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Procedure After Verdict
Upon the rendering of a verdict (by the jury or the judge in a non-jury matter), the final judgment of the court should be entered in the civil docket book of the magistrate's court. If one or both parties were absent at the trial, the magistrate should have served upon the parties a written statement so as to give each party notice of the court's judgment or other action, as in the case of a dismissal or postponement. Such written notice should also be served on the parties when a magistrate fails to announce the final judgment at trial in the presence of the parties. This written notification of the judgment is important in these two situations because the time periods relating to appeals and new trials begin to run only after the parties receive actual notice of the judgments.
After the judgment is rendered and docketed, the judgment of the magistrate's court is enforceable by the magistrate within his county in the manner prescribed by law.
As judgments of the Circuit Court offer several advantages which magistrates' judgments do not, the victorious party may wish to record the judgment in the circuit court pursuant to the procedures of S.C. Code Ann. §§22-3-300 and 15-39-90. Upon request, the magistrate must provide that party with a "transcript" of the judgment which may then be filed, by the requesting party, with the clerk of court of the county in which it was rendered. After being so filed with the circuit court, it becomes a judgment of that court, and is enforceable as any other judgment of the circuit court. A certified copy of the transcript may be filed and docketed in the clerk's office of any other counties with the same effect. A magistrate's judgment is valid for three years, whereas a circuit court judgment is valid for ten years. Therefore, the filing of a magistrate's judgment in circuit court extends the life of the judgment to that of the circuit court's. Judgments in South Carolina may not be renewed. The South Carolina Supreme Court has concluded that a judgment is “utterly extinguished after the expiration of ten years from the date of entry.” Hardee v. Lynch, 212 S.C. 6, 17, 46 S. E.2d 179, 183, (1948); see also Garrison v. Owens, 258 S.C. 442,446-47, 189 S.E.2d 31,33 (1972) (stating that “[a] judgment lien is purely statutory; its duration as fixed by the legislature may not be prolonged by the courts and the bringing of an action to enforce the lien will not preserve it beyond the time fixed by the statute, if such time expires before the action is tried.”).
If the magistrate should grant a new trial, the judgment is "set aside" or "vacated" in both the magistrate's court and the circuit court, if filed in both.
The prevailing party in an action is entitled to recover those costs provided for by law from the losing party as part of the judgment, which shall not be included when determining the jurisdictional amount of the court. See Rule 17(a), SCRMC. Any party, before paying any costs in the magistrate's court, may demand of the magistrate an itemized account of such costs, and no person can be compelled to pay the costs unless the magistrate furnishes the accounting. (§ 22-3-1010). Rule 54(e) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure defines taxable costs, and includes costs authorized by statute, all sanctions including reasonable attorneys fees, if ordered, imposed upon another party and in favor of the prevailing party under any statute or rule of civil procedure, all filing and recording fees, fees of the Sheriff, fees incurred in service of process, witnesses’ fees and fees for exemplification and copies of papers necessarily obtained for trial.
4. Attorney's Fees
Attorney's fees may be awarded in a civil case in magistrate's court when appropriate. The general rule is that attorney's fees are not recoverable unless authorized by contract or statute. Where there is a contract or statute providing for reasonable attorney's fees, the award of fees is left to the sole discretion of the trial judge and will not be disturbed on appeal unless an abuse of discretion by the trial judge is shown. In awarding reasonable attorney's fees, the following six factors should be considered:
1. The nature, extent, and difficulty of the legal services rendered.
2. The time and labor necessarily devoted to the case.
3. The professional standing of counsel.
4. The fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services.
5. The contingency of compensation.
6. The beneficial results obtained.
Baron Data Systems v. Gross, Lotter & Smith, 377 S.E.2d 296 (1989). Attorney's fees should not be awarded pro se litigants (parties representing themselves), even if they are pro se attorney litigants. Calhoun v. Calhoun, 339 S.C. 96, 529 S.E.2d 14 (2000). As stated in G(3) immediately above, attorney's fees would be considered as taxable costs and would not be included when determining your jurisdictional amount.
