Williams v. Lancaster County School District, No. 4117.

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtHuff
Citation631 S.E.2d 286
PartiesPhilip H. WILLIAMS, Appellant, v. LANCASTER COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, James W. Jordan and John Taylor, Respondents. Barbara Williams, Appellant, v. Lancaster County School District, James W. Jordan and John Taylor, Respondents.
Decision Date30 May 2006
Docket NumberNo. 4117.
631 S.E.2d 286
Philip H. WILLIAMS, Appellant,
v.
LANCASTER COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, James W. Jordan and John Taylor, Respondents.
Barbara Williams, Appellant,
v.
Lancaster County School District, James W. Jordan and John Taylor, Respondents.
No. 4117.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Submitted April 1, 2006.
Decided May 30, 2006.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Page 288

Melvin D. Bannister, of Columbia, for Appellants.

Andrew F. Lindemann, David L. Morrision, of Columbia, for Respondents.

HUFF, J.:


In this tort action, Philip and Barbara Williams appeal from the trial court's order granting summary judgment to the Lancaster County School District, James W. Jordan and John Taylor (Respondents) on their claims for slander, intentional infliction of emotional distress, intentional interference with contractual relations, and loss of consortium. We affirm.1

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This matter revolves around three incidents at Buford High School involving Philip Williams and his wife, Barbara, and their children, LeAnn and Clark. Both Philip and Barbara were employed by the Lancaster County School District during the 2000-2001 school year. Philip was employed as the head football coach and athletic director, as well as a teacher at Buford High School (Buford). Barbara was a teacher at Buford. LeAnn and Clark attended Buford. Dr. James Jordan was the principal of Buford, Mr. John Hardin was an assistant principal at Buford, and Mr. John Taylor was the Superintendent of the Lancaster County School District (District) The incidents involve LeAnn's class ranking, a situation involving rumors that circulated after Philip was discovered in a locked bathroom with a

Page 289

school secretary, and a test grade initially given to Clark.

During the 2000-2001 school year, the State Department of Education (Department) implemented a uniform grading system. So that no student in that year's senior class would be damaged by the implementation of the new system, principals were given flexibility and allowed to use a dual system with that class in ranking them. Apparently, the staff at Buford had been working to insure that both LeAnn and another student remained tied for the number one spot, which would result in significant scholarship monies. However, with the implementation of the new uniform system, LeAnn was not ranked number one. Further, although LeAnn had been ranked number one along with the other student under the old system, LeAnn dropped a course during the school year and was no longer tied with the other student under the old system. LeAnn had dropped one of her courses because she was enrolled in two different weightlifting classes during the same semester, which was a violation of Department regulations that prohibited students from receiving dual credit.

Around February 2001, the Williamses learned LeAnn slipped to number two in her class. Philip went to LeAnn's guidance counselor, who told him he would have to speak with the principal, Dr. Jordan. Because Philip was not getting along with Dr. Jordan at that time, Barbara approached Dr. Jordan about the matter, which resulted in some heated words between the two. Thereafter, LeAnn's guidance counselor, Mr. Hudson, was instructed by Assistant Principal Hardin or Dr. Jordan to not discuss LeAnn's situation with the Williamses unless Mr. Hardin or Dr. Jordan was present. Subsequently, the Williamses made three trips to the Superintendent's office to look into the matter and called multiple times. According to the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, Dr. Burns, she told the Williamses they would work with them to insure LeAnn would have every opportunity to earn credit and have a full schedule. Dr. Jordan contacted Dr. Burns and asked that LeAnn be allowed to take a course in service learning that would grant her credit and place her back in a tie with the other student. He also contacted the middle school principal to arrange for LeAnn to perform community service and obtain the necessary credit. While the Williamses were still not sure of LeAnn's standing up to the week of graduation, LeAnn was afforded the opportunity to do the extra work, received the necessary credit, and ultimately graduated number one and was co-valedictorian of her senior class.

