Advocate's Journal

Orders Affecting a Substantial Right Are Immediately Appealable

The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed a decision of the court of appeals, which dismissed as interlocutory an appeal that severed a number of defendants from a lawsuit under the label of bifurcation.  Plaintiffs sued a nursing home for negligence, and also sued the nursing home’s parent/corporate companies alleging that the parent companies were vicariously liable for the negligence of the nursing home.  The parent companies moved to bifurcate the trial, which the trial court granted “finding that without first proving negligence against the nursing home the [plaintiffs’] claims for corporate negligence could not proceed.”  A single judge of the court of appeals dismissed plaintiffs’ appeal, finding the order granting bifurcation was not immediately appealable.

In a 3-2 decision, the Supreme Court reversed but refused to decide the matter on the grounds of bifurcation, stating that the court’s “review of trial court orders is not constrained by how the order is styled.”  According to the court, the trial court’s order treated plaintiffs’ claims “as solely on vicarious liability that can be tried only after a finding of negligence on the part of [the nursing home], when instead they are grounded in direct corporate liability which follows independent, albeit interconnected, duties owed to the [plaintiffs].”  Thus, the trial court’s order affected a substantial right since it prevented the plaintiffs “from being architects of their own complaint, and deprives them of bringing their case against the defendant of their own choosing.”  Morrow v. Fundamental Long-Term Care Holdings, LLC, Op. No. 27532 (S.C. June 17, 2015) (Shearouse Adv. Sh. No. 23).