Tips to Avoid a Suspended Driver’s License

Did you know that there are steps you can take to maintain your driver’s license before a suspension is authorized through the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV)? Unfortunately, many people start the prevention process too late. Tackling the issue early on could be the difference in your paying hundreds of dollars, attending court mandated programs, or obtaining high risk insurance.

Sometimes the interruption of your license can be stopped by simply updating your address, taking a defensive driving course, or showing up to court once you receive a ticket. Below are some tips to consider that may keep you on the road and prevent you from becoming entangled with the SCDMV.

Update your Address with the SCDMV

People tend to move around often, however, it is important to keep your address current with the SCDMV. You are required to update the information within ten (10) days of moving. This is important because it is where all correspondence will go to you. If your address is not valid, you run the risk of missing strict deadlines to appeal your suspension and will likely have to maintain the decision until you have satisfied all terms and conditions of the suspension. You may update your address online, by mail, or by visiting your local SCDMV branch.

The Points System

Are the points against your driver’s license steadily increasing and a suspension is looming? If so, you may want to take a defensive driving course. In South Carolina, various traffic violations are assigned points. If you obtain twelve (12) points your license will be suspended. By taking a defensive driving course you can reduce the number of points against your license. The course must be completed before your suspension begins as a point reduction will not cancel a suspension once it has been granted. You may find a list of certified driving schools at www.scdmvonline.com.

Attend your Court Date

While this may sound like the obvious thing to do, it is important that after you receive your ticket/citation, you show up to your court date and learn what your options are. Do not automatically inform the Judge that you are guilty, or the court will have to accept your guilty plea. Instead, arrive early to speak with the ticketing officer. You may have the opportunity to ask him/her to rewrite your ticket for a lesser offense.

You can also ask the Judge for a payment plan if you cannot afford to pay the entire fine. When discussing payment plans, it is important that you are realistic in indicating how much you can pay and when you will be able to submit a payment. Failure to pay as scheduled can result in a larger fine, a bench warrant, or even interception of your tax returns.

Bring evidence to prove that your issue has been resolved. If you did not have your proof of insurance at the time that you were stopped, or your lights were not working properly, etc. you should bring verification that these issues have been resolved to court with you and possibly have the case dismissed.

Lastly, if you are unable to make your scheduled date for a valid reason, call the court right away. It is important to notify the court before you are absent. If you do not appear, your license could be suspended, and you will have additional fines and obligations.

If you are past the point of fixing the issue with the court and need assistance with determining what other options you may have to lessen the penalty or get back on the road quicker, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. You may see if you qualify for our services by calling 1-888-346-5592 or applying online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

Outreach During a Pandemic

The South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) Orangeburg Office has found an effective and innovative way to continue to conduct outreach throughout most of its service area. Staff are collaborating with an organization called Growing COB (Calhoun, Orangeburg, Bamberg), whose mission is to improve health by ensuring access to sustainable gardens, fresh produce and nutritional and gardening education in the three named counties and surrounding areas. Since December of 2017, Growing COB has provided fresh produce to over 7,300 persons and educated 400 people in nutrition and gardening.

Growing COB and SCLS Orangeburg office combined their efforts and are conducting “curbside produce distribution” and providing legal educational and materials simultaneously. SCLS advocates have the opportunity to talk with those seeking fresh produce about their legal needs. All participants adhere to social distancing, use personal protective equipment and follow sanitary guidelines during the giveaways. Recent curbside distribution events were scheduled at Orangeburg Regional Medical Center for first responders, custodians, nurses and others employed at the hospital, as well as New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Bowman. Upcoming events include a curbside produce distribution at the Calhoun County Library, as well as a second event at Orangeburg Regional Medical Center.

Military Appreciation Month

Since 1999, May has been designated National Military Appreciation Month to encourage us to honor past and present military members and their families. This is the perfect time to highlight specific laws meant to protect servicemembers from legal troubles or disadvantages while they are in military service. The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the South Carolina Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (South Carolina SCRA), and the South Carolina Military Parent Equal Protection Act (MPEPA) are laws specifically intended to protect service members and their families.

Federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

The SCRA provides benefits and protections to those in “military service” which includes: (1) full-time active duty members of the five military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard); (2) Reservists on federal active duty; and (3) members of the National Guard on federal orders for more than 30 days.