Prior to May 16, 2001, Mr. Hardin had warned Philip that there were rumors circulating around the school about Philip and Cheryl Blackwell, a secretary at Buford, spending an inordinate amount of time together behind closed doors. Mr. Hardin told Philip the women in the office thought "there was something going on between" him and Cheryl, and instructed both Philip and Cheryl to avoid this apparently compromising situation. Around May 15 or 16, 2001, the Williamses were informed by one of LeAnn's teacher's that her permanent record showed she was ranked as number two in her class. Barbara suggested to Philip that he go see Cheryl to see if they could obtain transcripts or grade printouts to verify where LeAnn stood.

According to Philip, when he went to see Cheryl in her office, he found her distraught after a phone argument she had with her soon to be ex-husband. Philip asked Cheryl to go with him to the health room, where he could speak with her in private. He suggested Cheryl go into the bathroom to gain her composure, as he needed her help. While he was standing in the doorway to the bathroom, he heard keys rattling. Because he held documents in his hand that Cheryl had printed out concerning LeAnn's grade points and he did not want anyone to discover him with the documents, he panicked, stepped inside the bathroom, and shut the door. This occurred around 3:30 or 3:45 in the afternoon when school was out. When Mr. Hardin shook the door, Philip told him he would be out in a minute. Philip walked out into the hall, Mr. Hardin looked up and down the hall, and Cheryl came walking out about two or three minutes later. Mr. Hardin then escorted Cheryl to his office. When Mr. Hardin later asked Philip what was going on in

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the bathroom, Philip told him he was there going to the bathroom, and may have told Mr. Hardin he had diarrhea. Philip admitted that this was a lie. Philip conceded he did not want to be discovered in the bathroom with Cheryl, or any other female, because he was a married man and it did not look appropriate.

Mr. Hardin testified he was looking for some supplies when he went to the health room and, as he got out his keys and opened the door, he heard a lot of noise. After entering the room, he noticed the bathroom door was closed. He reached for the handle and discovered the door was locked. He knocked on the door, and Philip indicated he was in the bathroom. Mr. Hardin walked out into the hallway and Philip then came out saying he did not feel good that day. After Philip began walking away, Mr. Hardin motioned for Dr. Jordan to come to him. He believed there was more than one person in the bathroom because of all the noise he had heard. Mr. Hardin then opened the door to the health room and knocked on the bathroom door, at which time Cheryl walked out.

Philip met with Dr. Jordan and Mr. Hardin later that afternoon in Dr. Jordan's office. Philip stated the two men "were screaming and hollering" at him saying they knew about him and Cheryl all along. Mr. Hardin testified that when confronted about what he was doing in the bathroom with Cheryl, Philip stated Cheryl had emotional problems and was upset and that he was trying to console her. Based on this incident, as well as Philip's previous record at the school, Dr. Jordan informed Philip he would "probably recommend that [Philip] be terminated." Dr. Jordan testified that after his meetings with Mr. Hardin and Cheryl and Mr. Hardin and Philip that afternoon, he discussed the matter with Superintendent Taylor.

Shortly after this incident, while Cheryl was away from work, a school secretary was looking for something relating to Cheryl's job responsibilities when she found a letter in Cheryl's desk that alluded to a romantic relationship with a co-employee. Although the letter was not signed, there were references in the letter that led Dr. Jordan to believe that it was authored by Philip. Dr. Jordan delivered a copy of the letter to Superintendent Taylor and discussed it with him and Mr. Hardin.

On June 22, 2001, before any action was taken by the school district on Philip's employment, Philip submitted a letter of resignation. Philip informed the district he had accepted a teaching and coaching position at a high school in Charlotte, North Carolina. He started his job with that high school in mid-August of that year.

