THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
Phillip H. Tanner, a
person under legal
County Delinquent Tax
Administrator; and John
Doe, a fictitious person
representing all and every
person claiming any
interest in the real
property described herein, Respondents.
WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF
Appeal From Florence County
Howard P. King, Circuit Court Judge
Opinion No. 24985
Submitted June 23, 1999 - Filed August 9, 1999
Phillip H. Tanner, of Effingham, pro se Petitioner.
James C. Rushton, III, of The Hyman Law Firm, of
Florence, for respondents.
TOAL, A.J.: Philip H. Tanner ("Petitioner") attempted to file a
supplemental complaint in his action against the Florence County Treasurer and the
Florence County Delinquent Tax Administrator (collectively "the County"). The trial
court refused to allow the supplemental pleadings and the Court of Appeals upheld
that decision. Petitioner appealed to this Court and we now reverse.
Petitioner owned five acres of land and a mobile home in Florence County.
On October 3, 1994, while Petitioner was a prisoner in the Lee Correctional
Institution, the County sold his property and mobile home at a delinquent tax sale.
In March 1995, Petitioner's father redeemed the land for Petitioner during the
statutory redemption period. The mobile home was not redeemed during the
redemption period and the County eventually issued a tax title to B.P. Inc. of Olanta.
In March 1995, Petitioner brought this pro se action alleging the County failed
to provide him the required notice under S.C. Code Ann §12-51-40 (Supp. 1998) of
the delinquent tax sale of both his property and mobile home. Petitioner's complaint
alleged that he had not received the required notice despite having given the County
his prison address in August of 1993. Petitioner's complaint asked that the sale of
his "real property" be declared void, but the complaint did not seek any monetary
In its answer to the March 1995 complaint, the County asserted that
Petitioner's redemption of the real property made his claim moot. Also, the
County's answer asserted that the mobile home could be redeemed since Petitioner
had filed the action during the statutory redemption period. By November 1995,
however, the redemption period ended and Petitioner had not redeemed his mobile
home so the County issued a tax title to B.P. Inc. of Olanta. In response to the
issuance of a tax title on the mobile home, Petitioner filed a motion for leave to serve
and file a supplemental complaint pursuant to Rule 15(d), SCRCP.
The County responded to Petitioner's motion to amend his complaint with a
summaryjudgment motion pursuant to Rule 56, SCRCP. It asserted that under S.C.
Code Ann. §15-78-60(11) (Supp. 1998)1 of the South Carolina Tort Claims Act ("the
Tort Claims Act"), the County was immune from Petitioner's claim. Petitioner
responded with a motion in opposition to summary judgment and again motioned to
serve and file a supplemental complaint. Petitioner's proposed supplemental
complaint included a second cause of action against the County for negligence based
on the special duty exception to the public duty doctrine as well as four new causes
of action asserted against B.P. Inc. of Olanta for damages.
On May 7, 1996, a hearing on all the motions was held. When the hearing
began, the County informed the trial judge that it was under the mistaken belief that
Petitioner had already been granted leave to file his supplemental complaint. Based
on this mistaken belief, the County's summary judgment motion also addressed
Petitioner's second cause of action even though the supplemental complaint had not
yet been approved by the trial court. At the hearing, the County asked the trial
court to consider its motion for summary judgment as also being a motion opposing
Petitioner's motion for leave to file a supplemental complaint.
The trial court found that Petitioner's recovery of his real property mooted his
first claim against the County. Since this claim was moot, the trial court granted
summary judgment to. the County on Petitioner's first cause of action. The trial
court then ruled that Petitioner was not allowed to supplement his complaint to add
the second cause of action. The trial court held that the second cause of action
based on a negligence claim would be defeated by the County's assertion of
immunity under the Tort Claims Act.
Before the Court of Appeals, Petitioner argued that the trial court erred by
granting summary judgment on his claim before hearing his motion to serve and file
the supplemental complaint. Petitioner also argued that granting summary
judgment on the second cause of action was error. In actuality, the trial judge did
not grant summary judgment on the second cause of action. The trial judge simply
refused to allow Petitioner to supplement his pleadings to include the second cause
of action. The trial court refused the supplemental complaint because it found the
negligence cause of action would be futile due to the County's immunity under the
Tort Claims Act.
