Platt v. Csx Transportation, Inc., No. 4394.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtAnderson
Citation665 S.E.2d 631,379 S.C. 249
Decision Date20 May 2008
Docket NumberNo. 4394.
PartiesBeaulah PLATT, as guardian for Asia Platt, a minor under the age of fourteen years, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Valerie Marie Platt, deceased, and as Personal Representative of the Estate of William Leroy Platt, deceased, Appellant, v. CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., and South Carolina Department of Transportation, Defendants, of whom South Carolina Department of Transportation is Respondent.
665 S.E.2d 631
379 S.C. 249
Beaulah PLATT, as guardian for Asia Platt, a minor under the age of fourteen years, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Valerie Marie Platt, deceased, and as Personal Representative of the Estate of William Leroy Platt, deceased, Appellant,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., and South Carolina Department of Transportation, Defendants, of whom South Carolina Department of Transportation is Respondent.
No. 4394.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard May 6, 2008.
Decided May 20, 2008.
Rehearing Denied August 26, 2008.

[665 S.E.2d 633]

David L. Savage, of Charleston; Ronnie Lanier Crosby, of Hampton, for Appellant.

Jonathan J. Anderson, Lisa A. Reynolds, and Eric M. Johnsen, all of Charleston, for Respondent.

ANDERSON, J.


Beaulah Platt, as guardian of Asia Platt and as personal representative of the estates of Valerie Platt and William Leroy Platt, appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the South Carolina Department of Transportation (Department). Platt contends: (1) the Department had a duty to protect the public from the dangerous condition created by a malfunctioning railroad warning device; (2) the trial court improperly held the Department satisfied its duty by informing CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX) of the malfunctioning signals; and (3) the Department's negligence in failing to maintain the traffic signals in compliance with the signal plans was a proximate cause of the collision. We affirm.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 19, 1999, William Corley was driving Valerie Platt, Asia Platt, and William Corley Jr., in his automobile on Red Bank Road toward Highway 52 in Goose Creek, South Carolina.1 Red Bank Road intersects both Highway 52 and a CSX railroad track, which are parallel to one another. In the direction Corley was traveling, he would cross over the railroad tracks before entering the Red Bank Road and Highway 52 intersection. There were railroad crossing arms and warning lights approximately two car lengths on either side of the railroad tracks.

As Corley approached the intersection of Red Bank Road and Highway 52, traffic was stopped at the traffic signal. While Corley waited, the railroad track crossing arms and warning lights activated and lowered in front of his vehicle. A train did not pass, the crossing arms lifted, and Corley drove forward. Soon thereafter, the crossing arms again lowered, placing Corley's vehicle between the crossing arms and the railroad tracks. Testimony differs regarding Corley's

665 S.E.2d 634

actions at this point, but it appears Corley backed up at least once to ensure his vehicle was clear from the tracks. At least one vehicle was in front of Corley's but on the other side of the tracks between the tracks and the stop light at Highway 52. Prior to the train's arrival, no vehicles blocked Corley's forward progress to the intersection. Corley drove forward and was struck by an oncoming CSX train. Asia Platt was the sole survivor in the vehicle, and has since been cared for by her maternal grandmother, Beaulah Platt.

Beaulah Platt, as the guardian for Asia Platt and personal representative of the estates of Valerie and William Platt, filed a negligence action against CSX and the Department. Beaulah Platt and CSX reached a settlement agreement prior to oral argument on the Department's summary judgment motion. The trial court granted the Department's summary judgment motion, finding: (1) the Department fulfilled its duty by reporting defects in the warning signals to CSX; (2) the Department had no duty to make repairs of the crossing arms; (3) the Code of Federal Regulations vests only CSX with the duty to maintain crossing signals; and (4) the proximate cause of the collision was a malfunction of the crossing arms and not the Department's traffic signals.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When reviewing a grant of summary judgment, the appellate court applies the same standard which governs the trial court under Rule 56(c), SCRCP, summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Pye v. Estate of Fox, 369 S.C. 555, 633 S.E.2d 505 (2006); Houck v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Ins. Co., 366 S.C. 7, 11, 620 S.E.2d 326, 329 (2005); Bradley v. Doe, 374 S.C. 622, 649 S.E.2d 153 (Ct.App.2007); Bennett v. Investors Title Ins. Co., 370 S.C. 578, 635 S.E.2d 649 (Ct.App.2006); see Rule 56(c), SCRCP ("The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith 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 and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."). In determining whether any triable issues of fact exist, the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Helms Realty, Inc. v. Gibson-Wall Co., 363 S.C. 334, 611 S.E.2d 485 (2005); Medical Univ. of S.C. v. Arnaud, 360 S.C. 615, 602 S.E.2d 747 (2004); Hackworth v. Greenville County, 371 S.C. 99, 102, 637 S.E.2d 320, 322 (Ct.App.2006); Rife v. Hitachi Constr. Mach. Co., Ltd., 363 S.C. 209, 609 S.E.2d 565 (Ct. App.2005).

