Co., 194 S.C. 370, 387, 9 S.E.2d 796, 803-04 (1940) (observing "the second cause of action [failed to] allege the required elements of a conspiracy to accomplish an unlawful purpose or a lawful purpose unlawfully").

In Charles II, the Court pointed out the "well known principle" that resulting damages are the gist of any civil conspiracy action and an unexecuted conspiracy does not give rise to a civil cause of action. 199 S.C. at 177, 18 S.E.2d at 727. Thus, the Court emphasized that proof of an overt act and resulting damages were also fundamental elements to sustain a civil claim, and it found these points were adequately conveyed in the trial judge's instructions. The Court further explained, "Each conspirator is liable for all damages naturally resulting from any wrongful act of a co-conspirator in exercising the joint enterprise," and "[w]hether the damages proximately resulted from the wrongful act of the conspirators is ordinarily a question for the jury." Id. at 174, 18 S.E.2d at 726 (citation omitted).

Appeals involving civil conspiracy were somewhat infrequent immediately following Charles I and Charles II, but the two decisions were recognized as authoritative, even when later cases did not fully articulate all of the requisite elements. See, e.g., Lakewood Water Co. v. Garden Water Co., 222 S.C. 450, 453, 73 S.E.2d 720, 721 (1952) ("The two decisions of Charles v. Texas Company, 192 S.C. 82, 5 S.E.2d 464, and Id., 199 S.C. 156, 18 S.E.2d 719, rather fully enunciate the principles which govern civil actions for conspiracy and they need not be repeated here.").

The definition of civil conspiracy approved in Charles I and Charles II is also fairly universal in contemporary tort law.[2] See generally 16 Am. Jur. 2d Conspiracy § 53 (2020) ("Although stated variously from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the basic elements of a civil conspiracy are (1) an agreement between two or more individuals, (2) to do an unlawful act or to do a lawful act in an unlawful way, (3) resulting in injury to [the] plaintiff inflicted by one or more of the conspirators, and (4) pursuant to a common scheme."); 15A C.J.S. Conspiracy § 4 (2012) ("The requisite elements [for civil conspiracy] are: (1) a combination between two or more persons; (2) to do a criminal or an unlawful act, or a lawful act by criminal or unlawful means; (3) an act done by one or more of the conspirators pursuant to the scheme and in furtherance of the object; (4) which act results in damage to the plaintiff.").

In 1981, however, the Court issued the Todd decision, which has been interpreted as creating a new element for civil conspiracy claims in South Carolina- a requirement that a plaintiff plead special damages. In Todd, the plaintiff alleged five causes of action stemming from the termination of his employment, and each cause of action incorporated all of the prior allegations: "(1) intentional interference with contractual relations, (2) extreme and outrageous conduct, (3) bad faith termination of the employment contract, (4) invasion of privacy, and (5) conspiracy to so damage the plaintiff." Todd v. S.C. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 276 S.C. 284, 287, 278 S.E.2d 607, 608 (1981). One of the issues considered by the Court was whether Todd's fifth cause of action stated a claim for civil conspiracy. Id. at 292, 278 S.E.2d at 610.

The Todd Court began by citing, inter alia, Charles I, and stating: "Conspiracy is the conspiring or combining together to do an unlawful act to the detriment of another or the doing of a lawful act in an unlawful way to the detriment of another." Id. at 292, 278 S.E.2d at 611. The Court generally observed the difference between a criminal conspiracy...

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