Porter v. Labor Depot, 4212.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtAnderson
Citation643 S.E.2d 96
PartiesIsiah PORTER, Appellant, v. LABOR DEPOT, Employer, and Capital City Insurance Co., Carrier, Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. 4212.,4212.
Decision Date05 March 2007
643 S.E.2d 96
Isiah PORTER, Appellant,
LABOR DEPOT, Employer, and Capital City Insurance Co., Carrier, Respondents.
No. 4212.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard February 21, 2007.
Decided March 5, 2007.
Rehearing Denied April 19, 2007.

[643 S.E.2d 98]

E. Ros Huff, Jr., of Irmo, for Appellant.

Grady L. Beard, of Columbia, for Respondents.


In this workers' compensation action, the Appellate Panel of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission (SCWCC) found Claimant Isiah Porter (Porter) and Labor Depot did not have an employer-employee relationship. Accordingly, the Appellate Panel did not have jurisdiction to award benefits. The circuit court affirmed the Decision and Order of the Appellate Panel. We affirm.


Porter was injured on August 4, 2002, when he fell approximately twenty to thirty feet while allegedly working as a Labor Depot employee on the Strom Thurmond Fitness Center construction site in Columbia, South Carolina. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) transported Porter to Richland Memorial Hospital where he was diagnosed with a dislocated hip and multiple fractures. Subsequently, Porter underwent surgery on his hip and cervical spine to repair his injuries. As of his workers' compensation hearing date, Porter had not reached maximum medical improvement.

The Richland Memorial Hospital emergency room and consultation reports noted Porter was positive for ethyl alcohol (ETOH) on the day of the accident. Porter admitted to emergency room personnel he had been drinking earlier that day. He disclosed he usually drank about one and one half pints of liquor and one to two quarts of beer per day. Porter's own testimony at the hearing confirmed he had a life-long history of drinking alcohol. He drank every day prior to August 4, 2002. Additionally, Porter's medical history revealed reports of alcohol abuse on four previous occasions: September 7, 1993; November 27, 1997; March 8, 2002; and May 7, 2002.

Porter was single and fifty-one years old at the time of the August 4, 2002 accident. He attended school through the seventh grade, studied automobile painting and body work with Job Corps, and was employed primarily in janitorial and laborer jobs. Porter has not worked in any capacity following the accident.

Labor Depot denied Porter's claim for workers' compensation benefits, maintaining he was not a Labor Depot employee.1 Porter

643 S.E.2d 99

testified he completed an employment application and worked for Labor Depot for approximately six months prior to the accident. His duties included cleaning up around the landfill and on construction sites. He earned $300-$350 weekly. On the day of the accident, a Sunday, Porter went to work at 3:00 p.m. and had been on the job for approximately forty-five minutes when the accident occurred. He did not know the name of his supervisor or the name of the construction company on the job site that day, nor did he produce any documentation by way of check stubs or income tax returns as evidence of his employment with Labor Depot. Robert Brown, allegedly a co-worker employed by Labor Depot, testified he worked with Porter on August 4, 2002 and witnessed the accident. Brown did not present any additional evidence, other than his testimony, that he and Porter were employees of Labor Depot. In addition, South Carolina Employment Security Commission (SCESC) records from 2002 showed no evidence of any employment relationship between Porter and Labor Depot.

A Form 12A, Employer's First Report of Injury, dated October 30, 2002, was filed electronically with the SCWCC on Labor Depot's behalf. An undated, handwritten First Report of Injury or Illness was prepared by Capital City Insurance (Carrier). Porter filed a Form 50 requesting a hearing on January 29, 2004 and an Amended Form 50 on August 2, 2004. The hearing before the single commissioner on September 21, 2004, resulted in the following dispositive finding:

Claimant failed to meet his burden of proving, by the greater weight of evidence, that he was an employee of defendant, Labor Depot. Therefore, I find that the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission does not have jurisdiction to decide the matter. This Finding is based on the testimony of the witnesses, including the claimant, the exhibits, or lack thereof, presented by each party, and the discretion of the Hearing Commissioner as the fact finder in this case to properly weigh the evidence and judge witness credibility.

The Decision and Order of the Appellate Panel sustained and adopted the single commissioner's Order in its entirety. On appeal, the circuit court issued a Form 4 Order stating: "Decision of the Commission is affirmed."


(1) Did the circuit court err as a matter of law in issuing a form order without making findings of fact or conclusions of law for review by the appellate court?

(2) Did the circuit court err as a matter of law in affirming the Appellate Panel's Decision and Order that Porter was not an employee of Labor Depot?


