South Carolina Public Interest Foundation and Edward D. Sloan, individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Petitioners,
South Carolina Department of Transportation and John V. Walsh, Deputy Secretary of Transportation for Engineering, Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2015-001175
January 12, 2016
OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS
from Richland County L. Casey Manning, Circuit Court Judge
G. Carpenter and Jennifer J. Miller, both of Greenville, for
Beacham O. Brooker, Jr., of S.C. Department of
Transportation, of Columbia, for Respondents.
Carolina Public Interest Foundation and Edward D. Sloan,
individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated
("Petitioners"), filed this declaratory judgment
action against the South Carolina Department of
Transportation ("SCDOT") and John V. Walsh, Deputy
Secretary of Transportation for Engineering of SCDOT
("Respondents"). Petitioners sought a declaration
that SCDOT's inspection of three privately owned bridges
violated sections 5 and 11 of article X of the South Carolina
Constitution,  which Petitioners assert prohibit the
expenditure of public funds for a private purpose. The trial
court granted Respondents' motion for summary judgment,
finding: Petitioners lacked standing; the controversy was
moot and did not fall under any of the exceptions to the
mootness doctrine; and Respondents' actions were not
ultra vires or unconstitutional. The Court of
Appeals affirmed. S.C. Pub. Interest Found. v. S.C.
Dep't of Transp., 412 S.C. 18, 770 S.E.2d 399 (Ct.
App. 2015). This Court granted Petitioners' request for a
writ of certiorari. We reverse.
Factual and Procedural History
City Councilman Reggie Ebner is a resident of Woodside
Plantation, a gated subdivision in the City of Aiken. In
September of 2010, Ebner emailed then-State Representative
Tom Young asking for guidance on "who is responsible for
the design approval, construction inspection, safety
requirements and final approval for bridges in the City of
Aiken." In July of 2011, Young forwarded an email from
his "constituent Reggie Ebner" to Walsh at SCDOT.
In the email, Ebner requested SCDOT inspect three wooden
bridges located within Woodside Plantation, which he alleged
had engineering and construction flaws. Ebner signed the
email "Reggie Ebner, City of Aiken Councilman for
District 4." After receiving the email, SCDOT conducted
an inspection of the three bridges and issued a report on its
findings.SCDOT estimated the cost of the inspection
was $1, 400.
the inspection, the Office of the Chief Internal Auditor
("OCIA") for the Commission on the Department of
Transportation investigated the propriety of Respondents'
actions. In a report to former Secretary of Transportation
Robert St. Onge, OCIA made several findings, including:
(1) The bridges are neither part of the State highway system
nor are they owned or maintained by the City of Aiken;
(2) The request to inspect the bridges came from a city
councilman, not from the City of Aiken;
(3) Prior to the inspection, SCDOT personnel made a direct
inquiry to the City of Aiken and verified that the bridges
were private property;
(4) SCDOT's employees warned Chief Engineer for
Operations Clem Watson that it was against SCDOT's policy
to inspect privately owned bridges;
(5) SCDOT had no obligation to inspect the bridges; and
(6) Walsh and Watson maintained their actions fell within a
"grey area" of the law.
subsequently filed this declaratory judgment action seeking a
declaration that SCDOT's inspection of the privately
owned bridges contravened the constitutional requirement that
the expenditure of public funds serve a public purpose. After
both parties moved for summary judgment, the trial court
concluded: Petitioners lacked standing; the issue was moot;
and no exceptions to the mootness doctrine applied.
Nevertheless, the trial court proceeded to address the merits
of the issue and determined the inspection was not
unconstitutional because it did not solely benefit the
homeowners in Woodside Plantation, but was for the health,
safety, and welfare of the public at large. The trial court
also found the inspection was not ultra vires
because "the inspection of the bridges was legitimately
within the City's police power and the decision by Walsh
to assist it was well within the Department's enumerated
powers to assist other governmental entities in areas of its
expertise" under section 57-3-110 of the South Carolina
Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding Petitioners did not
have standing and the action did not fall under any exception
to the mootness doctrine. S.C. Pub. Interest Found.,
412 S.C. at 24-28, 770 S.E.2d at 402-04. The Court of Appeals
based its conclusion solely on its belief that SCDOT
"conducted its own audit and concluded its own actions
were improper." Id. at 24, 770 S.E.2d at 402.
The Court of Appeals declined to reach the issues of whether
Respondents' conduct was ultra vires or
unconstitutional based on its disposition of the
justiciability issues. Id. at 28, 770 S.E.2d at 404.
This Court granted certiorari to review the decision of the
Court of Appeals.
Standard of Review
reviewing a grant of summary judgment, appellate courts apply
the same standard that governs the trial court under Rule
56(c), SCRCP, which provides that summary judgment is proper
when there is no genuine issue as to material fact and the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
USAA Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Clegg, 377 S.C.
643, 653, 661 S.E.2d 791, 796 (2008); Rule 56(c), SCRCP. This
Court reviews all ambiguities, conclusions, and inferences
arising in and from the evidence in a light most favorable to
the non-moving party below. Willis v. Wu, 362 S.C.
146, 151, 607 S.E.2d 63, 65 (2004).
Whether Petitioners have standing to bring their
plaintiff must have standing to institute an action."
Sloan v. Greenville Cnty., 356 S.C. 531, 547, 590
S.E.2d 338, 347 (Ct. App. 2003). Standing is "[a]
party's right to make a legal claim or seek judicial
enforcement of a duty or right." Black's Law
Dictionary 1625 (10th ed. 2014). We recognize three
types of standing: (1) standing conferred by statute; (2)
"constitutional standing"; and (3) public
importance standing. ATC S., Inc. v. Charleston
Cnty., 380 S.C. 191, 195, 669 S.E.2d 337, 339 (2008).
Petitioners assert they have constitutional standing as
taxpayers and public importance standing.
has constitutional standing if he can show: (1) he suffered
an invasion of a legally protected interest, which is
concrete and particularized, and actual or imminent; (2) a
causal connection between the injury and the challenged
conduct; and (3) it is likely the injury will be redressed by
a favorable decision. Youngblood v. S.C. Dep't. of
Soc. Servs., 402 S.C. 311, 317-18, 741 S.E.2d 515, 518
(2013). Here, Petitioners are unable to show they suffered a
concrete and particularized injury distinct from that shared
by other taxpayers; therefore, we find Petitioners do not
have constitutional standing. See Freemantle v.
Preston, 398 S.C. 186, 193, 728 S.E.2d 40, 44 (2012)
(recognizing that a taxpayer's injuries are "common
to all citizens and taxpayers . . . [which thereby] defeats
the constitutional requirement of a concrete and