Supreme Court finds valuation of Greek farm preserved for appeal–remands issue to Court of Appeals

The November 15, 2017 Supreme Court opinion in Conits v. Conits granted Husband’s petition for a writ of certiorari, dispensed with further briefing, and reversed the Court of Appeals opinion in Conits v. Conits, 417 S.C. 127, 789 S.E.2d 51 (Ct.App. 2016). It remanded back to the Court of Appeals one issue on Husband’s appeal: the valuation of a farm in Greece.

At trial the parties disputed the nature of a farm Husband (Spiro) owned in Greece. Sprio admitted he owned a half interest in a three-acre farm which he claimed had a fair market value of $43,750. Wife (Peggy) claimed the farm was thirty acres with a fair market value of $1,420,200. The family court found the farm was thirty acres and valued it at $1,420,200. Spiro filed a Rule 59(e), SCRCP, motion alleging Peggy “completely misrepresented or misunderstood [Spiro’s] ownership interests in real estate in Greece and the court erred in adopting such misrepresentation as fact without evidentiary support.” Spiro specifically argued he “does not own a thirty-acre farm in Greece” and “[his] interest in [the three-acre . . .farm] is worth between $20,000 and $21,875.” The family court denied the motion.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals, Spiro admitted he owned a three-acre farm in Greece but claimed he does not own a thirty-acre farm. He made the following argument in his brief to the Court of Appeals:

At trial, [Spiro] clarified and corrected his ownership in the various properties in Greece and confirmed his ownership in a three-acre . . . farm as opposed to a thirty-acre farm. He testified at trial that he only owns three acres in Greece. [Spiro] simply does not own a thirty-acre farm in Greece.

Spiro then argued in his brief there is “no support for [Peggy’s] ‘opinion’ as to the value of the farm” and the family court’s ruling “should be removed in its entirety and replaced with findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the three-acre . . . farm.”

Spiro created some confusion in the Court of Appeals by repeatedly and emphatically arguing that “no such asset [the thirty-acre farm] even exists.” Thus the Court of Appeals treated this issue on appeal as a claim that he owned no farm in Greece. Since Sprio had neither argued that issue in the family court, nor raised that issue in his Rule 59(e) motion, the Court of Appeals found that issue wasn’t preserved.

In addressing error preservation, the Supreme Court cited Herron v. Century BMW, 395 S.C. 461, 470, 719 S.E.2d 640, 644 (2011), which noted “We are mindful of the need to approach issue preservation rules with a practical eye and not in a rigid, hyper-technical manner.”

The Supreme Court further held:

When Spiro argued in his Rule 59(e) motion and wrote in his brief to the court of appeals that he “does not own a thirty-acre farm in Greece,” he did not argue there was no farm. Rather, he argued the farm he admitted he owns is not thirty acres, and is not worth $1,420,000.

The issue raised at the court of appeals is precisely the same one Spiro raised to the family court at trial and in his Rule 59(e) motion. The family court ruled on the issue, and thus it is preserved.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed on this issue and remanded it to the Court of Appeals to address the valuation Spiro’s Greek farm.

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