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South Carolina SC revives home builders' suit against school district

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 18, 2013


COLUMBIA, S.C. (Legal Newsline) -- The South Carolina Supreme Court, in a ruling last week, revived a lawsuit filed by home builders against a school district for so-called "impact fees" on new homes built in the district.

"Because we find issues of fact raised by the complaint that must be resolved before the constitutionality of 2009 Act No. 99 can be determined, we reverse and remand for further proceedings," Justice Costa Pleicones wrote in the court's Sept. 11 ruling.

The act permits the school district -- in this case, School District No. 2 of Dorchester County -- to impose an impact fee to be paid by developers on "new residential dwelling units constructed within the school district."

The school district's Board of Trustees adopted the impact fee effective June 23, 2009.

The Home Builders Association of South Carolina and the Charleston-Trident Home Builders Association Inc., each representing home builders, sued seeking injunctive relief and challenging the constitutionality of the act.

The plaintiffs argue the state constitution requires statewide uniformity and limits special legislation.

The school district moved for a judgment on the pleadings, which a circuit court judge granted.

A majority of the state high court reversed the circuit judge's ruling.

"The Act itself is silent on any unique or special funding needs of respondent School District. Further, the complaint alleges the Act applies only to respondent School District, and that the district's funding needs are no different from many other districts in the state, that it does not have unique funding requirements, and that other similarly situated school districts are faced with the same issues," Pleicones wrote in the four-page opinion.

"It specifically alleges: The Act's application to a single school district without any peculiar or unique conditions, resulting in special treatment, violates the provisions of the South Carolina Constitution, in particular art. III, § 34 (limiting 'special legislation') and art. VIII, § 14(6) (requiring statewide uniformity).

"The complaint thus alleges facts which, if proven, would render the Act unconstitutional special legislation."

The majority noted that the lower court and the school district are relying on a single sentence found in Bradley v. Cherokee School District No. One.

That sentence states: "A law that is special only in the sense that it imposes a lawful tax limited in application and incidence to persons or property within a certain school district does not contravene the provisions of Article III, § 34(IX)."

"Here, we are concerned with an impact fee, not a tax, and one that is placed on only some persons and not others," Pleicones wrote.

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