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Gantt v. Selph

Supreme Court of South Carolina

May 30, 2018

Robert Gantt and Edward K. White, Respondents,
v.
Samuel J. Selph as Director, and Marjorie Johnson, Adell Adams, E. Peter Kennedy, Sylvia Holley and Jane Emerson as the Members of the Board of Voter Registration and Elections of Richland County, The Board of Voter Registration and Elections of Richland County, and Kim Murphy, Defendants, Of whom Kim Murphy is the Appellant.

          Submitted January 16, 2018

          Appeal from Richland County Jean Hoefer Toal, Circuit Court Judge

          Brian C. Gambrell, of The Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor, P.C., of Columbia, for Appellant.

          Michael H. Montgomery, of Montgomery Willard, LLC, of Columbia, for Respondents.

          JAMES JUSTICE

         In this case, the circuit court ruled Appellant Kim Murphy was not qualified to be a candidate for election to a Richland County seat on the District 5 Richland-Lexington School Board of Trustees (School Board). The circuit court based this ruling on its conclusion that Murphy resides in Lexington County. We first hold the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction over Respondents' declaratory judgment action challenging Murphy's qualifications. Second, we hold there is probative evidence in the record supporting the circuit court's conclusion that Murphy resides in Lexington County. Therefore, we affirm the circuit court's ruling that Murphy is not qualified to be a candidate for election to a Richland County seat on the School Board.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Kim Murphy has lived at the same residence in Chapin since the year 2000. Murphy was registered to vote and voted in the Spring Hill Precinct of Richland County from 2000 to 2013 without controversy. In 2004 and 2010, Murphy filed to run for a Richland County seat on the School Board, and the Richland County Board of Voter Registration and Elections (Richland Election Board) accepted her candidate's application as a resident of Richland County both times. Murphy was elected to a Richland County seat on the School Board in 2010.

         The dispute as to Murphy's qualifications as a candidate centers upon Act No. 326 of 2002, § 9 (Act No. 326), which provides that the School Board must be comprised of three residents of Richland County and four residents of Lexington County. Act No. 326 first became an issue after Murphy was elected in 2010. In 2012, the Office of Research and Statistics (an arm of the South Carolina Budget and Control Board), the body then charged with keeping official records of voting precincts and the location of county lines, conducted a routine screening of voter precinct assignments in Richland County.[1] During that screening, Murphy's residence was flagged as being in Lexington County. In March 2013, relying upon this information, the School Board determined Murphy was not a resident of Richland County and was instead a resident of Lexington County. The School Board removed Murphy from her seat for cause pursuant to section 59-19-60 of the South Carolina Code (2004). The School Board based its decision on Murphy not meeting the residency requirements prescribed by Act No. 326.

         In August 2016, Murphy filed to run against Respondent Robert Gantt in the November 2016 election for a seat representing Richland County on the School Board. Robert Gantt and Edward White (Respondents) petitioned the Richland Election Board, challenging Murphy's qualification as a Richland County voter pursuant to section 7-5-230 of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2017). After a hearing, the Richland Election Board found Murphy was a qualified voter and allowed her to remain on the ballot. Respondents attempted to appeal to the circuit court; however, while section 7-5-230 would have allowed Murphy to appeal an adverse ruling, neither section 7-5-230 nor any other statute gave Respondents the right to appeal the Richland Election Board's conclusion that Murphy was a qualified voter in Richland County.

         Respondents then commenced this declaratory judgment action in the circuit court. They seek a declaration that Murphy does not reside in Richland County and is therefore not qualified under Act No. 326 to be a candidate for a Richland County seat on the School Board. The circuit court ruled Murphy resides in Lexington County and is therefore not qualified to be a candidate for a Richland County seat on the School Board. This appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Murphy claims the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear and decide Respondents' challenge to her ...


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