November 9, 2016
From The Administrative Law Court Shirley C. Robinson,
Administrative Law Judge
Elizabeth Armstrong and Jessie Allison White, both of the
South Carolina Environmental Law Project, of Pawleys Island,
W. Stacy, Jr., of Oxner & Stacy, PA, of Pawleys Island,
and Deborah Harrison Sheffield, of Columbia, for Respondent
Pawleys Island Community Church; Nathan Michael Haber, of
Charleston, for Respondent South Carolina Department of
Health and Environmental Control.
appeal from the Administrative Law Court (ALC), Dan and Mary
Abel (the Abels) argue the ALC erred in refusing to enforce a
previous consent order requiring that wetlands on neighboring
property be maintained. We reverse and remand.
2000, Pawleys Island Baptist Church (the Church) filed an
application for a coastal zone consistency certification to
permit it to fill in wetlands during the construction of a
new sanctuary. The South Carolina Department of Health and
Environmental Control (DHEC) issued the certification. The
Abels, along with David Mims, challenged DHEC's decision
to the ALC. The parties subsequently agreed to a settlement
agreement that was memorialized in a consent order issued on
January 8, 2001. In part, the consent order stated, "The
Church agrees that the wetland preserved by this Consent
Order shall remain in its natural state."
2012, the Church applied for a new coastal zone certification
to permit it to fill in additional wetlands. During the
pendency of that application, the Church requested the ALC
modify the consent order. The proposed modified consent
order, signed by the Church and Mims, stated, "a new
permit/application ('The Permit') is being made by
the Church to undertake improvements to the Church and said
Permit cannot be reviewed by [DHEC] without applying the
heightened restrictions required under the Order until this
Modified Consent Order . . . is approved by the Court."
The Abels opposed the modified consent order, and the ALC
dismissed the Church's request because DHEC had not
issued its final decision to issue the permit.
DHEC approved the certification. Thereafter, the Abels filed
a request for a contested case hearing with the ALC, arguing
the 2001 consent order prohibited DHEC from issuing the
certification. The Abels also filed a motion to enforce the
consent order and a motion to consolidate the 2014 case with
the 2001 case. The ALC found the 2001 consent order was a
valid and enforceable contract. The ALC then found the
contract did not apply to the 2014 case, dismissed the
Abels' challenge, and denied their motion to enforce the
settlement agreement. This appeal followed.
Administrative Procedures Act (APA) establishes the standard
of review for appeals from the ALC." Greeneagle,
Inc. v. S.C. Dep't of Health & Envtl. Control,
399 S.C. 91, 95, 730 S.E.2d 869, 871 (Ct. App. 2012). Under
the APA, this court may "reverse or modify the decision
[of the ALC] if the substantive rights of the petitioner have
been prejudiced because the finding, conclusion, or decision
is . . . (d) affected by other error of law." S.C. Code
Ann. § 1-23-610(B) (2005).
South Carolina jurisprudence, settlement agreements are
viewed as contracts." Nichols Holding, LLC v. Divine
Capital Grp., 416 S.C. 327, 335, 785 S.E.2d 613, 615
(Ct. App. 2016) (quoting Pee Dee Stores, Inc. v.
Doyle, 381 S.C. 234, 241, 672 S.E.2d 799, 802 (Ct. App.
2009)). "The court's duty is to enforce the contract
made by the parties regardless of its wisdom or folly,
apparent unreasonableness, or the parties' failure to
guard their rights carefully." Id. (quoting
Ellis v. Taylor, 316 S.C. 245, 248, 449 S.E.2d 487,
488 (1994)). "When the language of a contract is clear
and unambiguous, the determination of the parties' intent