South Carolina courts interpret South Carolina statutes and regulations. South Carolina courts also resolve disputes that do not involve statutes or regulations. These decisions are referred to as "common-law." Together, this body of written opinions is called case law.
When a court decides a case brought before it, it issues a written opinion explaining how it arrived at its decision. These explanations, called holdings, are followed by future courts deciding similar cases. This concept is called precedent.
As with most states, there are three levels of courts in South Carolina. Cases in South Carolina begin in trial level courts such as circuit, family, probate, or magistrate court. Most appeals from South Carolina trial courts are heard by the South Carolina Court of Appeals. The South Carolina Supreme Court is the highest court in the state. It reviews decisions of the South Carolina Court of Appeals and certain appeals directly from South Carolina circuit courts like death penalty decisions.
The South Carolina Judicial Department's website provides an Overview of the South Carolina Judicial System that includes a chart of South Carolina courts, followed by a detailed description of the types of cases they hear.
See the Weight of Authority section in the The U.S. Legal System unit of this guide for a discussion of how to determine if a case is mandatory or persuasive for a particular court.
South Carolina Court of Appeals and South Carolina Supreme Court opinions are published in chronological order in the official South Carolina Reports and the South Eastern Reporter (along with appellate court cases from Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia). Both reporters are published by West Publishing, which also publishes state and regional digests to help you find cases in their reporters by subject.
South Carolina trial court decisions are not published in reporters. To access decisions from South Carolina trial courts, try searching the Case Records Search by county on the SC Judicial Department's website. You may also access county trial court records by contacting the Clerk of Court where the case was tried.
The proper citation for a South Carolina case always includes:
1. the case name (last names of the parties) in italics or underlined;
2. the volume number for each reporter where the case is published;
3. the abbreviation for each reporter where the case is published:
4. the page number where the case begins in each reporter; and
5. the year the case was decided in parenthesis at the end of the citation.
If the case was decided by the South Carolina Supreme Court, the year is all you need in parenthesis:
If the case was decided by the South Carolina Court of Appeals, you must add Ct. App. to the parenthesis:
The blue bullets in the citations above represent spaces.
See South Carolina Appellate Court Rule 268 for more on the citation of South Carolina cases before South Carolina courts.