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Carter v. Bryant

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

January 15, 2020

Russell Shane Carter, Respondent/Appellant,
v.
Bruce Bryant, as Representative for the Office of the York County Sheriff, Appellant/Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2016-002556

          Heard September 16, 2019

          Appeal From York County John C. Hayes, III, Circuit Court Judge.

          Andrew F. Lindemann, of Lindemann, Davis & Hughes, PA, and Robert David Garfield, of Crowe LaFave, LLC, both of Columbia, for Appellant/Respondent.

          John Christopher Mills, of J. Christopher Mills, LLC, and Alexandre Thomas Postic, of Law Offices of Alex Postic, both of Columbia, for Respondent/Appellant.

          HILL, J.

         Following the nolle pros dismissal of an assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature (ABHAN) charge against him, Russell Shane Carter sued former York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant, in his official capacity as York County Sheriff, for false arrest and malicious prosecution. The trial court directed a verdict for Bryant on the false arrest claim but let the malicious prosecution claim proceed. The jury awarded Carter $150, 000 actual damages. Both sides now appeal. Carter appeals the directed verdict against him on his false arrest claim and the exclusion of his expert witness. We affirm these rulings. Bryant raises several issues on appeal, including the fundamental one that the trial court should have granted him a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) on Carter's malicious prosecution claim because the only reasonable inference from the evidence was that there was probable cause to arrest Carter. We agree with Bryant and, therefore, reverse the judgment against him.

         I.

         Carter and his family rented a home on property they shared with three mobile homes. Carter served as caretaker of the property, including assisting other renters with the troublesome well that served as the water supply.

         According to Carter, one night in April 2012, he was awakened by someone banging on his front door. The person refused to identify himself, so Carter opened his front door and cracked the screen door to talk with him. A man, later identified as Michael Robinson Faile, stated he wanted water. Carter repeatedly told Faile he was trespassing and asked him to leave, but Faile refused. Carter sensed Faile smelled of alcohol, decided Faile would not listen, and agreed to check the water the next day. Faile demanded Carter check the water immediately. Carter asked his wife to call the sheriff's office. Carter stated Faile moved forward and put his hands on the screen door, and in response, Carter's wife handed her husband an aluminum baseball bat. Carter again asked Faile to leave, but Faile refused. Carter tried to close the screen door, but Faile placed one hand inside the door to hold it open and struck Carter on the side of the head with his other hand. As Carter tried to force Faile outside, Faile continued to hit Carter. Carter then hit Faile in the head with the bat and continued to hit him after Faile fell to the ground. Carter stood over Faile until the police arrived. The entire fracas occurred on Carter's front porch.

         When Deputy Kevin Gwinn of the York County Sheriff's Office arrived at the scene, Carter was holding the bat and standing over a motionless Faile. EMS arrived and took Faile to a hospital, and Deputy Gwinn and the other responding officers took statements from Carter and his wife. Carter told Gwinn his version of the altercation and asked if he was protected by the "Stand My Ground Law," referring to the South Carolina Protection of Persons and Property Act (PPPA), also popularly known as the law incorporating the common law "Castle Doctrine." See S.C. Code Ann. §§ 16-11-410 to -450 (2015). One of the officers responded "that law might be down in Florida but that ain't up here." The officers did not arrest Carter at this time.

         After leaving Carter's home, Deputy Gwinn went to the hospital to obtain Faile's statement. Faile told Deputy Gwinn he went to speak with Carter about the water, in hopes of assisting with any necessary repair of the well. He explained he was walking off Carter's porch when Carter hit him in the back of the head, and a struggle ensued. Deputy Gwinn noted Faile's head was injured and even sunken in several spots, and Faile had bruises all over his body. Deputy Gwinn prepared an incident report, which detailed both Carter's and Faile's versions of the incident and Faile's injuries.

         The following day, Deputy Gwinn met with York County magistrate Leon Yard to discuss the case. After Deputy Gwinn presented the case, Yard determined there was probable cause to issue an arrest warrant for Carter on the charge of ABHAN. The affidavit on the face of the warrant sworn by Deputy Gwinn states:

On April 25, 2012, in the county of York, one Russell Shane Carter did willfully and unlawfully violate S.C. Laws by striking Michael Robin Faile about the head and body with an aluminum baseball bat causing visible injuries that required medical attention. The victim was transported to Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill by EMS. Probable cause based on a police investigation. REPORT # 201200013457.

         An assistant solicitor later nolle prossed the charge against Carter (who was never indicted), noting on the dismissal form that Carter's "actions were within the law" and later testifying Carter's actions were likely protected by the PPPA, the Castle Doctrine, and the defense of habitation.

         II. CARTER'S APPEAL

         A. False Arrest and the Facially Valid Warrant Doctrine

         Carter's appeal centers on the trial court's directing a verdict against him on his false arrest claim. We may reverse the grant of a directed verdict only if there is no evidence supporting it or it is controlled by an error of law. Estate of Carr ex rel. Bolton v. Circle S Enters., Inc., 379 S.C. 31, 39, 664 S.E.2d 83, 86 (Ct. App. 2008). The trial court ruled that because Carter was arrested on the ...


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