Williams v. Condon, No. 3392.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtANDERSON, J.
Citation347 S.C. 227,553 S.E.2d 496
Decision Date01 October 2001
Docket NumberNo. 3392.
PartiesTim WILLIAMS, Appellant, v. Charles M. CONDON, individually and as Attorney General of South Carolina, W. Barney Giese, individually and as Solicitor of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of South Carolina, Douglas A. Churdar, and Robert Cook, Defendants, of whom Charles M. Condon, individually and as Attorney General of South Carolina and W. Barney Giese, individually and as Solicitor of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of South Carolina are, Respondents.

347 S.C. 227
553 S.E.2d 496

Tim WILLIAMS, Appellant,
v.
Charles M. CONDON, individually and as Attorney General of South Carolina, W. Barney Giese, individually and as Solicitor of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of South Carolina, Douglas A. Churdar, and Robert Cook, Defendants, of whom Charles M. Condon, individually and as Attorney General of South Carolina and W. Barney Giese, individually and as Solicitor of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of South Carolina are, Respondents

No. 3392.

Court of Appeals of South Carolina.

Heard June 5, 2001.

Decided October 1, 2001.


347 S.C. 229
Francis T. Draine, of Columbia, for appellant

347 S.C. 230
Vinton D. Lide, of Lexington; and J. Emory Smith, Jr., of Columbia, for respondents

ANDERSON, J.:

Tim Williams sued Charles M. Condon and W. Barney Giese, individually and in their official capacities, seeking damages resulting from their alleged violations of 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 and common law tortious conduct. Condon is the Attorney General of South Carolina. Giese is the Solicitor of the Fifth Judicial Circuit. Condon and Giese, asserting their immunity as prosecutors, moved pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for dismissal of Williams' action. The Circuit Court granted the motion and dismissed the case. We affirm.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Williams was an employee of Premier Investigations ("Premier"), a Florida corporation. At the time the events giving rise to this dispute occurred, Premier's principal place of business was North Carolina with operations in South Carolina. Robert Cook, a North Carolinian, was Premier's chief executive officer. Williams, a resident of Richland County, sued Premier and Cook in South Carolina for unpaid wages and other compensation. Premier and Cook confessed judgment. Soon after, Cook accused Williams of sending a letter to other former employees of Premier that allegedly contained language inciting the recipients to also sue for back pay. Cook alerted Giese to the matter. Giese's office conducted an investigation of Williams' alleged activities. This investigation included interviewing Cook, Tim Belue, a former South Carolina employee of Premier, and Belue's former wife, Candace Belue. Giese elected to prosecute Williams for barratry. The grand jury returned a direct indictment of Williams on this charge.

Giese called the case for trial; however, before proceedings began, the presiding circuit judge recused himself and suggested referral of the prosecution to the Attorney General. Condon assumed responsibility for the matter. At trial, the court found the State's evidence could not support a conviction and directed a verdict, sua sponte, in Williams' favor.

347 S.C. 231
Following the trial, Williams brought a civil suit naming, among others, Condon and Giese as defendants in both their individual and official capacities. Regarding his action against Condon and Giese, Williams asserted claims for violations of his constitutional rights under § 1983, false arrest, malicious prosecution, and negligence

Specifically, Williams alleged, inter alia, the following:

