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Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Fallon Properties South Carolina, LLC

Supreme Court of South Carolina

February 28, 2018

Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., successor-by-merger to Wachovia Bank, N.A., Respondent,
v.
Fallon Properties South Carolina, LLC, Timothy R. Fallon, Susan C. Fallon, Fallon Luminous Products Corporation, GE Business Capital Corporation, formerly Transamerica Business Capital Corporation, and FSD Repurchase Solutions, LLC, and South Carolina Department of Revenue, Defendants, Of Whom Fallon Properties South Carolina, LLC, Timothy R. Fallon and Susan C. Fallon are the Petitioners. Appellate Case No. 2015-002018

          Heard April 12, 2017

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

         Appeal From Spartanburg County Gordon G. Cooper, Master-in-Equity

          Alexander Hray, Jr., of Spartanburg, for Petitioners.

          Robert L. Widener, of Columbia and Weyman C. Carter, of Greenville, both of McNair Law Firm, PA, for Respondent.

          BEATTY CHIEF JUSTICE

         We granted a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' decision in this case, which raises the novel issue of whether an email that provides written notice of entry of an order or judgment triggers the time for serving a notice of appeal for purposes of Rule 203(b)(1) of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules ("SCACR"). As will be discussed, we hold that such an email, if sent from the court, an attorney of record, or a party, triggers the time to serve a notice of appeal. Because the email giving rise to this appeal was from a master-in-equity's administrative assistant and provided written notice of the entry of an order, we find the email triggered the time to appeal. Since the notice of appeal was not served until thirty-one days after the parties received the email, we agree with the Court of Appeals that the service of the notice of appeal was untimely. However, given the novelty of the issue, the frequency in which the issue is likely to arise, and the inconsistent case law interpreting Rule 203, SCACR, fairness dictates that our ruling on this issue be applied prospectively. Accordingly, we affirm as modified and remand to the Court of Appeals to allow the appeal to proceed on its merits.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         On December 15, 2014, the master filed an order denying Fallon Properties South Carolina, LLC, Timothy R. Fallon, and Susan C. Fallon's ("Petitioners") petition for an order of appraisal. That same day, the master's administrative assistant emailed a signed and stamped copy of the order and Form 4 to both Petitioners and Wells Fargo Bank ("Respondent"). The email provided: "Please see attached copy of signed and clocked Form 4 and Order. I have also mailed a copy to all listed on the Form 4." Three days later, Petitioners received a copy of both documents in the mail.

         Believing the time to appeal commenced on the day they received the copy of the order and Form 4 in the mail, Petitioners served their notice of appeal on January 15, 2015, which was thirty-one days after they received the email and twenty-eight days after they received the documents in the mail. Respondent subsequently filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the email triggered the time to appeal; therefore, Petitioners' notice of appeal was untimely served. The Court of Appeals agreed with Respondent and dismissed the appeal.

         II. Discussion

         Petitioners argue the Court of Appeals erred in determining the email triggered the time to serve their notice of appeal. We disagree.

         Rule 203(b)(1), SCACR sets forth the procedures for appealing a decision of the court of common pleas and, by way of Rule 203(b)(4), SCACR, [1] a decision of a master-in-equity. This rule provides, in pertinent part: "A notice of appeal shall be served on all respondents within thirty (30) days after receipt of written notice of entry of the order or judgment." Rule 203(b)(1), SCACR (emphasis added). Thus, the time to serve the notice of appeal from a master's decision begins on the day the party receives written notice that an order or judgment has been entered.

         To be clear, Petitioners do not dispute that the email constituted written notice of entry of the order or judgment. Rather, Petitioners take issue with the manner in which they received written notice. Petitioners contend the time to serve a notice of appeal is only triggered at the time the parties receive written notice of the entry of an order or judgment by mail or hand delivery. As a result, Petitioners posit the time to ...


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