Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 15, 2013

S.C. Supreme Court Invalidates School Impact Fee Enacted Pursuant to Special Legislation

The Home Builders Association brought this suit challenging the constitutionality of an Act which permitted the School District No. 2 of Dorchester County, South Carolina to impose an “impact fee” on residential developers who built new dwelling units in the school district. The suit sought declaratory judgment and injunctive relief asking the court to declare that the Act violated the South Carolina Constitution’s provisions on statewide uniformity and limitations on special legislation. In the lower court, the school district moved for judgment on the pleadings, seeking to have the action dismissed. The Circuit Court granted the motion, and the Home Builders Association here appeals.

On appeal, the South Carolina Supreme Court noted that a special legislation challenge under the state constitution is analogous to an equal protection claim, where the Court looks to whether there was “a logical basis and a sound reason” for the legislature to use special legislation to resolve an issue. Here, the Court found that there was no evidence the Dorchester County School District had funding needs or challenges different from other school districts, which might have justified passing special impact fee legislation on its behalf.

Further, the Court overruled a previous decision in Bradley v. Cherokee School Dist. No. One, 322 S.C. 181 (S.C. 1996), in light of the education-related special legislation test laid out in Kizer v. Clark, 360 S.C. 86 (S.C. 2004), to the extent that Bradley relied on an older case, Hay v. Leonard, 212 S.C. 81 (S.C. 1948), and cases decided before South Carolina became a Home Rule state in 1973. For those reasons, the Court resolved the case in the Home Builders Association’s favor, finding that the Act was unconstitutional.

In dissent, the Chief Justice argued that discretion should have been given to the legislature in its determination that the District had needs which justified imposing an impact fee. The dissent also disagreed with the majority’s decision to overrule Bradley. Ultimately, the dissent asserted that the Act was constitutional and should not have been stricken down.

Home Builders Association of South Carolina v. School District No. 2 of Dorchester County, 405 S.C. 458 (S.C. 11/11/13)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.judicial.state.sc.us/opinions/HTMLFiles/SC/27315.pdf


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