• Condon and Giese colluded with Cook and attorney Douglas A. Churdar in initiating criminal proceedings against Williams;
• Condon and Giese were driven by malice, ill will, or recklessness in initiating and maintaining their respective prosecutions against him;
• Condon and Giese breached their duty to Williams by failing to properly investigate the accusations against him before proceeding with their respective prosecutions;
• Giese obtained Williams' direct indictment with evidence Williams asserted was insufficient, untrue, nonexistent, or unreliable (i.e., the indictment was not supported by probable cause);
• Giese impermissibly deprived Williams of his procedural right to examine whether the State's charge was supported by probable cause;
• Giese unreasonably limited Williams' right to pretrial discovery by failing to respond to Williams' numerous requests and Rule 5, SCRCrimP motions for production of evidence demonstrating his guilt;
• Giese abused his power relating to the scheduling of criminal hearings and motions by refusing to set for oral argument Williams' Motion to Quash and Motion to Dismiss;
• Giese and Condon wrongly persisted in their respective prosecutions of Williams notwithstanding the fact Williams advised assistants of both Giese and Condon that the evidence gathered by the prosecution did not support a conviction;
• Condon unjustifiably refused Williams' request to intercede and protect Williams from Giese's prosecutorial abuse; and
347 S.C. 232
• The Assistant Attorney General prosecuting the case on behalf of Condon harmed Williams by proceeding to trial and stating to the court that the State possessed evidence proving Williams' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Giese and Condon responded to the complaint with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The defendants sought dismissal pursuant to the defenses of prosecutorial immunity and the immunity afforded them under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act. The Circuit Court entertained oral argument regarding the motion and took the matter under advisement. In the interim, Williams attempted to conduct discovery. Condon and Giese moved for a protective order relieving them from the duty of responding to Williams' discovery requests. The court did not make a ruling as to the prosecutors' request. Williams persisted with discovery and filed a motion to compel. The Circuit Court ultimately granted Condon and Giese's dismissal motion. Williams' motion, however, was not addressed.

Eleven days after the dismissal, Williams moved the court to vacate its order, which he claimed came "as a big surprise," because its issuance "must have been a clerical oversight or mistake" due to his outstanding motion to compel discovery.1 In a form order, the circuit judge denied Williams' motion. Williams appeals.

ISSUE

Did the Circuit Court err in dismissing Williams' suit on the basis that his causes of action were barred by the common law doctrine of prosecutorial immunity and the immunity provided to prosecutors by the South Carolina Tort Claims Act?2

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A trial judge in the civil setting may dismiss a claim when the defendant demonstrates the plaintiff has failed "to

347 S.C. 233
state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action" in the pleadings filed with the court. Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP. The trial court's ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion must be bottomed and premised solely upon the allegations set forth by the plaintiff. Holy Loch Distribs. v. Hitchcock, 332 S.C. 247, 503 S.E.2d 787 (Ct.App.1998), rev'd on other grounds, 340 S.C. 20, 531 S.E.2d 282 (2000); Berry v. McLeod, 328 S.C. 435, 492 S.E.2d 794 (Ct.App.1997). The motion will not be sustained if the facts alleged and the inferences reasonably deducible from the pleadings would entitle the plaintiff to relief on any theory of the case. Brown v. Leverette, 291 S.C. 364, 353 S.E.2d 697 (1987); McCormick v. England, 328 S.C. 627, 494 S.E.2d 431 (Ct.App.1997). The question to be considered is whether, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the pleadings articulate any valid claim for relief. Toussaint v. Ham, 292 S.C. 415, 357 S.E.2d 8 (1987); Cowart v. Poore, 337 S.C. 359, 523 S.E.2d 182 (Ct.App.1999).

Dismissal of an action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is appealable. S.C.Code Ann. §§ 14-3-330(1) & (2)(c) (Supp. 2000), cited in James F. Flanagan, South Carolina Civil Procedure 95 (2d ed.1996) (footnote omitted). Upon review, the appellate tribunal applies the same standard of review that was implemented by the trial court. See O'Laughlin v. Windham, 330 S.C. 379, 382, 498 S.E.2d 689, 691 (Ct.App.1998) ("The grant of a motion to dismiss will be sustained only if the facts alleged in the complaint do not support relief under any theory of law.") (citing Stiles v. Onorato, 318 S.C. 297, 457 S.E.2d 601 (1995)).

LAW/ANALYSIS

I. Civil Suits Against Prosecutors in Their Individual Capacities

American courts have long recognized the existence of immunity for public officers from personal liability for tortious acts committed while serving in an official capacity. It is a common law tradition with origins that can be traced to the ancient tribunals of England. The protections afforded by this doctrine extend to the prosecutors who act on behalf of the people.

347 S.C. 234
A. Origins of Prosecutorial Immunity in the United States

"The function of the prosecutor that most often invites a [lawsuit] is his decision to initiate a prosecution, as this may lead to a suit for malicious prosecution." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 421, 96 S.Ct. 984, 990, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976).

