Get a Specific Ruling for an Appeal

These posts have covered the hoops that an appealing party must jump through to make sure that a South Carolina appellate court will hear your issue on appeal. Earlier posts focused on the need to raise an issue in the trial court and when and how to raise it. This one focuses on the need to get a trial court ruling on the issue raised.

Subject to narrow exceptions, South Carolina has held for generations that a party may not appeal issues and arguments unless they are both raised to – and ruled on – by the trial court. Elam v. South Carolina Dept. of Transp., 361 S.C. 9, 23-24, 602 S.E.2d 772, 779-780 (2004).

This means a written trial court ruling. Until a ruling is written and entered, a trial judge is free to change his or her mind. Coleman Vision Corp. v. Hobbs, 394 S.C. 144, 714 S.E.2d 537 (2011). It is the written order’s entry that makes it effective. Rule 58(a)(2), SCRCP.

What if you raise an issue and the trial court’s written order fails to rule on it? You must file a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the order to ask for a ruling. Elam, 361 S.C. at 24, 602 S.E.2d at 780. If you do not make the Rule 59 motion, the issue is not preserved.

But what if the trial judge’s written order only rules on the issue generally without addressing your specific argument? Again, you must file a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend to ask for a specific ruling. A general ruling may not preserve your specific argument for appeal. USAA Property and Cas. Ins. Co. v. Clegg, 377 S.C. 643, 652, 661 S.E.2d 791, 796 (2008).

Lastly, what if the trial court’s written order fails to specifically rule on an issue, you file a Rule 59(e) motion to request a ruling, and the trial court still fails to rule? At that point, the issue is preserved. In Pye v. Estate of Fox, 369 S.C. 555, 566, 633 S.E.2d 505, 510-511 (2006), the Court recognized that lawyers cannot force a trial judge to address a disputed issue. Making one Rule 59(e) motion is enough. Id.

Has anyone out there caught opposing counsel’s failure to obtain a specific ruling? Please leave a reply or reach me at www.attorneyroberthill.com.

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