March 6, 2018
from Orangeburg County Maité Murphy, Circuit Court
C. M. Walker and Jessica Ann Waller, both of Gallivan, White
& Boyd, PA; and Pope D. Johnson III, all of Columbia, for
Todd Rutherford, of The Rutherford Law Firm, LLC; and Robert
Fredrick Goings and Jessica Lee Gooding, both of Goings Law
Firm, LLC, all of Columbia, for Respondent.
OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS
BEATTY, CHIEF JUSTICE
her arrest for receiving stolen goods, Meredith Huffman filed
a complaint against the Orangeburg County Sheriff's
Department (the Sheriff's Department), Sunshine
Recycling, LLC (Sunshine), and Aiken Electric Cooperative,
Inc. (Aiken), for negligence, false imprisonment, and
malicious prosecution. Huffman later settled her claims
against the Sheriff's Department, and the two parties
filed a stipulation dismissing the Sheriff's Department
from the action. The trial court granted summary judgment
in favor of Sunshine and Aiken. The court of appeals
reversed. Huffman v. Sunshine Recycling, LLC, 417
S.C. 514, 790 S.E.2d 401 (Ct. App. 2016). Both Sunshine and
Aiken filed petitions for writs of certiorari to review the
court of appeals' opinion. We granted the petitions, and
now reverse the court of appeals' opinion as to Sunshine
and affirm as to Aiken.
Factual and Procedural History
16, 2010, seventy pounds of copper wire and fifty pounds of
aluminum tie wire were stolen from Aiken. In total, the
stolen wire was worth $463.19.
following day, Mark Goss, Aiken's Loss Control and Safety
Coordinator, and Deputy Maurice Huggins viewed a surveillance
video from Aiken that depicted an unidentified black male
removing copper and aluminum wiring from Aiken trucks. An
Aiken employee also reported seeing a white Ford truck
driving out of Aiken's parking lot around the time of the
theft. As was Goss's typical practice when Aiken suffered
a loss of this nature, Goss checked with local metal
recyclers to see if the thief tried to sell the copper and
search led him to Sunshine. Goss testified he arrived at
Sunshine the morning following the theft and only two
customers had come in. Goss told Sunshine's owner, Joseph
Rich, he was looking for stolen copper and aluminum wire
believed to have been taken by a black male in a white Ford
pickup truck. Rich took Goss into the metal drop-off area to
look for the stolen items. Goss identified Aiken's
materials which were comingled with other metals. Rich, who
claimed to speak Spanish, spoke to an unidentified
Spanish-speaking employee working in the metal drop-off area.
According to Goss, the Spanish-speaking employee informed
Rich a white woman had brought the copper and aluminum wire
to Sunshine. However, Rich later testified in his
deposition the Spanish-speaking employee informed him
"that the first person in the warehouse that
was selling materials in that group was a white woman."
(emphasis added.) There is no indication Rich asked the
employee about any subsequent customers.
Ashley Aldridge of the Sheriff's Department arrived at
Sunshine to investigate the theft. Goss informed Aldridge he
believed a black male in a white Ford truck was involved and
told Aldridge what Aiken's surveillance video showed,
that an Aiken employee saw a white truck leaving Aiken at the
time of the robbery, and what the Spanish-speaking employee
at Sunshine reported. Rich told Aldridge and Goss they were
welcome to view the receipts documenting the amounts paid to
customers who sold metal to Sunshine that morning and the
time-stamped video footage of customers waiting at the
payment window. Aldridge viewed the video, saw Huffman
waiting for her payment of $53, and obtained a copy of
Huffman's receipt. Rich also informed Aldridge that
Sunshine had a video of the metal dropoff area and, although
there were issues with the video playback that morning, he
would provide Goss and the Sheriff's Department with a
next day, May 18, 2010, Officer James Ethridge visited
Sunshine to photograph the metal identified by Goss as stolen
from Aiken. Ethridge testified that when he arrived at
Sunshine, Sunshine employees had already pulled copies of
Huffman's invoice, receipt, and driver's license.
While at Sunshine, Ethridge spoke with Rich, who reiterated
the employees working in the drop-off area had informed him
Huffman was the individual who brought in the items and she
was driving a red truck. Rich also stated he had not yet
obtained a copy of the video showing the metal drop-off area
but would contact Sunshine's security servicer to request
a copy of the video for Ethridge.
Ethridge's report regarding the incident stated Goss
contacted Ethridge and claimed he (Goss) had spoken with
Huffman at Sunshine on May 17, 2010, while she was waiting to
get paid for "the items that she had just brought
in." According to the report, Goss also told Ethridge,
"He viewed the items after [Huffman] left and identified
them as" belonging to Aiken. In his deposition, Goss
denied ever speaking to Huffman.
the course of the next few days, Goss repeatedly contacted
Officer Ethridge to ask how the case was progressing and
whether an arrest had been made. While still waiting to view
the video, Officer Ethridge contacted a local magistrate and
obtained a warrant for Huffman's arrest for receiving
stolen goods based on the information he obtained from
Aiken and Sunshine. After learning of the warrant for her
arrest, Huffman voluntarily went to the Sheriff's
Department and spoke with Ethridge. In her statement, Huffman
advised Ethridge she sold metal to Sunshine on the day in
question but it was not stolen; rather, it was salvaged from
a mobile home belonging to Huffman and her husband that the
couple were in the process of tearing down. Huffman provided
Ethridge with metal similar to what she took to Sunshine and
pictures of the mobile home from which she removed the metal.
their discussion, Officer Ethridge arrested Huffman, placed
her in handcuffs, and transported her to the detention center
where she was required to change into a prison jumpsuit and
wait for the next bond hearing. Huffman was not allowed to
call to check on her children, who were home alone,
was required to appear at the bond hearing handcuffed and
shackled. Huffman obtained a personal recognizance bond, and
was released at approximately 5:00 p.m.