Some of the benefits and protections under the SCRA are included below, each of which has certain conditions which may apply and could limit their application to individual circumstances:

  • Reduced interest rates
  • Postponement of foreclosures
  • Deferred income taxes
  • Eviction prevention
  • Protection against default judgments
  • Postponed civil court matters
  • Termination of residential lease agreements
  • Termination of automobile leases
  • Termination of phone/internet/cable services
  • Prevention of repossession of property
  • Protection against storage liens
  • Protections against adverse actions from creditors or insurers

South Carolina Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (South Carolina SCRA)

The South Carolina SCRA was designed to expand and supplement the federal SCRA to cover circumstances where the federal SCRA might not apply to SC National Guard service. It expands the definition of “military service” to include full time training, annual training, State Active Duty, and attendance at a service school in addition to military service under the federal SCRA. It also extends protections to dependents of servicemembers and expands some of the contracts that may be terminated when a servicemember receives military orders.

South Carolina Military Parent Equal Protection Act (MPEPA)

The MPEPA provides protections for parents who are in military service, but the definition of military service under the MPEPA is not as broad as the definition under the SCRA and only includes deployments that would not allow a family member to accompany the military parent.

One of the protections provided under the MPEPA is that Courts cannot enter a final order modifying the terms of custody or visitation in an existing order until 90 days after the enlisted parent is released from military service. Also, a military parent’s absence or relocation due to military service cannot be the sole reason for a court to permanently modify an existing custody or visitation order.

If a servicemember is away on “military service”, the Family Court can issue a temporary order making reasonable accommodations for that parent’s absence. The order will terminate when the military parent returns. If there is no existing order, the Court must hold an expedited temporary hearing to establish temporary custody, visitation, and support.

Also, when military parents are called to service, either parent can request that the Family Court issue an order temporarily modifying child support based upon any increase or decrease in pay during the deployment. After the deployment ends, child support automatically reverts to the original amount before deployment.

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This is only a broad overview of some of the benefits and protections provided to servicemembers by these laws. The details of each of these laws can be complicated and it is important to get professional advice on how they might apply to individual circumstances. South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. We provide free legal help to low-income individuals. To see if you qualify for our services, call   1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

Returning to Work After COVID-19

As states are reopening across the country, employees everywhere are concerned about returning to work under questionable safety conditions. Additionally, employees could lose unemployment insurance benefits if they refuse to return to work when their job is reinstated.

What do workers need to know?

Unemployment Benefits

If a worker is receiving unemployment benefits and is offered her job back, but refuses to return to work, will she remain eligible to receive benefits? NO. The Department of Employment and Workforce has issued a statement encouraging employers to report employees who refuse to return to work.

From a legal standpoint, in order to refuse to return to your job, you must have a compelling reason. The Department of Employment and Workforce is required to investigate prior to terminating benefits. The following reasons may provide a compelling argument for the Department:

  1. An employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and has been advised to self-quarantine;
  2. An employee is in a high-risk category for complications due to COVID-19 and has been advised to self-quarantine;
  3. An employee does not have childcare due to COVID-19.

This list is not exhaustive.  Unemployment benefit recipients should also be prepared to submit evidence supporting their reason for refusing to return to work such as a doctor’s note, medical diagnosis, or confirmation of a closed childcare facility.

Health and Safety Concerns

Employees should be familiar with local rules and regulations regarding the reopening of non-essential businesses. For example, in South Carolina, there are specific guidelines that restaurants must follow in order to resume dine-in services. Tables must be spaced 6 to 8 feet apart and the restaurant’s capacity must be capped at 50% of the posted occupancy as established by fire marshals. For example, if the establishment can normally hold 100 people, the restaurant can only allow 50 people in the building at a time. Employees should know the safety precautions that businesses should adhere to in their workplace. They should also know to report any health or safety problems that exist in their workplace. Legal protections exist for workers who report reasonable concerns about an unsafe work environment. 

Employees should begin by having a conversation with their supervisor or manager about their issues or concerns if they feel comfortable doing so. South Carolina Legal Services is always available to provide information concerning employee rights and responsibilities. Individuals seeking assistance can apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake or complete an application over the phone at 1-888-346-5592.

Second Chances

April is widely known as Second Chance Month. South Carolina’s expungement system allows for multiple charges to be expunged from a person’s criminal record, depending on the convictions. While the law is standard as to what can be expunged, the application process can differ based on the county where your conviction occurred.  Thus, we’ve put together a small checklist of considerations and documents to compile or prepare to obtain during this time that will be useful in any county.

