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Brock v. Town of Mount Pleasant

Supreme Court of South Carolina

April 13, 2016

Stephen George Brock, Petitioner,
v.
Town of Mount Pleasant, Respondent

         Heard February 10, 2016.

          Appeal from Charleston County. J.C. Nicholson, Jr., Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2015-000406.

         Robert Clyde Childs, III, of The Childs Law Firm, and J. Falkner Wilkes, both of Greenville, for Petitioner.

         James J. Hinchey, Jr. and Julia P. Copeland, both of Hinchey, Murray & Pagliarini, LLC, of Charleston, for Respondent.

         JUSTICE KITTREDGE. PLEICONES, C.J., BEATTY, HEARN, JJ., and Acting Justice Tanya A. Gee, concur.

          OPINION

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

         KITTREDGE, JUSTICE.

         We issued a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision in Brock v. Town of Mount Pleasant, 411 S.C. 106, 767 S.E.2d 203 (Ct.App. 2014), that the Town of Mount Pleasant (the Town) did not violate the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)[1] by taking unnoticed action following executive sessions at special meetings. Having carefully reviewed the record and law, we agree with Petitioner Stephen George Brock that the Town technically violated FOIA and that the court of appeals erred in relying on the discussion of regular meetings in Lambries v. Saluda County Council, 409 S.C. 1, 760 S.E.2d 785 (2014), in resolving the underlying challenge concerning special meetings. We accordingly modify the decision of the court of appeals. This technical FOIA violation shall be included in the court of appeals' existing remand to the trial court as an additional matter in Petitioner's request for attorney's fees.

         I.

         The facts and procedural history are set forth in the court of appeals' opinion. The disputed actions occurred during special meetings for which the Town issued agendas listing an executive session but not indicating Town Council would take action following the executive session. Petitioner, who was a member of the Town's Planning Commission and the president and general manager of a local television station, filed a complaint against the Town alleging numerous violations of FOIA and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.[2]

         The trial court granted Petitioner partial relief, but ruled against him on the issue of " whether a matter added to an agenda for an executive session may be acted on . . . by a public body upon reconvening to open session." The court of appeals ruled against Petitioner on the issue as well, concluding that " the Town did not violate . . . FOIA by acting on items added to special meeting[] agendas upon reconvening to open session." Brock, 411 S.C. at 124, 767 S.E.2d at 212. We issued a writ of certiorari to review that portion of the court of appeals' opinion. We note here that Petitioner does not seek to set aside any of Town Council's actions, but merely seeks a declaration that the Town violated FOIA.[3]

         II.

         A.

         " The standard of review in a declaratory action is determined by the underlying issues." Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Rhoden, 398 S.C. 393, 398, 728 S.E.2d 477, 479 (2012) (citing Felts v. Richland Cnty., 303 S.C. 354, 356, 400 S.E.2d 781, 782 (1991)). " The interpretation of a statute is a question of law." Sparks v. Palmetto Hardwood, Inc., 406 S.C. 124, 128, 750 S.E.2d 61, 63 (2013) (citing CFRE, L.L.C. v. Greenville Cnty. Assessor, 395 S.C. 67, 74, 716 S.E.2d 877, 881 (2011)). This Court may interpret statutes, and therefore resolve this case, " without any deference to the court ...


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