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South Carolina Public Interest Foundation v. The South Carolina House of Representatives

Supreme Court of South Carolina

January 4, 2019

South Carolina Public Interest Foundation and Edward D. Sloan Jr., individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Appellants,
v.
The South Carolina House of Representatives; the South Carolina Senate; the Honorable James H. "Jay" Lucas, as Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives; the Honorable Hugh K. Leatherman Sr., in his capacity as President Pro Tempore of the South Carolina Senate; and the State of South Carolina, Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2017-001638

          Heard October 17, 2018

          Appeal From Richland County L. Casey Manning, Circuit Court Judge

          James G. Carpenter, of Greenville, for Appellants.

          A. Mattison Bogan and Matthew A. Abee, both of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP, and Kenneth M. Moffitt, all of Columbia, Paul D. Harrill and Bradley S. Wright, both of McNair Law Firm, P.A., of Columbia, Attorney General Alan Wilson, Solicitor General Robert D. Cook and Deputy Solicitor General J. Emory Smith, Jr., all of Columbia, for Respondents.

          KITTREDGE JUSTICE

         Edward Sloan and the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation (collectively, Appellants) filed suit alleging Act 275 of 2016 violated article III, section 17 of the South Carolina Constitution (the One Subject Rule).[1]Appellants claim Act 275's title is insufficient and its provisions relate to more than one subject, violating the One Subject Rule. The trial court dismissed the complaint on numerous grounds. We do not address all of these issues but elect to resolve the appeal on the merits. While the Court has not hesitated to strike down legislation that violates the One Subject Rule, the Court has also respected the separation of powers doctrine and upheld legislation where a close question is presented. The constitutional challenge to Act 275 does not present a close question-Act 275 manifestly complies with the One Subject Rule. The trial court's dismissal of the complaint is affirmed.

         I.

         In 2016, the South Carolina General Assembly passed Act 275, and the Governor signed it into law. Act No. 275, 2016 S.C. Acts 1807. Act 275 has three parts, including Part I: "Governing the Improvement of the State's Transportation Infrastructure System;" Part II: "Funding the Improvement of the State's Transportation Infrastructure System;" and Part III: "Transition Provisions and Effective Date." Act No. 275, 2016 S.C. Acts at 1809, 1818, 1853 (some emphasis omitted).

         The stated purpose of Act 275 was "improving the state's transportation infrastructure system." Act No. 275, 2016 S.C. Acts at 1854. Act 275 makes financial changes to the State Highway Fund and structural changes to the Commission of the Department of Transportation (Commission), the Secretary of Transportation, the Joint Transportation Review Committee, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank. Further, Act 275's title indexes all of its key provisions. Act No. 275, 2016 S.C. Acts at 1807-55.

         Appellants allege that Act 275 violates the One Subject Rule because the title does not state its general purpose and its provisions relate to more than one subject. At the trial court level, the judge dismissed Appellant's case for lack of standing and failure to state a claim. While the trial court purported to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim, it ruled upon the merits, finding Act 275 complied with the One Subject Rule. Appellants appealed arguing, among other things, that Act 275 violates the One Subject Rule. We certified this case from the court of appeals pursuant to Rules 203(d)(1)(A)(ii) and 204(a), SCACR.

         II.

         The issue before the Court is whether Act 275 violates the One Subject Rule.[2] For reasons we will explain, we hold Act 275 complies with the One Subject Rule and affirm on the merits.

         Pursuant to the One Subject Rule, "Every Act or resolution having the force of law shall relate to but one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title." S.C. Const. art. III, § 17. "The purpose of [the One Subject Rule] is to prevent the General Assembly from being misled into passing bills containing provisions not indicated in their titles, and to apprise the people of the subject of proposed legislation and thus give them an opportunity to be heard if they so desire." Keyserling v. Beasley, 322 S.C. 83, 86, 470 S.E.2d 100, 102 (1996) (citations omitted). The One Subject Rule "is to be liberally construed so as to uphold [an a]ct if practicable." Id. "Doubtful or close cases are to be resolved in favor of upholding an [a]ct's validity." Id. Additionally, the One Subject Rule "does not preclude the [General Assembly] from dealing with several branches of one general subject in a single act." Id. The One Subject Rule has two requirements: (1) the topics of an act must reasonably and inherently relate to each other, and (2) the title of an act must put the General Assembly and public on notice of its provisions. Id. at 87, 470 S.E.2d at 102; Hercules Inc. v. S.C. Tax Comm'n, 274 S.C. 137, 141-42, 262 S.E.2d 45, 48 (1980).

         Appellants contend Act 275 violates the One Subject Rule because (1) the title does not state the subject in general terms; and (2) Act 275 pertains to more than one subject because it contains both structural and financial provisions and ...


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