Parrish v. Allison

Decision Date19 December 2007
Docket NumberNo. 4322.,4322.
Citation656 S.E.2d 382,376 S.C. 308
CourtSouth Carolina Court of Appeals
PartiesKim PARRISH, Appellant, v. Earl ALLISON, Respondent.

J. Michael Turner, Sr., and Matthew P. Turner, of Laurens, for Appellant.

Frank L. Eppes and L. Lee Plumblee, of Greenville, for Respondent.


In this defamation action, Kim Parrish (Parrish) sued Earl Allison (Allison) for statements alleged to be slander per se. The trial court denied Parrish's motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The jury returned a verdict for Allison. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.


Appellant Parrish is the great-niece of Allison. Over the years, family disagreements have resulted in numerous insinuations and incidents by both sides. Frequently at issue was the family land which has been divided over time between Allison, Parrish, and others. The events leading to this defamation action arose when Parrish began efforts to have the county close a portion of road where her land is located. At a Laurens County Council (the Council) meeting, Parrish appeared and yoked her concerns regarding the safety of the road. Allison expressed his opposition at a subsequent council meeting where he made the statements at issue. Specifically, Allison said Parrish had (a) "conned his mother [Parrish's great-grandmother] into signing her land over to [Parrish]," and (b) "conned [his mother] out of her insurance money."

Prior to the meetings, Parrish visited Allison at his home to discuss her intentions to ask the county to close the road. Although Allison initially told Parrish he was neutral, he later decided to oppose the closing. Allison's change in position was sparked by an article he read in the local newspaper. It reported that Parrish, at the first meeting, told the Council a man fell off a golf cart and was run over on the road. Allison knew this incident never happened. However, Parrish's testimony revealed her nephew fell off a go-cart in another locale and was run over leaving him with a lengthy recovery. The record established that the newspaper had misquoted Parrish. At trial, Parrish said she told the Council of her nephew's ordeal to illuminate the devastation of "freak accidents."

At the inception of the second county council meeting, an announcement was made clarifying the newspaper had "reported incorrectly. Allison, advanced in years and hard of hearing, was present but testified repeatedly he did not hear the correction. He proceeded to make his statements believing Parrish had told a lie and the Council would rely on a fabrication in deciding whether to close the road. Allison made the following statements about Parrish: "She lied about different things ... [S]he lied about a man getting ran over."

I don't know why she is driving this so hard with lies to get it accomplished. [T]he point about the man getting run over on Allison Road is an absolute lie. This is the most outrageous thing I have ever heard. This should have been kicked out the first time she came in here with this big tale. We have had trouble with this woman ever since she has been living in Hickory Tavern. The things that she has done and gotten by with.... she got by with cutting Tony Lollis water line and blocking the road off. I want to tell you how kind-hearted she is. My mother lived to be an old, old woman. She conned her into signing the whole place ... house, land and furniture, two insurance policies. She, did not show up at the funeral. She did not show up at the Mortuary and paid not one penny towards the funeral. The two insurance policies were for her funeral. She is a dangerous woman. (Emphasis supplied).

Allison does not deny making the statements though testimony is inconsistent as to whether he used "conned" to imply "stole" or "persuaded." In a deposition, Allison insisted on the truth of his statements and answered the questions of Parrish's attorney as follows:

Q: You wanted her to be known as a liar in the community?

A: Right.

Q: You wanted her to be known as someone who stole land from your mother?

A: Right. Exactly right.

But on direct examination by Parrish's attorney, Allison testified:

Q: Now, Mr. Allison, when you appeared before the Laurens County Council you could have spoken against the closing of Allison Road without personally attacking Kim Parrish, couldn't you?

A: Say I could have?

Q: Yes, sir.

A: Well, I wanted to get the point across, I wanted her character revealed and I wanted to let the county council know what we were dealing with.

Q: You turned this into a personal attack on Kim Parrish?

A: No, no, no. I have no personal attack on Kim. I am glad to see Kim progress, the way they are progressing. I don't hate my own, I don't mean to hate you and I don't know what you are up to. I hate

Q: Well, I am sorry if you feel like I am up to something, I am just here asking questions. What I want to know is the truth about this matter and this. You could have spoken against the closing of the road without calling Kim Parrish a liar, couldn't?

