Matthew S. McAlhaney, Respondent,
Richard K. McElveen a/k/a Richard K. McElveen, Sr., Individually and d/b/a Battery Creek Marina, the Great Pumpkin, LLC, Linda McElveen, Richard K. McElveen, Jr., and Billy Joe Byrd, Defendants, of Whom Richard K. McElveen a/k/a Richard K. McElveen, Sr. is, Appellant
Heard April 23, 2015.
Appeal From Beaufort County. J. Ernest Kinard, Jr., Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2010-167969.
Blake Alexander Hewitt and John S. Nichols, Bluestein Nichols Thompson & Delgado, LLC, of Columbia; and Scott Wayne Lee, Law Offices of Scott W. Lee, PA, of Beaufort, for Appellant.
Robert V. Mathison, Jr., Mathison & Mathison, of Hilton Head Island, for Respondent.
FEW, C.J. HUFF and WILLIAMS, JJ., concur.
Richard K. McElveen, Sr. appeals the trial court's denial of his motion for a new trial, arguing the trial court erred in ruling the jury's award of punitive damages against him was not so grossly excessive as to shock the conscience of the court. We affirm.
I. Facts and Procedural History
This appeal arose from a custody dispute between McElveen and his former daughter-in-law--Molly McCullers McElveen (McCullers)--over her two children, who are McElveen's grandchildren. When the custody dispute began, Matthew McAlhaney was dating McCullers. In an attempt to gain an advantage in the custody dispute, McElveen made allegations that McAlhaney was a drug addict, a child abuser, and a child molester. McElveen wrote a letter to Governor Mark Sanford alleging McAlhaney was a drug addict and had abused the children, and McElveen and his wife met with an investigator from the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and accused McAlhaney of sexually abusing the children. Based on McElveen's accusations, the sheriff's office arrested McAlhaney, and he spent a night in jail before being released. Several weeks later, McElveen emailed the investigator and alleged that " numerous folks . . . say [McAlhaney] is gay, a deviant or capable of anything."
After McAlhaney's arrest, McElveen told his neighbor that McAlhaney had been arrested for molesting one of the children. According to the neighbor, McElveen " seemed very thrilled, almost beaming about the fact that . . . McAlhaney had been arrested." In addition, McElveen told a furniture salesperson--who testified she lived near McAlhaney's mother and had never met McElveen--that McAlhaney supplied drugs to McCullers, abused one or both of the children, and was a " deviant soul." The solicitor's office investigated
McElveen's allegations, but ultimately dismissed the charges against McAlhaney.
McAlhaney filed a lawsuit against McElveen for libel, slander, and abuse of process. A jury found in favor of McAlhaney and awarded him actual damages of $1,000 for libel, $61,000 for slander, and $25,000 for abuse of process. In addition, the jury awarded punitive damages of $3.25 million on the libel cause of action and $3.25 million on the slander cause of action. McElveen moved for a new trial absolute, claiming " the verdicts were so excessive . . . as to shock the conscience of the court and clearly indicate that the figure reached was the result of passion, caprice, prejudice, partiality, corruption, or some ...