The first case appearing in American jurisprudence devoted to the question of a prosecutor's amenability to civil suit for malicious prosecution is Griffith v. Slinkard, 146 Ind. 117, 44 N.E. 1001 (1896). Imbler at 421, 96 S.Ct. at 990-91. Griffith and Mullins were referred to a grand jury for setting fire to a barn and attempting to defraud the insurance company that insured the structure. Slinkard was the prosecutor who presented the state's case to the grand jury. The panel voted against the indictment of Griffith. Nevertheless, Slinkard included Griffith's name in the indictment and it was "true billed." Consequently, Griffith was arrested and tried. He was ultimately acquitted. Griffith subsequently sued Slinkard for, inter alia, malicious prosecution.

The Indiana Supreme Court pursued a two-step analysis in considering whether Slinkard could be sued for his participation in Griffith's wrongful indictment. It initially gauged the prosecutor's place in the judicial system by asking: "Is a prosecuting attorney an officer intrusted with the administration of justice?" Id. at 1002 (citation omitted). The court concluded:

He is a judicial officer, created by the constitution of the state. He is the law officer to whom is intrusted all prosecutions for felonies and
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75 practice notes
  • Nelson v. QHG OF SOUTH CAROLINA INC., No. 3626.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 14 Abril 2003
    ...has failed "to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action" in the pleadings filed with the court. Williams v. Condon, 347 S.C. 227, 232-33, 553 S.E.2d 496, 499 (Ct.App.2001) (quoting Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP). When considering the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the ......
  • Proctor v. Dept. of Health, No. 4098.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 20 Marzo 2006
    ...other immunities applicable to a governmental entity, its employees, and agents are expressly preserved."); see also Williams v. Condon, 347 S.C. 227, 246, 553 S.E.2d 496, 507 (Ct. App.2001) ("The Tort Claims Act expressly preserves all existing common law immunities."); O'Laughlin v. Windh......
  • Disabato v. S.C. Ass'n of Sch. Adm'rs, No. 27286.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 17 Julio 2013
    ...12(b)(6), SCRCP. We review the grant of dismissal according to the same standard applied by the circuit court. See Williams v. Condon, 347 S.C. 227, 233, 553 S.E.2d 496, 500 (Ct.App.2001). A ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) must be based solely on the factual allegati......
  • Wilson v. Braham, C/A No. 6:15-4835-MGL-TER
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 29 Febrero 2016
    ...immunity for activities intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process. See, e.g., Williams v. Condon, 347 S.C. 227, 553 S.E.2d 496 (S.C.App.2001); Garrett v. McMaster, 7:07-2952-HFF-WMC, 2008 WL 3411673 (D.S.C. Aug.11, 2008) (finding that the AttorneyPage 7 General a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
75 cases
  • Nelson v. QHG OF SOUTH CAROLINA INC., No. 3626.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 14 Abril 2003
    ...has failed "to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action" in the pleadings filed with the court. Williams v. Condon, 347 S.C. 227, 232-33, 553 S.E.2d 496, 499 (Ct.App.2001) (quoting Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP). When considering the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the ......
  • Proctor v. Dept. of Health, No. 4098.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • 20 Marzo 2006
    ...other immunities applicable to a governmental entity, its employees, and agents are expressly preserved."); see also Williams v. Condon, 347 S.C. 227, 246, 553 S.E.2d 496, 507 (Ct. App.2001) ("The Tort Claims Act expressly preserves all existing common law immunities."); O'Laughlin v. Windh......
  • Disabato v. S.C. Ass'n of Sch. Adm'rs, No. 27286.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • 17 Julio 2013
    ...12(b)(6), SCRCP. We review the grant of dismissal according to the same standard applied by the circuit court. See Williams v. Condon, 347 S.C. 227, 233, 553 S.E.2d 496, 500 (Ct.App.2001). A ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) must be based solely on the factual allegati......
  • Wilson v. Braham, C/A No. 6:15-4835-MGL-TER
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • 29 Febrero 2016
    ...immunity for activities intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process. See, e.g., Williams v. Condon, 347 S.C. 227, 553 S.E.2d 496 (S.C.App.2001); Garrett v. McMaster, 7:07-2952-HFF-WMC, 2008 WL 3411673 (D.S.C. Aug.11, 2008) (finding that the AttorneyPage 7 General a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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