5. New Trial
A "new trial" is a re-examination in the same court of an issue of fact after a verdict is rendered by a jury, or is decided by the magistrate in a non-jury trial. The only remedies available to a party against whom a judgment is rendered are either to appeal (§ 18-7-10, et seq)., or to make a motion for a new trial (§§ 22-3-990 and 22-3-1000), and appeal upon the refusal of such motion.
A motion for a new trial must be made (and should be required to be in writing) within five days from the time the party receives notice of the judgment; but if the judgment resulted from a default and failure of the party to appear at trial, or in a situation in which appellant did not have notice of the trial, the five day period begins to run on the day after personal notice is received. (§ 22-3-1000). See Brewer v. S.C. State Highway Dept., 261 S.C. 52, 198 S.E.2d (1973); O'Rourke v. Atlantic Paint Co., 91 S.C. 399, 74 S.E. 930 (1912). The right of appeal from the judgment exists for thirty days after the refusal of a motion for a new trial. Section 22-3-1000.
While the law does not generally favor setting aside a verdict, especially a jury verdict, the granting of a new trial in any case is entirely within the discretion of the magistrate. However, new trials may be granted only for a reason which new trials have usually been granted in the circuit courts of this State. Examples of reasons for which new trials were granted are as follows:
When the jury verdict is so confused that it is not absolutely clear what was intended, Anderson v. Aetna Casualty and Surety, 175 S.C. 254, 178 S.E. 819 (1934).
Where the jury disregarded the charges of the judge, Respass & Respass, C P.A. v. King Pontiac, 236 S.C. 363, 114 S.E.2d 486 (1960).
Where the jury verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence, Daniels v. Bernard, 270 S.C. 51, 240 S.E.2d 518 (1978).
Where an excessive verdict is rendered, and the judge is so convinced by clear conviction, Rush v. Blanchard, 310 S.C. 375, 426 S.E.2d 802 (1993).
Where there was an error in the amount of the verdict, Levi v. Legg and Bell, 23 S.C. 282 (1885).
Where verdict is grossly inadequate in a tort action, Toole v. Toole, 260 S.C. 235, 195 S.E.2d 389 (1973).
In Clark v. State, 315 S.C. 385, 434 S.E.2d 266 (1993), the S.C. Supreme Court held that to obtain a new trial based on after discovered evidence, the party must show that the evidence:
(1) would probably change the result if a new trial is had;
(2) has been discovered since the trial;
(3) could not have been discovered before trial;
(4) is material to the issue of guilt or innocence; and
(5) is not merely cumulative or impeaching.
For relief from a judgment obtained in a magistrate's court due to the clerical mistakes, mistake, inadvertence, surprise, excusable neglect of a party or their attorney, newly discovered evidence, fraud, misrepresentation, misconduct, or the judgment is void, see Rule 60, SCRCP.
Any person may appeal the judgment of the magistrate's court to the circuit court of the county in which the judgment was rendered. A party may appeal from a judgment in a magistrate's court without having made a motion for a new trial with the magistrate, but once such a motion for a new trial is made, an appeal of the judgment is not properly made until refusal of the motion.
During the time allowed for the filing of the appeal, or if an appeal is pending, no sale shall be made on any execution until the expiration of time for appeal or until the appeal is heard and decided or dismissed. (§ 22-3-310). In actions for the claim and delivery of personal property when bond for the property claimed has been properly given by either party, the status of such property shall not be changed until after the expiration of the time for appeal or termination of the appeal. (§ 22-3-310). In cases in which a bond with surety to cover the amount of judgment and costs is issued by a party, the appeal acts as a supersedeas, and no executions may issue until the appeal is terminated. (§ 18-7-10). In residential landlord actions, the filing of a bond stays the execution of judgment pending the outcome of an appeal. (§ 27-40-800).
In instances in which a bond must be paid in any civil proceeding, the bond should be paid to the clerk of court of the county in which the magistrate holds office. (§§ 15-1-230 and 15-1-260).
