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Lester v. S.C. Workers' Comp. Comm'n - 334 S.C. 557, 514 S.E.2d 751 (1999)

Rule:

If a statute's language is plain and unambiguous, and conveys a clear and definite meaning, there is no occasion for employing rules of statutory interpretation and a court has no right to look for or impose another meaning. Where a statute is ambiguous, however, a court must construe the terms of the statute.

Facts:

Petitioner Ric Lester d/b/a Fair Play Video (Lester) opened a video casino in November 1992. He had no payroll in 1992. In January 1993, Lester began hiring a series of temporary and "rollover" employees. In May 1993, an employee was shot during a robbery of the video casino. In May 1994, Lester acquired workers' compensation insurance coverage for his employees. Lester was directed to appear before Respondent South Carolina Workers' Compensation Commission (the Commission) to show cause why he should not be found in violation of the South Carolina Workers' Compensation Act (the Act) for failure to maintain workers' compensation insurance coverage for his employees from February 1993 until May 26, 1994. Lester argued, pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. § 42-1-360(2)(1985), he was exempt from the requirements of the Act because his payroll was less than $3,000 during 1992. The single commissioner concluded Lester was not exempt under § 42-1-360(2). The Appellate Panel, circuit court, and Court of Appeals affirmed.

Issue:

Did the Court of Appeals err by construing the minimum payroll exemption provision of § 42-1-360(2) as requiring an employer 1) to have a positive payroll during the previous calendar year and 2) to expect a similarly low payroll during the current calendar year?

Answer:

1) No; 2) Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, agreeing with the lower court that, because the statute was ambiguous, it would be construed in favor of coverage; and therefore, an employer who had no payroll in the previous calendar year did not meet the terms of the minimum payroll exemption provision of § 42-1-360(2). The Court disagreed, however, with the lower court's conclusion that, in order to be exempt under the minimum payroll provision, the employer must have reasonably expected a low payroll during the current calendar year. The Court held that it was error for the lower court to have added such a forecasting requirement to the statute.

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