During the next school year, the Williamses' son, Clark, experienced a problem at Buford. One day, Clark became ill during school. He was given some medicine and went to the health room. During this time, Clark missed a Spanish test. That day was a pep rally day. Clark went to see about retrieving his book bag, and as he was returning to the health room, one of the office staff instructed him to go to the gym. While in the gym, Clark was asked to participate in a slam-dunk contest by standing on the court while another attempted to dunk the ball. After doing this, he was confronted by his Spanish teacher about missing the test but participating in the rally. Clark was initially given a zero on the test....

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36 practice notes
  • Fisher v. Pelstring, Civil Action No. 4:09–cv–00252–TLW.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • January 11, 2012
    ...where reasonable minds might differ should the issue be submitted to the jury.” Williams v. Lancaster Cnty. Sch. Dist., 369 S.C. 293, 631 S.E.2d 286, 293 (S.C.Ct.App.2006) (citing Hainer v. Am. Med. Int'l, Inc., 320 S.C. 316, 465 S.E.2d 112, 117 (S.C.Ct.App.1995)). “[P]hysical illness or so......
  • Dececco v. Univ. of S.C., Civil Action No. 3:11–cv–2300–CMC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • January 16, 2013
    ...affirm dismissal of outrage claims for failure of this element. See, e.g., Williams v. Lancaster County School Dist., 369 S.C. 293, 631 S.E.2d 286, 292–93 (S.C.Ct.App.2006) (finding parents' allegations against principal and school district relating to actions that affected their children's......
  • Brailsford v. Wateree Cmty. Action, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:13–3101–MBS.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
    • September 24, 2015
    ...were published or otherwise met the elements required to establish defamation. See Williams v. Lancaster Sch. Dist., 369 S.C. 293, 631 S.E.2d 286, 292 (2006) (holding that at summary judgment, a plaintiff's inability to identify competent evidence in the record showing an alleged defamatory......
  • Kennedy v. Richland Cnty. Sch. Dist. Two, Appellate Case No. 2015-000613
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 24, 2019
    ...of harm or the publication of the statement caused special harm." Williams v. Lancaster Cty. Sch. Dist. , 369 S.C. 293, 302–03, 631 S.E.2d 286, 292 (Ct. App. 2006). "The publication of a statement is defamatory if it tends to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
36 cases
  • Fisher v. Pelstring, Civil Action No. 4:09–cv–00252–TLW.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • January 11, 2012
    ...where reasonable minds might differ should the issue be submitted to the jury.” Williams v. Lancaster Cnty. Sch. Dist., 369 S.C. 293, 631 S.E.2d 286, 293 (S.C.Ct.App.2006) (citing Hainer v. Am. Med. Int'l, Inc., 320 S.C. 316, 465 S.E.2d 112, 117 (S.C.Ct.App.1995)). “[P]hysical illness or so......
  • Dececco v. Univ. of S.C., Civil Action No. 3:11–cv–2300–CMC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • January 16, 2013
    ...affirm dismissal of outrage claims for failure of this element. See, e.g., Williams v. Lancaster County School Dist., 369 S.C. 293, 631 S.E.2d 286, 292–93 (S.C.Ct.App.2006) (finding parents' allegations against principal and school district relating to actions that affected their children's......
  • Brailsford v. Wateree Cmty. Action, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:13–3101–MBS.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
    • September 24, 2015
    ...were published or otherwise met the elements required to establish defamation. See Williams v. Lancaster Sch. Dist., 369 S.C. 293, 631 S.E.2d 286, 292 (2006) (holding that at summary judgment, a plaintiff's inability to identify competent evidence in the record showing an alleged defamatory......
  • Kennedy v. Richland Cnty. Sch. Dist. Two, Appellate Case No. 2015-000613
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • July 24, 2019
    ...of harm or the publication of the statement caused special harm." Williams v. Lancaster Cty. Sch. Dist. , 369 S.C. 293, 302–03, 631 S.E.2d 286, 292 (Ct. App. 2006). "The publication of a statement is defamatory if it tends to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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