Stephen v. Avins Const. Co., No. 2570

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtANDERSON
Citation478 S.E.2d 74,324 S.C. 334
PartiesWilliam K. STEPHEN, Employee, Appellant, v. AVINS CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, Employer, and Bituminous Insurance Company, Carrier, Respondents. . Heard
Decision Date11 September 1996
Docket NumberNo. 2570

Page 74

478 S.E.2d 74
324 S.C. 334
William K. STEPHEN, Employee, Appellant,
v.
AVINS CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, Employer, and Bituminous
Insurance Company, Carrier, Respondents.
No. 2570.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard Sept. 11, 1996.
Decided Oct. 7, 1996.
Rehearing Denied Nov. 21, 1996.

Page 75

James E. Chaffin, Jr., Columbia, for appellant.

Terri Morrill Lynch, of Sinkler & Boyd, Charleston, for respondents.

ANDERSON, Judge:

In this Workers' Compensation case, William K. Stephen (Stephen), appeals the Circuit Court's affirmance of the Workers' Compensation Commission's order holding that average weekly wages of a subcontractor should be computed based on net, as opposed to gross, earnings. We affirm.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 31, 1991, William Stephen sustained a knee injury while employed as a subcontractor by Avins Construction Company (Avins). Stephen filed a Workers' Compensation claim. The accident was admitted and Stephen received benefits as a subcontractor and statutory employee of Avins.

Avins requested permission to discontinue the payment of temporary disability compensation on the grounds that Stephen had reached maximum medical improvement. The hearing was held on May 18, 1994. Stephen testified that, at times, he employed as many as four people within his subcontracting business. Avins paid Stephen by the job and deducted the Workers' Compensation premium from Stephen's check before paying him for his labor. Stephen admitted that the money paid to him reflected all money paid to his business, including what he had to pay other employees. The single Commissioner found that "any income paid to [Stephen] was for an entire job" and did not solely reflect his earnings. The single Commissioner further found that "[o]ut of these payments came the costs of materials, wages paid to other individuals; and other expenses related thereto." On June 30, 1994, the single Commissioner issued an order granting Avins' motion to discontinue payment of compensation and holding that Stephen's average weekly wages should be based upon his tax returns as a self-employed subcontractor, resulting in a compensation rate of $181.39.

Stephen filed an appeal to the Full Commission, which held a hearing on December 20, 1994. In an order issued January 24, 1995, the Commission affirmed the single Commissioner's order in its entirety.

Stephen then filed an appeal to the Sumter County Court of Common Pleas. On August 14, 1995, the Circuit Court affirmed the decision of the Full Commission.

ISSUE

Did the Workers' Compensation Commission err in finding that a subcontractor's compensation rate should be determined based on his net taxable income when the subcontractor was charged Workers' Compensation premiums based on his gross earnings?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

South Carolina Code Ann. § 1-23-380(g) (Rev.1986) of the Administrative Procedures Act provides:

(g) The court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings. The court may reverse or modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions or decisions are:

(1) In violation of constitutional or statutory provisions;

(2) In excess of the statutory authority of the agency;

(3) Made upon unlawful procedure;

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(4) Affected by other error of law;

(5) Clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record; or

(6) Arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.

A court may reverse or modify an agency's decision " 'if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions or decisions are ... affected by other error of law.' " Smith v. Union Bleachery/Cone Mills, 276 S.C. 454, 456, 280 S.E.2d 52, 53 (1981) (quoting S.C.Code Ann. § 1-23-380(g)(4) (Supp.1980)). On appeal from the Workers' Compensation Commission, the 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. Gilliam v. Woodside Mills, 312 S.C. 523, 435 S.E.2d 872 (Ct.App.1993), aff'd in part, remanded in part, 319 S.C. 385, 461 S.E.2d 818 (1995). See Lyles v. Quantum Chem. Co. (Emery), 315 S.C. 440, 434 S.E.2d 292 (Ct.App.1993) (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).

In the case sub judice, it is conceded that the issue is a question of law for the Court. There is no factual disputation in this litigation.