"Summary judgment is appropriate where 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 and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." BPS, 362 S.C. at 325, 608 S.E.2d at 159; see also Higgins v. Medical Univ. of South Carolina, 326 S.C. 592, 486 S.E.2d 269 (Ct.App.1997) (a trial judge considering a motion for summary judgment must consider all documents and evidence within the record, including pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits). "On appeal from an order granting summary judgment, the appellate court will review all ambiguities, conclusions, and inferences arising in and from the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party below." Catawba Indian Tribe of South Carolina v. The State of South Carolina, 372 S.C. 519, 524, 642 S.E.2d 751, 753 (2007).

Summary judgment is not appropriate where further inquiry into where further inquiry into the facts is desirable to clarify the application of the law. Brockbank v. Best Capital Corp., 341 S.C. 372, 534 S.E.2d 688 (2000); Tupper v. Dorchester County, 326 S.C. 318, 487 S.E.2d 187 (1997). Even when there is no dispute as to evidentiary facts, summary judgment is not appropriate if there is disagreement concerning the conclusion to be drawn from those facts. Moriarty v. Garden Sanctuary Church of God, 341 S.C. 320, 534 S.E.2d 672 (2000); Ellis v. Davidson, 358 S.C. 509, 595 S.E.2d 817 (Ct. App.2004). However, when plain, palpable,

665 S.E.2d 635

and indisputable facts exist on which reasonable minds cannot differ, summary judgment should be granted. BPS, 362 S.C. at 325, 608 S.E.2d at 159.

The purpose of summary judgment is to expedite the disposition of cases which do not require the services of a fact finder. Dawkins v. Fields, 354 S.C. 58, 69, 580 S.E.2d 433, 438 (2003) (quoting George v. Fabri, 345 S.C. 440, 452, 548 S.E.2d 868, 874 (2001)); Moore v. Weinberg, 373 S.C. 209, 217, 644 S.E.2d 740, 744 (Ct.App.2007); Mulherin-Howell v. Cobb, 362 S.C. 588, 596-97, 608 S.E.2d 587, 592 (Ct.App.2005). Because summary judgment is a drastic remedy, summary judgment should be cautiously invoked to ensure a litigant is not improperly deprived of a trial on disputed factual issues. Helena Chem. Co. v. Allianz Underwriters Ins. Co., 357 S.C. 631, 644, 594 S.E.2d 455, 462 (2004); B & B Liquors, Inc. v. O'Neil, 361 S.C. 267, 270, 603 S.E.2d 629, 631 (Ct. App.2004).

LAW/ANALYSIS

I. Public Duty Rule

Platt avers the Department had a duty to protect the public from a dangerous condition created by the malfunctioning warning device. We disagree.

The public duty rule was originally adopted by the South Carolina Supreme Court in Parker v. Brown, 195 S.C. 35, 52, 10 S.E.2d 625, 632 (1940):

The law necessarily grants certain discretion to its officers in handling the public business. In one instance it may be wise for a public officer to pursue one course, in another instance, another course. Those charged with protecting the public interest should view that interest as supreme, should consider what is best for the public, and should be free at all times to prosecute the course that appears to be in the public interest. . . . It is well settled that an individual has no right of action against a public officer for breach of a duty owing to the public only, even though such individual be specially injured thereby. Where a duty is owing to the public only, an officer is not liable to an individual who may have been incidentally injured by his failure to perform it.