Judicial review of a Workers' Compensation decision is governed by the substantial evidence rule of the Administrative Procedures Act. Baxter v. Martin Bros., Inc., 368 S.C. 510, 513, 630 S.E.2d 42, 43 (2006); Shealy v. Aiken County, 341 S.C. 448, 535 S.E.2d 438 (2000). However, if the factual issue before the Commission involves a jurisdictional question, this court's review is governed by the preponderance of evidence standard. Nelson v. Yellow Cab Co., 349 S.C. 589, 594, 564 S.E.2d 110, 112 (2002); Vines v. Champion Bldg. Prods., 315 S.C. 13, 431 S.E.2d 585 (1993); Lake v. Reeder Constr. Co., 330 S.C. 242, 498 S.E.2d 650 (Ct.App.1998). Consequently, our review is not bound by the Commission's findings of fact on jurisdiction. Id. A reviewing court has both the power and duty to review the entire record, find jurisdictional facts without regard to conclusions of the Commission on the issue, and decide the jurisdictional question in accord with the preponderance of evidence. Canady v. Charleston County Sch. Dist., 265 S.C. 21, 25, 216 S.E.2d 755, 757 (1975); see also Kirksey v. Assurance Tire Co., 314 S.C. 43, 443 S.E.2d 803 (1994) (holding this court can find facts in accordance with the preponderance of evidence when determining a jurisdictional question in a Workers' Compensation case); Sanders v. Litchfield Country Club, 297 S.C. 339, 377

643 S.E.2d 100

S.E.2d 111 (Ct.App.1989) (deciding where a jurisdictional issue is raised, this court must review record and make its own determination whether the preponderance of evidence supports the Commission's factual findings bearing on that issue).

The existence of the employer-employee relationship is a jurisdictional question. Nelson, 349 S.C. at 594, 564 S.E.2d at 112; South Carolina Workers' Compensation Comm'n v. Ray Covington Realtors, Inc., 318 S.C. 546, 459 S.E.2d 302 (1995); Edens v. Bellini, 359 S.C. 433, 597 S.E.2d 863 (Ct.App. 2004); see also Lake, 330 S.C. at 247, 498 S.E.2d at 653 (holding existence of employer-employee relationship is jurisdictional question; injured worker's employment status, as it affects jurisdiction, is matter of law for decision by court and includes findings of fact that relate to jurisdiction).

The question of subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law. Gray v. Club Group, Ltd., 339 S.C. 173, 528 S.E.2d 435 (Ct.App.2000); Roper Hosp. v. Clemons, 326 S.C. 534, 484 S.E.2d 598 (Ct.App.1997). On appeal from the Workers' Compensation Commission, this court may reverse where the decision is affected by an error of law. S.C.Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(5) (Act No. 387, 2006 S.C. Acts 387, eff. July 1, 2006); Stephen v. Avins Constr. Co., 324 S.C. 334, 478 S.E.2d 74 (Ct.App.1996). The appellant bears the burden of showing that the circuit court's decision is against the preponderance of evidence. Gray, 339 S.C. at 182, 528 S.E.2d at 440 (citing Lake, 330 S.C. at 246, 498 S.E.2d at 653).

I. Circuit Judge's Form Order

Porter contends the circuit court erred in failing to make specific findings of fact and conclusions of law on the issue of whether an employer-employee relationship between Porter and Labor Depot existed. We disagree.

Advancing his contention, Porter relies on Bowen v. Lee Process Sys. Co., 342 S.C. 232, 536 S.E.2d 86 (Ct.App.2000), wherein this court remanded the trial court's grant of summary judgment for an order more specifically identifying the grounds for its ruling. In Bowen, we were unable to discern from the trial court's decision "whether the court found Defendants owed no duty to [Plaintiff], whether they owed a duty to [Plaintiff] and breached it, or whether they were negligent, but not grossly negligent." Bowen, 342 S.C. at 240, 536 S.E.2d at 90. In order to review the issue adequately, we required the trial court to articulate its rationale and legal analysis more precisely. Similarly, in B & B Liquors, Inc. v. O'Neil, 361 S.C. 267, 271, 603 S.E.2d 629, 631-32 (Ct.App.2004), we instructed:

On appeal from the grant of summary judgment, an appellate court must determine whether the trial court's stated grounds for its decision are supported by the record. It is our duty to undertake a thorough and meaningful review of the trial court's order and the entire record on appeal. Where, as here, the trial court fails to articulate the reasons for its action on the record or enter a written order outlining its rationale, we simply cannot perform our designated function.

However, not all situations require a detailed order, and the trial court's form order may be sufficient if the appellate court can ascertain the basis for the trial court's ruling from the record on appeal. Clark v. S.C. Dep't of Pub. Safety, 353 S.C. 291, 578 S.E.2d 16 (Ct.App.2002). "[T]here is no blanket requirement that the trial court set forth a separate explanation on all of its rulings." Id. at 312, 578 S.E.2d at 26; see also...

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