Exceptions to waiver of immunity.
The governmental entity is not liable for a loss resulting from:
(11) assessment or collection of taxes or special assessments or
enforcement of tax laws;
The Court of Appeals held that the Tort Claims Act exempted the County from
tort liability as a matter of law and therefore Petitioner could not maintain a
negligence cause of action against the County. The Court of Appeals recognized
that Petitioner could only maintain a negligence action against the County if he
provided proof that the County failed to follow the proper procedure for the tax sale.
In analyzing the Record, the Court of Appeals found that Petitioner had produced
no proof that the County failed to follow proper procedure. See Tanner v. Florence
County Treasurer, Op. No. 97-UP-677 (S.C. Ct. App. filed December 22,1997). This
Court granted certiorari to consider the following two issues:
I. Did the trial court err in granting summary judgment to the County
after denying the Petitioner the right to amend his pleadings?
II. Should the Court of Appeals have addressed Petitioner's Public Duty
I. Summary Judgment/Refusal to Allow Supplemental Pleadings
Petitioner argues the trial court improperly denied his motion for leave to file
and serve a supplemental complaint. We agree.
Petitioner filed a motion under Rule 15 (d), SCRCP, seeking to supplement his
complaint by setting forth events that had transpired since his original complaint.
Even though a supplemental pleading is technically different than a motion to
amend the pleadings under Rule 15 (a) SCRCP, the standard for granting or denying
these motions is the same. Cf .Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and
Procedure: Civil 2d §1504 (1990) ("Inasmuch as the discretion exercised by the
court in deciding whether to grant leave to amend is similar to that exercised on a
motion for leave to file a supplemental pleading, the court's inattention to the formal
distinction between amendment and supplementation is of no consequence.").
Therefore, South Carolina case law interpretingRule 15(a), SCRCP, is authoritative
in analyzing Petitioner's request to supplement under Rule 15(d), SCRCP.
Petitioner met the requirements of Rule 15(d), SCRCP, and should have been
allowed to amend his complaint. Rule 15, SCRCP, provides that leave to amend
shall be freely given when justice requires and does not prejudice any other party.
See Rule 15, SCRCP; Foggie v. CSX Transp., Inc., 313 S.C. 98, 431 S.E.2d 587, 590
(1993). It is well established that a motion to amend or supplement is addressed to
the discretion of the trial judge, and the party opposing the motion has the burden
of establishing prejudice. Id.
In the current case, the County failed to argue that allowing the supplemental
pleading would be prejudicial. "The prejudice Rule 15 envisions is a lack of notice
that the new issue is going to be tried, and a lack of opportunity to refute it." Pool
v. Pool, 329 S.C. 324, 494 S.E.2d 820 (1998). It is the responsibility of the party
opposing an amendment or supplemental complaint to establish prejudice.
Forrester v. Smith & Steele Builders, Inc., 295 S.C. 504, 507, 369 S.E.2d 156, 158
(Ct. App. 1988). In the current case, there is no such prejudice. The County not only
had notice that Petitioner wanted to supplement the complaint, it already thought
the trial court had allowed the supplemental pleading. In such a situation there
would be no prejudice to the County in allowing Petitioner to file the supplemental
Instead of arguing prejudice, the County argued that its immunity under the
Tort Claims Act would make amendment of the pleadings futile. The trial court
agreed and made no findings that the supplemental pleading would prejudice the
County. The Court of Appeals affirmed, stating,
[A] s a matter of law, [Petitioner] could not maintain an action against
County for its actions surrounding the sale of his mobile home absent
any evidence that the County failed to follow the proper procedure
involving the tax sale.