  1. Obtain a copy of your criminal record: You may obtain your SLED report at www.sled.sc.gov.  There is a $25 fee for the record.
  2. Review your record for accuracy: Do you need an expungement? Is there an error on your report?
  3. Obtain your Disposition/Sentencing Sheet from the court where your conviction occurred: This document lists pertinent information such as what you were charged with, whether you were convicted, and the date of your arrests. Some counties require a certified copy of your disposition sheet to be attached to the expungement application.
  4. Search for the appropriate expungement application: The majority of applications can be found online, or you may call the Solicitor’s Office in the county where your conviction occurred.
  5. Gather important identification documents that you may need such as your driver’s license and social security card: While this is not a requirement for all counties, for some it is necessary to prove your identity.

What if your charges are not eligible for expungement? You may want to consider seeking a pardon. Below is a list of considerations and documents that you will need to obtain in completing this process.

  1. Obtain a copy of your SLED report.
  2. Obtain the official pardon application from the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. It can be found at www.dppps.sc.gov.
  3. Identify three individuals not related to you by blood or marriage and ask them to provide reference letters for you. Be sure that they are aware of your criminal record.
  4. List all charges that you wish to have pardoned. You may list every item on your criminal record.
  5. Be sure that you’ve completed all probation and parole and paid any restitution, fines or fees.
  6. Be mindful of the $100 fee that must be submitted with the application.
  7. Have the application notarized.

If you are uncertain of your eligibility for an expungement or pardon, or would like to determine which is necessary for your situation, you may contact South Carolina Legal Services at (888) 346-5592. You may also apply online for our services at www.sclegal.org.

SCLS Teams Up With Private Attorney For Victory at the S.C. Court of Appeals

Navigating Medicare and other benefits can be difficult for seniors. This was no more apparent than in a recent SCLS appellate victory over National Healthcare /Mauldin, LLC (NHC) where the S.C. Court of Appeals was asked to reverse a trial court decision against our client Wade Thompson, an elderly, disabled veteran from Anderson County.

In a victory for our client in National Healthcare LLC vs. Wade Thompson, https://www.sccourts.org/opinions//unpublishedopinions/HTMLFiles/COA/2019-UP-378.pdf  SCLS Attorney Susan Ingles[1] and PAI Attorney Sharon Ward[2] teamed up to obtain a reversal of the trial court decision that granted a judgment of $8,869.32 to NHC against Thompson.    The S.C. Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s original judgment that was based on quantum meruit, an equitable doctrine to allow recovery for unjust enrichment.  “A party may be unjustly enriched when it has and retains benefits or money which in justice and equity belong to another.” 

In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that NHC is estopped from seeking recovery from Thompson because it acted with “unclean hands”[3] by admitting Thompson to its care under the assumption of Medicare coverage and then failing to notify Thompson of its own corporate email response stating no benefit days were available to Thompson. 

NHC failed to notify Thompson that his stay at its Mauldin, SC facility would not be covered by Medicare.  The healthcare facility had obtained initial telephone verification of Medicare coverage at the time of admission, but the follow up written verification NHC received less than 24 hours later confirmed the stay would not be covered. Thompson had already exhausted his benefit days under Medicare rules. As a result, Thompson’s subsequent 6-week stay was not paid for by Medicare as NHC personnel assured Thompson when he was admitted. After NHC did not receive the $8,669.32 from Medicare that Thompson unwittingly incurred for six weeks, they filed the debt collection lawsuit against Thompson and his daughter.  The trial court dismissed Thompson’s daughter from the lawsuit and that decision was not appealed by NHC.

In the appeal, NHC argued that Thompson was unjustly enriched by the 6-week stay it provided that Medicare did not pay for. The Court of Appeals held NHC’s failure to tell Thompson of the lack of coverage as soon as it received the written verification constituted unclean hands and held he was only liable for a $630 charge he had already paid.

Ingles and Ward successfully argued that NHC’s failure to notify Thompson that his stay would not be covered was fatal to its claim that he should pay for the stay out of his own pocket.  The S.C. Court of Appeals agreed. Find out more about how to become a PAI Attorney for SCLS and get paid to further our mission of access to justice for all by clicking here https://sclegal.org/pai/ .


[1] A 15 year veteran at SCLS, Ingles is a Senior Staff Attorney and head of the Consumer Unit.

[2] The Private Attorney Involvement (PAI) is funded by SCLS’ grant from the Legal Services Corporation. The collaborative program exists to encourage the involvement of private attorneys like Ward, who previously served as a staff attorney at the S.C. Court of Appeals, in the delivery of legal assistance to eligible legal aid clients

[3] The doctrine of unclean hands precludes a Plaintiff (here NHC) from recovering in equity if it acted unfairly in a matter that is the subject of the litigation to the prejudice of the defendant (here Thompson).

