Legal Brief: Singletary v. Shuler
The South Carolina Court of Appeals issued an opinion this morning in Singletary v. Shuler, which is a wrongful death and survival action arising from a fight between Singletary’s decedent and Shuler in Shuler’s house following a get together. The case was tried before the Charleston County master-in-equity, who awarded $1.5 M for the wrongful death claim and $100,000 for the survival action.
At trial, Shuler argued he was immune from civil action under the Protection of Persons and Property Act (S.C. Code Ann. §§ 16-11-410 to -450) because he acted in self-defense. The master found Shuler (1) was not entitled to immunity under the Act because he failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was acting in self-defense when he shot Decedent, (2) failed to file a pretrial motion to determine immunity, and (3) Wife was entitled to an award under the wrongful death and survival statutes.
An appeal followed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the master’s judgment.
Three things you need to know:
- Whether a trial court is required to determine if a party is immune under the Act before a civil trial begins is a novel issue for our appellate courts. With that said, the Court of Appeals held “[t]he Act’s language is clear and unambiguous that it was the legislature’s intent to extend immunity under the Act from both criminal prosecution and civil actions to law-abiding citizens who were justified in their use of deadly force.”
- The Court of Appeals noted the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in State v. Duncan, 392 S.C. 404, 709 S.E.2d 662 (2011), that a defendant claiming immunity from criminal prosecution under the Act must establish his entitlement to this relief prior to trial. In Singletary, the defendant did not make a pretrial motion seeking such relief. Accordingly, applying the tenets of Duncan, the Court of Appeals held the master did not err in finding Shuler was required to seek a pretrial determination of his immunity under the Act.
- Shuler argued the master erred in awarding damages for the wrongful death claim because the PR (who was the decedent’s wife) failed to present any evidence substantiating Decedent’s income. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding sufficient evidence was presented to the master for consideration. Specifically, the wife/PR testified of her personal awareness of Decendant’s income due to, among other things, her depositing Decedent’s earnings into the bank. The fact these earnings were in cash was immaterial. The wife/PR testified to $90,000 of income by the decedent. The awarded Decedent’s estate $203,251.25 in medical expenses and found “the decedent would have earned $50,000 per year for the remainder of his work life which would amount to $1,250,000 before reducing to present value.” The Court of Appeals found no error in this determination.
Click here for the full opinion.