LAW/ANALYSIS

Stephen contends the Commission should have based his average weekly wage on his gross income of approximately $37,000 per year, resulting in a maximum compensation rate of $364.37. Stephen testified Avins deducted Workers' Compensation premiums from his paycheck based on his gross income. He argues that, as a result, the carrier should pay compensation based on the same standard. Avins argues this issue is not preserved because the single Commissioner made no specific finding of fact that Stephen's premiums were based on his gross income. This contention by Avins is rejected. The only evidence in the record is that premiums were deducted from the gross pay for labor performed. The single Commissioner, in his findings of fact, concluded "[t]he Claimant, William Stephen, was self-employed as a subcontractor on October 31, 1991, however, Avins Construction Company deducted a percentage for workers' compensation insurance and, therefore, he was their statutory employee."

I. STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION

Pursuant to S.C.Code Ann. § 42-1-40 (Supp.1995), average weekly wage is defined as "the earnings of the injured employee in the employment in which he was working at the time of the injury during the period of fifty-two weeks immediately preceding the date of the injury...." This statute does not specify whether "wages" refers to net or gross earnings of a business owner operating as a subcontractor.

The primary rule of statutory construction requires that legislative intent prevail if it can reasonably be discovered in language used construed in light of intended purpose. See Whitner v. State, Op. No. 24468 (S.C.Sup.Ct. filed July 15, 1996) (Davis Adv.Sh. No. 19 at 22); Thomas v. State, --- S.C. ----, 465 S.E.2d 350 (1995); Joint Legislative Committee v. Huff, 320 S.C. 241, 464 S.E.2d 324 (1995); Beattie v. Aiken County Dep't of Social Servs., 319 S.C. 449, 462 S.E.2d 276 (1995); Glover by Cauthen v. Suitt Constr. Co., 318 S.C. 465, 458 S.E.2d 535 (1995); Holley v. Mount Vernon Mills, Inc., 312 S.C. 320, 440 S.E.2d 373 (1994); Utilities Constr. Co. v. Wilson, --- S.C. ----, 468 S.E.2d 1 (Ct.App.1996); In the Interest of Doe, 318 S.C. 527, 458 S.E.2d 556 (Ct.App.1995). All rules of statutory construction are subservient to the one that legislative intent must prevail if it reasonably can be discovered in the language used. Kiriakides v. United Artists Communications, Inc., 312 S.C. 271, 440 S.E.2d 364 (1994); Dumas v. InfoSafe Corp., 320 S.C. 188, 463 S.E.2d 641 (Ct.App.1995).

If the language of an act gives rise to doubt or uncertainty as to legislative intent, the construing court may search for that

Page 77

intent beyond the borders of the act itself. The Lite House, Inc. v. J.C. Roy, Co., 309 S.C. 50, 419 S.E.2d 817 (Ct.App.1992). Where the legislature elects not to define the term in the statute, courts will interpret the term in accord with its usual and customary meaning. Ex Parte Adoptive Parents v. Biological Parents, 315 S.C. 535, 446 S.E.2d 404 (1994). In construing a statute, the court looks to its language as a whole in light of its manifest purpose. Adams v. Texfi Indus., 320 S.C. 213, 464 S.E.2d 109 (1995).

Words must be given their plain and ordinary meaning without resorting to subtle or forced construction to limit or expand the statute's operation. Rowe v. Hyatt, --- S.C. ----, 468 S.E.2d 649 (1996); Paschal v. State Election Comm'n, 317 S.C. 434, 454 S.E.2d 890 (1995); Anderson v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 314 S.C. 140, 442 S.E.2d 179 (1994). If a statute's language is plain and unambiguous, and conveys a clear and definite meaning, there is no occasion for employing rules of statutory interpretation and the court has no right to look for or impose another meaning. Paschal v. State Election Comm'n, supra. The court must apply those terms according to their literal meanings. Paschal v. State Election Comm'n, supra; Carolina Power & Light Co. v. City of Bennettsville, 314 S.C. 137, 442 S.E.2d 177 (1994); Holley v. Mount Vernon Mills, Inc., 312 S.C. 320, 440 S.E.2d 373 (1994). Where the terms of a relevant statute are clear, there is no room for construction. Parsons v. Georgetown Steel, 318 S.C. 63, 456 S.E.2d 366 (1995). The legislature's intent should be ascertained primarily from the plain language of the statute. Whitner v. State, Op. No. 24468 (S.C.Sup.Ct. filed July 15, 1996) (Davis Adv.Sh. No. 19 at 22); State v. Hendriks, 318 S.C. 562, 459 S.E.2d 520 (Ct.App.1995).