The party appealing, the appellant, must serve a notice of appeal upon both the magistrate and the opposing party, or respondent, within thirty days of receipt of notice of the judgment, order, or decision from which the appeal is taken. In addition, the appellant must serve the notice of appeal on the clerk of court and pay the appropriate filing fee. (Rule 74, SCRCP) (See §8-21-310(11)(a) for the amount of the filing fee).
If the appellant appeared at trial and the judge announced the final judgment in his presence, written notice of the judgment is not required in order to start the running of the thirty day period. If the appellant failed to appear at trial, or the judge failed to announce the final judgment in the appellant 's presence, the thirty day period begins to run only after appellant's receipt of written notice of the judgment, order, or decision. (§ 18-7-20). If a motion for a new trial is properly made within the prescribed five day period pursuant to § 22-3-1000, but refused, the right of appeal exists for thirty days after receipt of written notice of the refusal, during which time the notice of appeal must be served.
The notice of appeal must be served upon the opposing party pursuant to Rule 5, SCRCP within the time limit previously discussed. The magistrate should be served with a notice so that the return may be prepared and transmitted to the clerk of the circuit court in a timely fashion. This procedure is clearly anticipated by Rule 75, SCRCP.
When a party is represented by an attorney, the notice of appeal must be served upon the attorney unless the court orders service directly upon the party. The attorney or party is served by delivery of the notice of appeal to him or mailing it to him at his last known address.
If no address is known, the notice may be left with the clerk of court. Delivery of the notice of appeal can be accomplished by handing the notice to the attorney or the party, or by leaving it at his office with someone in charge. If no one is in charge of the office, service can be accomplished by leaving the notice in a conspicuous place in the office. When the office is closed or the attorney or party to be served does not have an office, service may be accomplished by leaving the notice of appeal at his dwelling place or usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein. (Rule 5(b)(1), SCRCP).
The notice of appeal should contain a general statement of the grounds upon which the appeal is founded. It should state in what particular or particulars the appellant claims the judgment should have been more favorable to him. If the appeal is based on disagreement with the amount of the judgment, the appellant must state what the amount should have been. (§ 18-7-30).
The magistrate, within 30 days after service of the notice of appeal, must make a return to the circuit court of the original record consisting of a list of the witnesses, their testimony, the proceedings, and the judgment, and file the return with the clerk of the circuit court. (Rule 75, SCRCP). The clerk of the magistrates court must certify the return before transmitting it to the clerk of the circuit court. If the magistrates court does not have a clerk, the magistrate must certify the return. (Rule 75, SCRCP). When a magistrate by whom a judgment appealed from shall have gone out of office, or have been removed to another county of the State, he shall make a return as if he were still in office in that county. (§§ 18-7-70 and 18-7-90). If the magistrate should die, become insane (or otherwise incapacitated) or be outside of the State before having made a return, the circuit court may examine witnesses on oath as to the facts and circumstances of the trial or judgment and thereby determine the appeal as if a return had been received. (§ 18-7-90).
If the return of the magistrate should be defective, the circuit court may order a further or amended return as often as is necessary (§ 18-7-80), or if the magistrate continually fails to respond to a request for an adequate return, the case may be remanded and a new trial ordered. Chapman v. Computers, Parts & Repairs, 334 SC 387, 513 S.E.2d 120 (1994); A & I, Inc. v. Gore, 366 S.C. 233, 621 S.E.2d 383 (Ct. App. 2005).
Section 18-7-100 permits the respondent to offer in writing to the appellant and the magistrate a correction of the judgment. This section should be examined for the time periods and procedures in the event such an offer is made.
Either party pursuant to § 18-7-110 may, at any time before trial of the appeal, offer to the other party (in writing) an accommodation by allowing judgment against him in a certain sum. This section should be examined when the need arises.
Upon hearing the appeal, the circuit court may give judgment according to the justice of the case, without regard to technical errors and defects not affecting the merits. (§ 18-7-170).