Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Lightner v. Hampton Hall Club, Inc.

Supreme Court of South Carolina

February 1, 2017

Brad Lightner, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Respondent,
v.
Hampton Hall Club, Inc., State of South Carolina, South Carolina Department of Revenue, Beaufort County and John Doe, Defendants, of whom State of South Carolina and South Carolina Department of Revenue are, Petitioners.

          Heard May 18, 2016

         Appeal From Beaufort County Perry M. Buckner, III, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2015-001952

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

         AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, AND REMANDED

          Attorney General Alan M. Wilson and Deputy Solicitor General J. Emory Smith, Jr., both of Columbia, for Petitioner State of South Carolina; Milton G. Kimpson and Tasha B. Thompson, both of Columbia, for Petitioner South Carolina Department of Revenue.

          Kathleen C. Barnes, of Barnes Law Firm, LLC; Ronnie L. Crosby and William F. Barnes, III, both of Peters Murdaugh Parker Eltzroth & Detrick, PA, all of Hampton, for Respondent.

          BEATTY CHIEF JUSTICE

         Brad Lightner, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, ("Respondent") brought this action against Hampton Hall Club, Inc., the State of South Carolina, the South Carolina Department of Revenue ("SCDOR"), Beaufort County, and John Doe[1] ("Defendants"), alleging Defendants wrongfully collected and retained admissions taxes. After Respondent filed a motion for class certification, the State and the SCDOR ("Petitioners") filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP, or, in the alternative, to strike pursuant to Rule 12(f), SCRCP, to dismiss the State as a party and to stay discovery. In so moving, Petitioners asserted, inter alia, Respondent is required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the South Carolina Revenue Procedures Act[2] ("Act") and is prohibited from proceeding as a class action against the SCDOR.

         The circuit court determined the Act is inapplicable to this action because the General Assembly intended to limit the Act's application to disputes with the SCDOR concerning property taxes, which both parties conceded were not at issue. Thus, contrary to Petitioners' assertions, Respondent was not required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the Act in order to proceed individually against all Defendants. The court, however, granted Petitioners' motion to dismiss the class action allegations, finding the Act, which it determined was inapplicable to this dispute, nevertheless prohibited Respondent from bringing a class action lawsuit against Petitioners. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Hampton Hall Club, Inc. is a nonprofit organization in Beaufort County. Respondent, a member of Hampton Hall, filed this action individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated against Defendants, alleging Defendants collected and retained an admissions tax on its members' club and golf dues in contravention of section 12-21-2420(4) of the South Carolina Code, which states, in pertinent part: "[N]o admission tax shall be charged or collected by reason of any charge made to any member of a nonprofit organization or corporation for the use of the facilities of the organization or corporation of which he is a member." S.C. Code Ann. § 12-21-2420(4) (2014).

         Respondent asserted three causes of action in his complaint. Against all Defendants, Respondent sought damages under quantum meruit and a declaration that Defendants' collection and retention of the admissions tax was unlawful. Against John Doe and Hampton Hall, Respondent also asserted a breach of fiduciary duty claim. In addition, Respondent requested an order enjoining Defendants from continuing to collect and retain the admissions tax.

         After Respondent filed a motion for class certification, Petitioners filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP, or, in the alternative, to strike pursuant to Rule 12(f), SCRCP. Petitioners argued the action against the SCDOR should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), SCRCP, since: (1) Respondent is required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the Act; and (2) the Act bars Respondent from bringing a class action lawsuit under section 12-60-80(C).[3] In the alternative, Petitioners contended all class action allegations against the SCDOR should be stricken pursuant to Rule 12(f), SCRCP, because of the prohibition on class action lawsuits under section 12-60-80(C). Petitioners also argued Respondent's allegations that he is entitled to injunctive relief to prevent the collection of admissions taxes should be stricken in accordance with section 12-60-60.[4] In addition, Petitioners asserted the State should be dismissed as a party because the SCDOR is responsible for administering and enforcing the tax laws of the State.

         In Respondent's memorandum in opposition to Petitioners' motion, Respondent argued the application of the Act is limited to property tax disputes with the SCDOR. Because this dispute does not concern property taxes, Respondent contended the provisions under the Act concerning the exhaustion of administrative remedies, prohibition of class action lawsuits, and bar on injunctive relief do not apply to this action. Further, while section 12-4-10 grants the SCDOR the authority "to administer and enforce the revenue laws of this State, " Respondent maintained the State is still a proper party to this dispute because the statute does not state or imply the SCDOR is the sole entity with that authority.

         After a hearing, the circuit court determined the Act did not apply because its application is limited to disputes with the SCDOR concerning property taxes. Thus, Respondent was not required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the Act in order to proceed individually against all Defendants. Nevertheless, relying on this Court's decision in Drummond v. State, 378 S.C. 362, 662 S.E.2d 587 (2008), [5] the circuit court granted Petitioners' motion to strike the class action allegations, finding the Act, which it previously determined did not apply to this action, prevented Respondent from proceeding as a class action against the SCDOR.

         Following the issuance of the circuit court's order, the SCDOR emailed the court's law clerk and asked for clarification regarding the court's decision on the issue of whether the State is a proper party to the action. The email stated: "There is one matter for clarification: The Order does not specify, but it is the Department's understanding that granting the Department's motion to dismiss is effectively dismissing the State as well - as the Department is acting on behalf of the State. Is this a correct reading of the Order?" The law clerk replied "That was our understanding as well."

         Respondent filed a Rule 59(e), SCRCP motion to reconsider, arguing: (1) it is inconsistent to find the Act does not apply to this dispute, yet apply a provision from the Act to prohibit Respondent from proceeding as a class action; (2) Drummond does not apply to this action; and (3) the circuit court's order does not have the effect of dismissing a defendant. The circuit court denied Respondent's motion to reconsider. However, in its order denying the motion, the court clarified its initial order, stating:

Finally, to clear up any confusion from the July 9 Order, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs may proceed as an individual against all Defendants, including the SCDOR and the State of South Carolina, without the necessity of exhausting administrative remedies. The class action allegations against the SCDOR and the State of South Carolina are ordered dismissed.

         Respondent subsequently filed a notice of appeal in the Court of Appeals. Shortly thereafter, Petitioners filed a petition for extraordinary relief including a writ of certiorari in this Court, asserting: (1) the circuit court erred in determining the Act is limited to disputes concerning property taxes; (2) Respondent is required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the Act; and (3) the State should be dismissed from this action. By way of return, Respondent argued, inter alia, the circuit court erred in applying the class action prohibition under the Act. After this Court granted certiorari, the Court of Appeals dismissed Respondent's appeal on the basis that class certification orders are not immediately appealable. As a result, Respondent filed a petition for certiorari, asking this Court to review both the Court of Appeals' dismissal and the circuit court's dismissal of the class action allegations against Petitioners. That appeal is being held in abeyance until the resolution of this appeal.

         II. Standard of Review

         "An issue regarding statutory interpretation is a question of law." Univ. of S. California v. Moran, 365 S.C. 270, 274, 617 S.E.2d 135, 137 (Ct. App. 2005). "[T]his Court reviews questions of law de novo." Town of Summerville v. City of N. Charleston, 378 S.C. 107, 110, 662 S.E.2d 40, 41 (2008). "The cardinal rule of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and effectuate the legislative intent whenever possible." Mitchell ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.