Under South Carolina's public duty doctrine, public officials are not liable to individuals for their negligence in discharging public duties as the duty is owed to the public at large rather than to anyone individually. Tanner v. Florence Co. Treasurer, 336 S.C. 552, 561, 521 S.E.2d 153, 158 (1999); Jensen v. Anderson County Dep't of Soc. Servs., 304 S.C. 195, 199, 403 S.E.2d 615, 617 (1991); Arthurs v. Aiken County, 338 S.C. 253, 262, 525 S.E.2d 542, 546 (Ct.App.1999) (Arthurs I) aff'd as modified, 346 S.C. 97, 551 S.E.2d 579 (2001) (Arthurs II).

The public duty rule is not a separate legal doctrine. Arthurs I, 338 S.C. at 262, 525 S.E.2d at 546; Rayfield v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 297 S.C. 95, 105, 374 S.E.2d 910, 915 (Ct.App.1988). The public duty rule is a special application of the broader principle that an action for negligence based upon an alleged violation of a statute cannot be maintained if the statute was enacted for a purpose other than preventing the complained of injury. Arthurs I, 338 S.C. at 262, 525 S.E.2d at 546; Rayf...

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8 practice notes
  • Gauld v. O'Shaugnessy Realty Co., No. 4455.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • November 14, 2008
    ...155, 666 S.E.2d 230, 233 (2008); Catawba Indian Tribe v. State, 372 S.C. 519, 524, 642 S.E.2d 751, 753 (2007); Platt v. CSX Transp., Inc., 379 S.C. 249, 255, 665 S.E.2d 631, 634 (Ct. App.2008). The appellate court will apply the same standard which governs the trial court under Rule 56(c), ......
  • McKnight v. S.C. Dept. of Corrections, No. 4615.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 9, 2009
    ...a breach of that duty by a negligent act or omission; and (3) damage proximately resulting from the breach." Platt v. CSX Transp., Inc., 379 S.C. 249, 258, 665 S.E.2d 631, 635 (Ct.App.2008), cert. pending. "Negligence is not actionable unless it is a proximate cause of the injuries, and it ......
  • Peterson v. Porter, No. 4702.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 29, 2010
    ...a breach of that duty by a negligent act or omission; and (3) damage proximately resulting from the breach.” Platt v. CSX Transp., Inc., 379 S.C. 249, 258, 665 S.E.2d 631, 635 (Ct.App.2008). Here, the Porters owed Peterson the duty of reasonable care and to warn him of latent or hidden dang......
  • Moore v. Barony House Restaurant, LLC, No. 4480.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 12, 2009
    ...a breach of that duty by a negligent act or omission; and (3) damage proximately resulting from the breach. Platt v. CSX Transp., Inc., 379 S.C. 249, 258, 665 S.E.2d 631, 635 (Ct.App.2008). "The court must determine, as a matter of law, whether the law recognizes a particular duty." As prev......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Gauld v. O'Shaugnessy Realty Co., No. 4455.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • November 14, 2008
    ...155, 666 S.E.2d 230, 233 (2008); Catawba Indian Tribe v. State, 372 S.C. 519, 524, 642 S.E.2d 751, 753 (2007); Platt v. CSX Transp., Inc., 379 S.C. 249, 255, 665 S.E.2d 631, 634 (Ct. App.2008). The appellate court will apply the same standard which governs the trial court under Rule 56(c), ......
  • McKnight v. S.C. Dept. of Corrections, No. 4615.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 9, 2009
    ...a breach of that duty by a negligent act or omission; and (3) damage proximately resulting from the breach." Platt v. CSX Transp., Inc., 379 S.C. 249, 258, 665 S.E.2d 631, 635 (Ct.App.2008), cert. pending. "Negligence is not actionable unless it is a proximate cause of the injuries, and it ......
  • Peterson v. Porter, No. 4702.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 29, 2010
    ...a breach of that duty by a negligent act or omission; and (3) damage proximately resulting from the breach.” Platt v. CSX Transp., Inc., 379 S.C. 249, 258, 665 S.E.2d 631, 635 (Ct.App.2008). Here, the Porters owed Peterson the duty of reasonable care and to warn him of latent or hidden dang......
  • Moore v. Barony House Restaurant, LLC, No. 4480.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • January 12, 2009
    ...a breach of that duty by a negligent act or omission; and (3) damage proximately resulting from the breach. Platt v. CSX Transp., Inc., 379 S.C. 249, 258, 665 S.E.2d 631, 635 (Ct.App.2008). "The court must determine, as a matter of law, whether the law recognizes a particular duty." As prev......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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