Construction of a statute by an agency charged with its administration will be accorded the most respectful consideration and will not be overruled absent compelling reasons. Glover by Cauthen v. Suitt Constr. Co., 318 S.C. 465, 458 S.E.2d 535 (1995); Home Health Serv., Inc. v. South Carolina Tax Comm'n, 312 S.C. 324, 440 S.E.2d 375 (1994); Laurens County Sch. Dists. 55 and 56 v. Cox, 308 S.C. 171, 417 S.E.2d 560 (1992); Jasper County Tax Assessor v. Westvaco Corp., 305 S.C. 346, 409 S.E.2d 333 (1991). The statute as a whole must receive practical, reasonable, and fair...

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79 practice notes
  • Sloan v. Greenville County, No. 3704.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 8, 2003
    ...Georgia-Carolina Bail Bonds, Inc. v. County of Aiken, 354 S.C. 18, 22, 579 S.E.2d 334, 336 (Ct.App.2003); Stephen v. Avins Constr. Co., 324 S.C. 334, 478 S.E.2d 74 (Ct.App.1996). If a statutes language is plain, unambiguous, and conveys a clear meaning the rules of statutory interpretation ......
  • Thompson ex rel. Harvey v. Cisson Const., No. 4339.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 1, 2008
    ...899 (2006); S.C. Uninsured Employer's Fund v. House, 360 S.C. 468, 470, 602 S.E.2d 81, 82 (Ct.App. 2004); Stephen v. Avins Constr. Co., 324 S.C. 334, 337, 478 S.E.2d 74, 76 (Ct.App.1996). Concomitantly, if the evidence is undisputed or gives rise to only one inference, we may rule as a matt......
  • Hernandez-Zuniga v. Tickle, No. 4253.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 14, 2007
    ...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, 337, 478 S.E.2d 74, 76 Pellucidly, the appellate court's standard of review in cases involving jurisdictional questions is not a substantial e......
  • Coastal Conservation v. Dept. of Health, No. 4450.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 23, 2008
    ...S.C. 97, 102, 606 S.E.2d 503, 505 (Ct.App.2004); Morgan, 352 S.C. at 366, 574 S.E.2d at 206; Stephen v. Avins Constr. Co., 669 S.E.2d 908 324 S.C. 334, 339, 478 S.E.2d 74, 77 (Ct.App. 1996)); Jones v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 364 S.C. 222, 230, 612 S.E.2d 719, 723 (Ct.App.2005); see ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
79 cases
  • Sloan v. Greenville County, No. 3704.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 8, 2003
    ...Georgia-Carolina Bail Bonds, Inc. v. County of Aiken, 354 S.C. 18, 22, 579 S.E.2d 334, 336 (Ct.App.2003); Stephen v. Avins Constr. Co., 324 S.C. 334, 478 S.E.2d 74 (Ct.App.1996). If a statutes language is plain, unambiguous, and conveys a clear meaning the rules of statutory interpretation ......
  • Thompson ex rel. Harvey v. Cisson Const., No. 4339.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 1, 2008
    ...899 (2006); S.C. Uninsured Employer's Fund v. House, 360 S.C. 468, 470, 602 S.E.2d 81, 82 (Ct.App. 2004); Stephen v. Avins Constr. Co., 324 S.C. 334, 337, 478 S.E.2d 74, 76 (Ct.App.1996). Concomitantly, if the evidence is undisputed or gives rise to only one inference, we may rule as a matt......
  • Hernandez-Zuniga v. Tickle, No. 4253.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 14, 2007
    ...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, 337, 478 S.E.2d 74, 76 Pellucidly, the appellate court's standard of review in cases involving jurisdictional questions is not a substantial e......
  • Coastal Conservation v. Dept. of Health, No. 4450.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • October 23, 2008
    ...S.C. 97, 102, 606 S.E.2d 503, 505 (Ct.App.2004); Morgan, 352 S.C. at 366, 574 S.E.2d at 206; Stephen v. Avins Constr. Co., 669 S.E.2d 908 324 S.C. 334, 339, 478 S.E.2d 74, 77 (Ct.App. 1996)); Jones v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 364 S.C. 222, 230, 612 S.E.2d 719, 723 (Ct.App.2005); see ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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