South Carolina Court Records
What are South Carolina Small Claims Cases and Class Action Lawsuits?
In South Carolina, the Magistrate Court serves as the small claims court where lawsuits involving $7,500 or less are handled. The only exception to this limitation is landlord and tenant cases. Typically, South Carolina Magistrates preside over such cases even when the amount in dispute exceeds $7,500.
A class-action lawsuit can be initiated against a defendant by a group of people with common injuries caused by the defendant’s action or product. In practice, class action lawsuits include claims that are too small to invoke individual litigation. An aggregate of such claims may lead to a significant total amount—enough to make a lawsuit worthwhile. The Circuit Court handles class action lawsuits in the state of South Carolina.
Generally, anybody can file and begin a case, including a small claims case, in the state. However, this is not true for class action lawsuits. Among other requirements, a class must have many members before it can be certified and allowed to proceed.
What is a Class Action Lawsuit in South Carolina?
In South Carolina, a class action lawsuit is a civil claim where one of the parties is a group of people who share a common grievance against the other party. Every class action in the United States consists of a number of absent parties (class members) represented by one member of the class (representative plaintiff).
Unlike traditional cases, class action lawsuits are governed by special procedures outlined under both federal and state laws. Pursuant to Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedures, a class action lawsuit must meet certain criteria to be eligible to continue.
- The class must be “so numerous that the joinder of all members is impracticable.” This requirement, often referred to as numerosity, does not provide an exact number needed for a class action lawsuit. While classes with as few as 20 members have been certified, most classes usually consist of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of persons.
- There must be “questions of law or fact common to the class”. This commonality requirement ensures that the members of the class and the class representatives present the same factual and legal questions so that a single court determination could apply to all or most factual and legal issues in the case.
- The claims and defenses of the class representatives must be “typical of the claims or defenses of the class.” Also known as the typicality rule, this allows a binding decision on the claims of both the class representatives and class members. Also, members of the class may sue or be sued as representatives of everyone in the class if their claims or defenses are similar.
- The representatives must “fairly and adequately protect the interest of the class”. This rule commonly referred to as adequacy of representation ensures that a decision in the class representative’s favor will also be applicable to the larger class. This eliminates possible conflicts of interests and allows proper relief and competent legal representation for both representatives and class members.
Rule 23(a) permits both plaintiff and defendant class actions. However, in practice, plaintiff class actions are more common. If Rule 23(a) requirements are met, the next eligibility criteria is that the class action must meet the standards of one of three categories in Rule 23(b).
- Rule 23(b)(1)(a) covers suits where separate actions might cause a risk of inconsistent judgments.
- Rule 23(b)(1)(b) may apply when the assets available to pay claims are limited and may not be sufficient to satisfy all claims. The use of this provision for certifying no-notice, no-opt-out classes in large mass tort cases has been controversial, and the Supreme Court recently struck down such a class.
- Rule 23(b)(2) concerns claims for injunctive relief, where any monetary remedy would be only incidental to the injunctive relief
Most class actions seeking money damages are brought under the third category, Rule 23(b)(3).3. Typically, Rule 23(b)(3) class actions must meet two further requirements in addition to the criteria of Rule 23(a).
- First, the questions that are common to the class must predominate over any questions that affect only individual class members. This requirement ensures that the class will be “sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation.” Predominance is judged on the basis of how trial time and focus will be spent.
- Second, class treatment must be “superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.” In determining whether the superiority requirement is met, the court must take into account several factors, the most important of which is “the difficulties likely to be encountered in the management of a class action,” or “manageability.”
It is important to note that Section 15–5–50 of the South Carolina Code is the state equivalent of the federal Rule 23. Both rules feature essentially the same requirements except for Subsection (5) of the state statute which requires that each class member have a claim exceeding $100 where money damages are the primary relief sought.
How do I File a Claim in a South Carolina Small Claims Court?
To file a civil claim in the South Carolina small claims court, petitioners must visit the applicable county Magistrate Court with appropriate documents and fees. According to the Magistrate Rule 4, petitioners may file their claims in the county where the defendant lives or principally operates business. The rule also allows interested parties to file their lawsuits in the county where the most substantial part of the cause of action arose. Each county in the state of South Carolina has a local Magistrate Courthouse. To determine the applicable courthouse, contact the public library or the resident courthouse. Querying parties can find the magistrate court’s contact information through the official website of the South Carolina Judicial Department or by simply looking through the government section of the phone book.