(emphasis added). In his complaint, Petitioner alleged that he had provided the
County with his correct prison address. Petitioner also alleged in his complaint that
he had received mail from the County at his correct prison address. The notice
statute required the County to send Petitioner notice:
... at the best address available which is either the address shown on
the deed conveying the property to him, the property address, or such
other corrected or forwarding address that the current owner of record
has filed with the appropriate tax authority, of which corrected or
forwarding address the officer authorized to collect delinquent taxes,
assessments, penalties, and costs has actual knowledge, or to a known
grantee of the delinquent taxpayer of the property on which the
S.C. Code Ann.§12-51-40(a) (Supp. 1998).
The County does not dispute Petitioner's allegations concerning his updated
address. Instead, the County maintains that under the Tort Claims Act it cannot be
held liable because there is no evidence in the Record that Petitioner's claims
concerning his correspondence with the County are true.
Generally, at the pleadings stage, the factual allegations made by the plaintiff
in regards to his claim are taken as true. Accord Bankers Trust Co. v. Braten, 317
S.C. 547, 455 S.E.2d 199 (Ct. App. 1995). At the initial hearing on supplementation,
Petitioner was not required to provide evidence to the Court of his allegation. The
Court of Appeals specifically recognized that the immunity defense might not be
available to the County if Petitioner could provide evidence that the County had his
correct address. The trial court and the Court of Appeals both erred by requiring
Petitioner to present this evidence at the pleadings stage in order to allow the
If the Court had properly allowed the supplemental complaint, then summary
judgment at that same hearing would have been inappropriate. Rule 56, SCRCP,
requires 10 days notice before a hearing on a summary judgment motion. See Rule
56(c), SCRCP. Awarding summary judgment at the same hearing granting a
supplemental complaint would violate the notice requirement. The prejudice in
doing so is obvious in this case where Petitioner was not given the opportunity by the
trial court to produce any evidence in support of his claim. As a result, we reverse
the decision of the Court of Appeals so that Petitioner can file a supplemental
complaint that includes his negligence cause of action.
II. Special Duty Exception to the Public Duty Doctrine
Petitioner also argues that the trial court and Court of Appeals erred by not
addressing his negligence claim based on the special duty exception to the public
duty doctrine. We agree.
Initially, we recognize the difference between immunity under the Tort Claims
Act and the public duty doctrine.
Immunity is an affirmative defense which must be pleaded and can be
waived. One who pleads immunity conditionally admits the plaintiff's
case, but asserts immunity as a bar to liability. In contrast, the public
duty rule is a negative defense which denies an element of the
plaintiff's cause of action-the existence of a duty of care to the
individual plaintiff. The burden is on the plaintiff to show a duty of
care was owed to him. Rayfield v. South Carolina Dep't of
Corrections, 297 S.C. 95, 105-06, 374 S.E.2d 910, 916 (Ct. App. 1988),
cert. denied, 298 S.C. 204, 379 S.E.2d t33 (1989). In the context of a
negligence action, the public duty rule may be stated as follows: a
statute prescribing the duties of a public office does not, without more,
impose on the person holding that office a duty of care towards
individual members of the public in the performance of those duties.
Id. at 105, 374 S.E.2d at 915-16.
Wells v. City of Lynchburg, 33 t S.C. 296, 501 S.E.2d 746, 752 (Ct. App. 1998).
Even where the County does not have tort immunity, to make out a claim of
negligence against the County under South Carolina law, Petitioner "must show (1)
a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty by
a negligent actor omission; and (3) damage proximately resulting from the breach."
Andrews v. Piedmont Air Lines, 297 S.C. 367, 377 S.E.2d 127, 128 (1989).
Ordinarily, under South Carolina's public duty doctrine, public officials are "not
liable to individuals for their negligence in discharging public duties as the duty is
owed to the public at large rather than [to] anyone individually." Jensen v.