A: Well, I thought it would be best to reveal her character and let the county council know that the road shouldn't be closed on that statement, that a man was run over.


Q: Well, lets [sic] talk about what you did say, okay?

A: Alright.

Q: Alright, we know you called her a liar, correct?

A: Did I call her a liar?

Q: Yes, sir.

A: Well, I didn't mean to damage her character. All I meant was to get it across to the county council that we were dealing with an unreliable person, in the newspaper.

Q: Now, you also, I believe, said that she conned your mother into signing the whole place over to her, didn't you?

A: I believe I did say that.

Q: And her insurance money too, didn't you?

A: And you know what my basis for—

Q: What I am saying, and insurance money too, correct?

A: Right, right.

Q: And you said both of those things to county council, didn't you?

A: Yes.

Q: And that didn't have a thing to do with closing Allison Road?

A: No, but it was bringing out the character, bringing out the character.

Q: Did it have anything to do with closing Allison Road?

A: Yes, it did. That helped keep the road open in my opinion.

Q: Okay. So, your personal attack upon her of telling those things was for the purpose of trying to keep the road open to discredit her, is that right?

A: I was trying to keep the road open, that is right.

Q: And trying to discredit Kim Parrish?

A: I wasn't trying to discredit her or anything. I was just bringing out the straight facts.

Q: Just bringing out the straight facts? A: Right.

Q: And you wanted the county council

A: To believe that she was an unreliable person.

Q: And you wanted the county council and all of those persons in attendance and whoever may hear this, whether it be on TV or otherwise to believe that she was a person who stole your mother's land, didn't you?

A: I didn't say she stole it.

Q: That was what you wanted, didn't you, isn't that what you wanted?

A: No, that is not what I wanted, no.

On direct examination by his own attorney, Allison further explained the circumstances behind his statements.

Q: And then you went on to say [at the county council meeting], you used the word, con?

A: Right.

Q: Her out of real estate and insurance proceeds. What were you saying there in your mind's eye?

A: My view on this is that. I believe in all my heart that Mary Ellen, my sister and Kim, they were working together. And they had convinced my mother that she should sign that deed to my sister which she did, she signed the deed, her mind wasn't right at all when she signed it. But she signed everything she had to my sister, I didn't find this out until my mother died. And before my mother died my sister signed everything over to Kim Parrish.

Q: And what—?

A: And with all the children and grandchildren I don't see why, there was 41 of us and the one person she picked out was Kim. But that was working between my sister and Kim.

Q: Now, what type of force did they bring to bear on your mother do you think, how did they do that?

A: What did they do now?

Q: How did they do that?

A: How did they do what?

Q: Did they persuade your mother?

A: Oh yes, they persuaded my mother, no doubt about that.

The trial court denied Parrish's motion for directed verdict at the close of Allison's case. Prior to jury instructions, Parrish renewed her objection that Allison had not pled the affirmative defense of truth. The trial court ruled "I certainly think that reading the answer in a liberal manner, even though it is an affirmative defense I think that it was affirmatively stated that they were going to plead that." The trial court charged the jury: "The defendant must prove by a greater weight of the preponderance of the evidence that the statement was substantially true or true in substance. A statement is not defamatory if it is essentially true." The jury returned a verdict in Allison's favor. The trial court denied Parrish's motions for a new trial or judgment not withstanding the verdict.


1. Did the trial judge err in denying motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict because the statements of the respondent constituted slander per se?

2. Did the trial judge err in allowing Allison to present truth as a defense and in charging the jury on truth when truth was not pled as an affirmative defense?


"In an action at law, on appeal of a case tried by a jury, the jurisdiction of the appellate court extends merely to the correction of errors of law, and a factual finding by a jury will not be disturbed unless a review of the record discloses that there is no evidence which reasonably supports the jury's finding." Erickson v. Jones Street Publishers, LLC, 368 S.C. 444, 464, 629 S.E.2d 653, 663 (2006); Townes Assoc., Ltd. v. City of Greenville, 266 S.C. 81, 221...

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