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York v. Longlands Plantation

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

June 6, 2018

Tyrone York, as personal representative for Timothy York (Deceased), Shirley York, and Yvonne Burns, Plaintiffs,
v.
Longlands Plantation a.k.a Knollwood, Inc., and Companion Property and Casualty Group, Respondents. Of Whom Yvonne Burns is the Appellant, And, Shirley York is a Respondent, Appellate Case No. 2016-000258

          Heard April 18, 2018

          Appeal From The Workers' Compensation Commission

          William E. Jenkinson, III, and John Thomas Thompson, both of Jenkinson, Jarrett & Kellahan, P.A., of Kingstree, for Appellant.

          Ann McCrowey Mickle, of Mickle & Bass, LLC, and Blake A. Hewitt, of Bluestein Thompson Sullivan, LLC, both of Columbia, for Respondent Shirley York; and Helen F. Hiser, of Mount Pleasant, and Jonathan Brandon Hylton, of Florence, both of McAngus Goudelock & Courie, LLC, for Respondent Longlands Plantation.

          LOCKEMY, C.J.

         Yvonne Burns appeals the order of the Appellate Panel of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission (Appellate Panel) denying her claim for death benefits. We reverse and remand.

         FACTS/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Timothy York died in a work-related accident on August 26, 2013, when his boat capsized on a pond at Longlands Plantation while he was working within the course and scope of his employment with Knollwood, Inc.

         In January 2014, Tyrone York, Timothy's brother and the personal representative of his estate, filed a Form 52 notice of a claim for death benefits and requested a hearing. A hearing was held before the single commissioner in June 2014 to determine the beneficiary of Timothy's statutory benefits. At the hearing, Tyrone sought workers' compensation benefits on behalf of Timothy's mother, Shirley York, as Timothy's next of kin under section 42-9-140(B) of the South Carolina Code (2015). Yvonne Burns sought benefits for herself as Timothy's common law wife under section 42-9-110 of the South Carolina Code (2015); or alternatively, as a dependent under sections 42-9-120 or 42-9-130 of the South Carolina Code (2015).

         In June 2015, the single commissioner found Shirley entitled to the full sum of death benefits allowable under the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act)[1]. The single commissioner held the preponderance of the testimony did not support a finding Timothy and Yvonne had a common law marriage. The single commissioner found Timothy and Yvonne "lived together off and on in a tumultuous relationship characterized by separations resulting from either alcohol consumption or arguments regarding finances." In finding Yvonne failed to prove the existence of a common law marriage, the single commissioner relied heavily on (1) the conflicting testimony from family and friends as to whether Timothy and Yvonne planned to get married; (2) Yvonne's testimony she never told her son of any plans to marry Timothy; (3) Yvonne's testimony the couple had not formalized any plans for a wedding; (4) Timothy and Yvonne's individual tax returns indicating they were single without any dependents; and (5) Yvonne's failure to contribute to Timothy's funeral expenses.

         The single commissioner further held that although Yvonne's financial dependency on Timothy was greater than Shirley's, such financial dependence was not determinative of the outcome of the case. The single commissioner noted South Carolina's statutory prohibition against fornication and cited Day v. Day, 216 S.C. 334, 58 S.E.2d 83 (1950), as dispositive. The Day court held "it was not the intention of the legislature to permit a woman to be classed and considered as a dependent within the meaning of [the] Act who lives in [an] illicit relationship with a man to whom she is not legally married." Id. at 345, 58 S.E.2d at 88. The single commissioner held, as our supreme court held in Day, an individual cannot be a dependent if he or she is in an illicit relationship, and if the legislature intended to sanction an illicit relationship as constituting a basis for dependency, a provision for such would have been made in the Act.

         Yvonne subsequently appealed the single commissioner's order to the Appellate Panel. The Appellate Panel affirmed the single commissioner's order in full on January 20, 2016. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "The South Carolina Administrative Procedures Act establishes the substantial evidence standard for judicial review of decisions by the [Appellate Panel]." Murphy v. Owens Corning, 393 S.C. 77, 81, 710 S.E.2d 454, 456 (Ct. App. 2011). "Under the substantial evidence standard of review, this court may not substitute its judgment for that of the [Appellate Panel] as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact, but may reverse whe[n] the decision is affected by an error of law." Id. at 81-82, 710 S.E.2d at 456. "Substantial evidence is not a mere scintilla of evidence, nor the evidence viewed blindly from one side of the case, but is evidence [that], considering the record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion the administrative agency reached in order to justify its action." Taylor v. S.C. Dep't of Motor Vehicles, 368 S.C. 33, 36, 627 S.E.2d 751, 752 (Ct. App. 2006) (quoting S.C. Dep't of Motor Vehicles v. Nelson, 364 S.C. 514, 519, 613 S.E.2d 544, 547 (2005)). "The mere possibility of drawing ...


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