It is recommended to estimate the value of the claim before proceeding to the Magistrate Courthouse. This is because the court only handles “small claims” cases valued at $7,500 or less.
At the courthouse, petitioners are prompted to explain what they are claiming and why. Usually, this explanation is provided in a written form. To save time, it is advisable to prepare the written statement before coming into the courthouse. Those who have no idea how to write a statement can verbally explain to the court staff who will in turn put the explanation in a written form. Once written, the statement will be known as the complaint. A good complaint must contain the following:
- The identity of the person, business, or organization that caused the personal injury or property damage
- A valid mailing address where the court may send counterclaims or documents concerning the case
- Copies of documents supporting the claim. Such documents can include photographs, bank statements, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, deeds, cancelled checks, etc. Note that the originals may be required during trial. So, ensure to bring them along on the scheduled trial date.
- A filing fee. The South Carolina Magistrate Court operates a uniform filing fee schedule. The applicable fee is about $80. Petitioners may review the civil filing fees provided in Attachment K of the Memorandum. Those who cannot afford to pay the filing fees must file and attach a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis to their complaints. Usually, an affidavit or sworn statement stating that the petitioner is unable to pay the filing fee is also required.
Upon complete filing of the claim, the petitioner is then known as the plaintiff. It is the duty of the court to issue a summons. A copy of the summons, complaint, and attached documents is then served on each person being sued.
Do I Need a Small Claims Lawyer?
No, both plaintiff and defendant do not need to hire a lawyer for a small claims case. As a general rule, a person suing or being sued in the South Carolina Magistrate Court is legally within their rights to represent themselves.
During trial, both plaintiff and defendant will present their case/defense, question witnesses, and provide documents to support their claim. They may achieve this themselves or with the help of an attorney. The South Carolina Judicial Department strongly recommends speaking with a lawyer to review the possible outcome of the case from a legal standpoint. The attorney will also determine if the circumstances of the case require a bench or jury trial.
How do Class Action Lawsuits Work in South Carolina?
Certain federal and South Carolina State laws provide requirements that must be met before a class action can be certified and allowed to be pursued. Typically, class actions consist of class representatives and class members. The representatives are actively involved in the case, attend court hearings, and represent the common interest of the entire class. Class members are those persons or groups of persons that are directly affected by the claims against a defendant in a class action. These members do not necessarily have to be actively involved in the case.
The representatives are required to hire a class action lawyer on behalf of the class members. The attorney determines if the allegation and class is fit to be certified by the court. Once determined, the attorney will file a summons and complaint in the appropriate Circuit Court. Note that filing fees and court fees may apply.
The second step, which is the most important is court certification. The court can only certify a class if it meets the basic elements described above while determining that a class action is the best option to manage the multiple allegations. After certification, the class could take more or less time to resolve than single party lawsuits. The length of time majorly depends on the defendant in the case. More often than not, class action lawsuits end with a settlement.
The court may approve or decline a settlement and does so upon finding out it is reasonable and fair to the class. Attorney fees are covered as a percentage of the settlement and class members do not have to pay any money from their pockets to participate in a class action.
Is a Class Action Better Than a Single Party Suit?
The question of whether or not a class action is better than a single party suit depends on the nature of the case. Usually, a class action makes it possible to litigate small claims that are otherwise too small to be vindicated individually. However, it is important to note that plaintiffs who join class actions cannot file individual claims for the same damage or injury. Also, if the case ends in an unsuccessful note, victims will lose out on any opportunity to recoup their losses. Even when a class action lawsuit is successful, the remuneration will be shared by all plaintiffs in the case, which could leave many with an amount that is rather too small to cover their losses. As such, to determine whether a class action is better than a single suit in a specific case, it is best to speak to an experienced legal advisor.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the document or person involved
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.
What Cases are Heard by Small Claims Courts in South Carolina?
South Carolina small claims courts or the Magistrate Courts hear a variety of civil disputes in which the contested amount is not more than $7500. Examples of cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the Magistrate Courts include:
- Bad debt or loan cases
- Landlord-tenant disputes such as eviction cases
- Failure to return a security deposit
- Breach of warranty disputes
- Car repair frauds
- Defamation (libel/slander)
- Tort cases involving personal injury, product liability, property damage, and professional malpractice