Huffman's arrest and release-more than seventeen days
after the theft from Aiken-Officer Ethridge finally viewed
the video of Huffman dropping off her items at Sunshine. The
video depicted Huffman removing some copper wiring from her
red truck that resembled the copper taken from Aiken, and
some aluminum siding, not wire. Around the same time, Goss
received a copy of the video from Sunshine. Goss testified
the video "clearly" showed Huffman unloading
"a little small pile of copper," then a black male
in a white Ford truck coming in after Huffman and
unloading "massive  quantities of copper and aluminum
out of his truck." Rich never viewed the video. Ethridge
informed Rich "that after viewing the video[, ] it d[id]
not show [Huffman] with the same items that w[ere] taken. Due
to these facts there is not enough evidence to support this
case." Days lat er, the black male in question was
identified as Eugene James. The Sheriff's Department
located James, he admitted to stealing the wire from Aiken,
and pled guilty.
filed a complaint against the Sheriff's Department,
Aiken, and Sunshine asserting negligence, false imprisonment,
and malicious prosecution. The trial court granted summary
judgment as to both Sunshine and Aiken and Huffman appealed.
court of appeals reversed the trial court's rulings and
remanded the case to the lower court. Huffman, 417
S.C. at 532, 790 S.E.2d at 411. As to Huffman's false
imprisonment claims, the court of appeals found there were
genuine factual issues material to the unlawfulness of
Huffman's arrest and the complicity of both Sunshine and
Aiken in her arrest. Id. at 523, 709 S.E.2d at 406.
The court of appeals found the trial court erred in granting
summary judgment to Sunshine and Aiken on Huffman's
malicious prosecution claims because there were genuine
factual issues material to probable cause as well as the
complicity of Sunshine and Aiken in proceeding with the
charge of receiving stolen goods against Huffman.
Id. at 530, 709 S.E.2d at 410.
the denial of Sunshine and Aiken's petition for
rehearing, we granted Sunshine's and Aiken's separate
petitions for writs of certiorari to review the court of
Standard of Review
Court reviews the grant of a summary judgment motion under
the same standard applied by the trial court pursuant to Rule
56(c), SCRCP. Woodson v. DLI Props., LLC, 406 S.C.
517, 528, 753 S.E.2d 428, 434 (2014). Summary judgment is
properly granted when, viewing the evidence and inferences to
be drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the nonmoving
party, the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits, if any, show
that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the
moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
Rule 56(c), SCRCP; Woodson, 406 S.C. at 528, 753
S.E.2d at 434.
determining whether any triable issues of fact exist for
summary judgment purposes, the evidence and all the
inferences [that] can be reasonably drawn from the evidence
must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party . . . [who] is only required to submit a mere scintilla
of evidence in order to withstand a motion for summary
judgment." Hancock v. Mid-S. Mgmt., 381 S.C.
326, 329-31, 673 S.E.2d 801, 802-03 (2009).
argument is twofold. First, Sunshine claims the court of
appeals erred in imposing an unprecedented duty on a witness
to perform its own investigation before assisting law
enforcement with their criminal investigation. Sunshine
claims such a duty has never been recognized in this state.
Second, Sunshine contends the court of appeals erred in
reversing the trial court's grant of summary judgment as
to Huffman's false imprisonment and malicious prosecution
claims. Specifically, Sunshine maintains that, even if we
were to find a witness has a duty to investigate, the court
of appeals erred in concluding Huffman offered sufficient
evidence to survive Sunshine's motion for summary
judgment. We agree and, therefore, reverse the court of
appeals' decision as to Sunshine.
Creation of an unprecedented duty
imprisonment consists of depriving a person of his or her
liberty without lawful justification. Law v. S.C.
Dep't of Corr., 368 S.C. 424, 440, 629 S.E.2d 642,
651 (2006). "To prevail on a claim for false
imprisonment, the plaintiff must establish: (1) the defendant
restrained the plaintiff, (2) the restraint was intentional,
and (3) the restraint was unlawful." Id.
"The fundamental issue in determining the lawfulness of
an arrest is whether there was probable cause to make the
arrest." Id. at 441, 629 S.E.2d at 651.
"Probable cause is defined as a good faith belief that a
person is guilty of a crime when this belief rests on such
grounds as would induce an ordinarily prudent and cautious
man, under the circumstances, to believe likewise."
sustain an action for malicious prosecution, "a
plaintiff must establish: (1) the institution or continuation
of original judicial proceedings; (2) by or at the instance
of the defendant; (3) termination of such proceedings in
plaintiff's favor; (4) malice in instituting such
proceedings; (5) lack of probable cause; and (6) resulting
injury or damage." Law, 368 S.C. at 435, 629
S.E.2d at 648. "Malice is defined as 'the deliberate
intentional doing of a wrongful act without just cause or
excuse.'" Eaves v. Broad River Elec. Co-Op.,
Inc., 277 S.C. ...