Anderson County Dep't of Soc. Services, 304 S.C. 195, 199, 403 S.E.2d 615, 617
In Summers v. Harrison Constr., 298 S.C. 4511 381 S.E.2d 493 (Ct. App.
t989), the Court of Appeals stated that "statutes which create or define the duties
of a public office have the essential purpose of providing for the structure and
operation of government or for securing the general welfare and safety of the
public," and that " [s]uch statutes create no duty of care towards individual members
of the general public." Id. S.C. at 455-56,38t S.E.2d at 496. Under South Carolina
law, however, a "special duty' to particular individuals may be created by such a
(t) an essential purpose of the statute is to protect against a particular
kind of harm;
(2) the statute, either directly or indirectly, imposes on a specific public
officer a duty to guard against or not cause that harm;
(3) the class of persons the statute intends to protect is identifiable
before the fact;
(4) the plaintiff is a person within the protected class;
(5) the public officer knows or has reason to know of the likelihood of
harm to members of the class if he fails to do his duty; and
(6) the officer is given sufficient authority to act in the circumstances
or he undertakes to act in the exercise of his office.
See Brady Dev. Co. v. Town of Hilton Head Island, 312 S.C. 73, 439 S.E.2d 266,
In general, we have been reluctant to find special duties statutorily imposed.
See, e.g., Brady Dev. Co. v. Town of Hilton Head Island, 312 S.C. 73., 439 S.E.2d
266, 268 (1993) (holding that the town's Development Standards Ordinance was
intended to protect the public from over-development, not to protect homeowners
from deprivation of water and other services); Bellamy v. Brown, 305 S.C. 291,408
S.E.2d 219, 220-21 (1991) (holding that statutorily prescribed exceptions to the
disclosure requirements of the state's Freedom of Information Act did not establish
a duty to maintain confidentiality); see also Summers v. Harrison Constr., 98 S.C.
451, 381 S.E.2d 493 (Ct. App. 1989) (holding that a state statute requiring officers
who issue building permits to secure evidence that the builders and renovators of
residences are licensed did not create a special, actionable duty to protect
homeowners); Jensen v. South Carolina Dep't of Soc. Services, 297 S.C. 323, 377
S.E.2d 102, 105-07 (Ct. App.1988) (holding that the state's Child Protection Act,
which required state and local officials to carry out various training, monitoring,
reporting, and investigative responsibilities, did impose on local officials to whom
instances of alleged child abuse had been reported a special duty to investigate and
intervene, but did not impose on state officials a special duty to protect particular
children); Rayfield v. South Carolina Dep't of Corrections, 297 S.C. 95,374 S.E.2d
910, 916-17 (Ct. App. 1988) (holding that a state statute requiring prison and parole
officials to keep records of prisoners' habits and deportment and to prepare
adequate reports concerning parole candidates did not create a special duty to
protect particular members of the public against crimes committed by released
The statute creating a duty to notify delinquent taxpayers in the current case
is different from the statutes involved in these previous cases. All requirements of
law leading up to tax sales are intended for the protection of the taxpayer against
surprise or the sacrifice of his property and are regarded as mandatory and are
strictly enforced. Dibble v. Bryant, 274 S.C. 481, 265 S.E.2d 673 (1980). Failure to
give the required notice is a fundamental defect in the tax proceedings which
renders the proceedings absolutely void. Donohue v. Ward, 298 S.C. 75,378 S.E.2d
261 (Ct. App. 1989). This Court will set aside sales where section 12-51-40 has not
been complied with by public officials. See Snelgrove v. Lanham, 298 S.C. 302,379
S.E.2d 904 (1989).
As a notice provision, section 12-51-40 creates a special duty. However, every
failure of a delinquent taxpayer to receive notice does not automatically qualify for
the special duty exception to the public duty doctrine. It is only in cases such as this
one where the delinquent taxpayer asserts that he provided the County his correct
address and the County failed to use that address that the special duty exception
may arise. Even then, summary judgment based on tort immunity may be
appropriate if the delinquent taxpayer cannot provide any evidence that the County
had a corrected address. In the current. case, Petitioner was never given the chance
to put forth that evidence.
Based on the foregoing, the decision of the Court of Appeals is REVERSED.
FINNEY, C.J., MOORE and BURNETT, JJ., concur. WALLER, A.J.,