In The Court of Appeals

Zachary T. Williams,        Appellant,


The Housing Authority of the City of Columbia and Mike Archie,        Defendants,

of whom The Housing Authority of the City of Columbia is the        Respondent.

Appeal From Richland County
J. Ernest Kinard, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

Unpublished Opinion No. 2003-UP-464
Submitted May 12, 2003 – Filed July 9, 2003


John Wesley Locklair, III, of Murrells Inlet; for Appellant.

Anthony W. Livoti, of Columbia; for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  Zachary Williams sued the Housing Authority of the City of Columbia (the Housing Authority) alleging the Housing Authority negligently failed to protect him from an attack. Williams appeals the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Housing Authority.  We affirm. [1]


Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Williams, the facts are as follows.  Mike Archie is the former live-in boyfriend of Tabatha Simons.  Archie and Simons have two children.  On the night of the assault, Williams was a guest of Simons at her apartment in Lewis Scott Court, a housing development owned and operated by the Housing Authority.  Archie came to Simons’ apartment, banged on the door, and demanded entry.  After Simons refused, Archie walked to the apartment of Larry Webber, a Housing Authority employee who is responsible for after-hours maintenance at the complex, and obtained a key, which he immediately used to enter into Simons’ apartment. [2]   Upon entering the apartment, Archie assaulted Williams.

Williams brought an action asserting negligence and negligent supervision against the Housing Authority for injuries he received when Archie attacked him.  The Housing Authority moved for summary judgment arguing it owed no duty to Williams to protect him from the attack.  Lewis Scott Court was described as a generally safe place to live by several deposition witnesses.  Moreover, witnesses asserted Archie and Williams were acquaintances and had never previously been involved in an altercation with each other.  The trial court granted the Housing Authority’s summary judgment motion.  Williams appeals.


Did the lower court err in granting summary judgment to the Housing Authority because “special circumstances” were created by an Authority employee that imposed a duty on the Housing Authority to Williams?


An appellate court reviewing the grant of summary judgment applies the same standard applied by the trial court pursuant to Rule 56(c), SCRCP.  Fleming v. Rose, 350 S.C. 488, 493, 567 S.E.2d 857, 860 (2002).  “Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact such that the moving party must prevail as a matter of law.”  Id.  In deciding whether to grant summary judgment, a court should view the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.  McClanahan v. Richland County Council, 350 S.C. 433, 438, 567 S.E.2d 240, 242 (2002).


To maintain an action for negligence, Williams must plead and prove the Housing Authority owed him a duty of care, that duty of care was breached, and the breach proximately caused him damages.  Bloom v. Ravoira, 339 S.C. 417, 422, 529 S.E.2d 710, 712 (2000).  In a negligence action, the court must determine as a matter of law whether the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.  Faile v. South Carolina Dep’t of Juvenile Justice, 350 S.C. 315, 334, 566 S.E.2d 536, 545 (2002).  Absent a duty, the defendant is entitled to summary judgment.  See id. (holding absent a duty, the defendant is entitled to directed verdict); Anders v. South Carolina Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 307 S.C. 371, 373, 415 S.E.2d 406, 407 (Ct. App. 1992) (noting “[r]elief granted by way of summary judgment is a first cousin to a directed verdict.”).

South Carolina law does not mandate a landlord provide security in or around leased premises.  Cramer v. Balcor Prop. Mgmt., Inc., 312 S.C. 440, 444, 441 S.E.2d 317, 319 (1994) (“Under South Carolina law a landlord does not owe a duty to a tenant to provide security in and around a leased premises to protect the tenant from criminal activity of third parties.”).  Nor does it require a landlord to protect a tenant from criminal activity merely because of the parties’ relationship.  Goode v. St. Stephens United Methodist Church, 329 S.C. 433, 442, 494 S.E.2d 827, 832 (Ct. App. 1997).  Additionally, South Carolina law does not impose a duty on landlords to protect the guests of their tenants.  Id.

Williams first argues the Housing Authority is liable because it was foreseeable that giving a key to Archie could result in harm.  We disagree.  No matter how foreseeable an event may be, its mere forseeability does not create an affirmative duty.  South Carolina State Ports Auth. v. Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Inc., 289 S.C. 373, 376, 346 S.E.2d 324, 325 (1986).

Williams next argues Restatement (Second) of Torts § 323 imposes a duty upon the Housing Authority to protect him from harm because its employee gave Archie a key to Simons’ apartment.  Section 323 provides:

One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render service to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of the other’s person or things, is subject to liability to the other for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to perform his undertaking, if (a) his failure to exercise such care increases the risk of such harm, or (b) the harm is suffered because of the other’s reliance upon the undertaking.

This restatement section is consistent with our law that a person can voluntarily undertake a duty.  Faile, 350 S.C. at 334, 566 S.E.2d at 546.

Assuming, arguendo, the Housing Authority voluntarily undertook the service of providing keys to gain access to tenants’ apartments, we must decide to whom the duty to exercise reasonable care in rendering the service flowed.  Williams asserts he is the beneficiary of the duty.  We disagree.

“A licensee is a social guest or ‘a person who is privileged to enter upon land by virtue of the possessor’s consent.’”  Hoover v. Broome, 324 S.C. 531, 535, 479 S.E.2d 62, 64 (Ct. App. 1996) (quoting Neil v. Byrum, 288 S.C. 472, 473, 343 S.E.2d 615, 616 (1986)).  As a social guest of a tenant in the complex, Williams was a mere licensee.  This court reviewed a situation similar to the case before us in Goode.         

Goode involved a licensee who was a social guest of a tenant in an apartment complex.  Another tenant and his guests assaulted Goode.  Goode asserted the apartment complex owed him a duty.  Goode, 329 S.C. at 438, 494 S.E.2d at 829.  Goode argued, in part, the apartment complex created a section 323 duty to protect him from tortuous acts of third parties by undertaking to provide security to tenants and their guests. We rejected Goode’s argument, noting the security measures were undertaken to protect the tenants of the complex, not the general public.  Id. at 444, 494 S.E.2d at 832-33.  Likewise, when the Housing Authority voluntarily undertakes to furnish apartment keys it does so for the benefit of the tenants, not the general public or licensees. 

If any duty was created by the special circumstances of this case, it ran from the Housing Authority to Simons, the tenant.  The Housing Authority’s obligation to act prudently in performing its duty did not inure to Williams’ benefit.  Because the Housing Authority owed Williams no duty, the trial court properly granted its motion for summary judgment.


HEARN, C.J., CONNOR and STILWELL, JJ., concur.

[1]        We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.

[2]        Webber denies giving Archie the key.  The trial court assumed the allegation was true for purposes of the summary judgment motion.