Rock Hill Open House

The Rock Hill office held their first Open House event on Tuesday, December 10th for local attorneys, judges, agencies, and organizations.  The event was well-attended.  Staff were able to meet with members from the local domestic violence shelter, Rock Hill Housing Authority, and other local groups.  State Representative Mike Fanning also attended along with several magistrates from Chester.   Guests nibbled on delicious chicken salad sandwiches, mini cheesecakes, and fresh fruit and vegetables while discussing important matters effecting the community.  Rock Hill staff and members of the community also discussed new ways to work together to help meet the legal needs of the community.

The Federal Government Increases Special Education Budget by $400 million

The federal government is increasing the budget for special education services and South Carolina will receive a portion of the funds. Since the 1970’s, school districts have been required to provide certain services that students with disabilities need to meet basic goals. The federal government is supposed to provide 40% of the cost of special education services, but, historically, the federal government has only provided about 22% of the cost of special education. Instead, states and some local school districts pay the costs.  However, even when federal government does provide the funds for special education, a few school districts in South Carolina have not been spending all the funds provided. Instead, they’ve sought waivers from the obligation to spend it all. The reasons why remain unclear.

School funding issues can be complicated. Regardless of where the funds are coming from, our focus is on assisting students in receiving the primary education and training needed for continued education, independent living and participation in the work force.  School districts are required to provide special needs students with the services needed to achieve these goals. If a school has denied your child any of these services because of insufficient budget, ask them to verify that it has used all its federal funds. Additionally, ask whether unused funds from other budgets, programs or school districts can be used. Our goal is not to seek the most expensive programs or services, but rather to obtain adequate services. If your child has special needs, a school cannot justify its denials of services on the basis that it does not have the funds needed.

If you are having an issue with your child’s school district, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. You can apply for our free legal services by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.  

Earned Income Tax Credit

In an effort to educate and create awareness among the low-income taxpayers, taxpayers with disabilities and taxpayers with children, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) celebrates the National Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness day on January 31, 2020.

The Earned Income Tax Credit also known as EITC, is a tax credit that increases the taxpayer’s refund or reduces the amount of tax owed. To qualify for the EITC, the taxpayer must have earned income from working for someone or from running or owning a business or farm.  EITC is one of the largest antipoverty programs. It is important to educate and create awareness about the EITC so those who qualify for this credit can claim it and take advantage of its benefits. Some of the taxpayers at risk for overlooking this credit includes grandparents raising a grandchild, workers without children, workers with limited English skills, workers living in rural areas, Native Americans workers, workers with earnings below the filing requirement, and workers who have disabilities or are raising children with disabilities

To claim this credit, the taxpayer must file a federal income tax return even if the taxpayer owes no tax or isn’t required to file a return. The EITC is a complex tax credit. It varies by income, family size and the taxpayer’s filing status. To qualify for the EITC, the taxpayer must meet the adjustable gross income limit or threshold. Taxpayers without qualifying children might qualify for the EITC if the taxpayer meets the income threshold. Children that are claimed as dependents for EITC purposes must meet all qualifying child rules.

The IRS estimates that four out of five eligible taxpayers claim and receive the EITC.  Nationwide, during 2019, 25 million eligible workers and families received about $61 billion in EITC. During 2019, in South Carolina, 453,000 taxpayers claimed the EITC, 10,000 taxpayers less than in the 2018 tax year. The average amount of EITC received during 2019 in SC was $2,618.00. 

The EITC is one of the most audited credits within the IRS. Taxpayers must keep records even if it is not the first time the taxpayer claimed this credit for the same children. During an EITC audit, the IRS will request that the taxpayer provide proof of relationship, residency, income and support for all the qualifying children claimed. The IRS has a 3-year statute of limitation to assess a tax return from the due date or the date the return was filed, whichever is later.  Therefore, taxpayers should keep copies of their records for at least 5 years.

The IRS has created the EITC Assistant tool. This tool can verify if the taxpayer is eligible for EITC, and it can also help estimate the amount of the credit. To use this tool, taxpayers can visit the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov and type “EITC Assistant” in the search engine.

South Carolina Legal Services Low Income Taxpayer Clinic represents taxpayers that are wrongfully denied this credit. Our services are free. To apply for our services, please call 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.

Beware of Social Security Fraud

Dollar Sign Drawing In A Notebook

Scams involving callers pretending to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) asking for cash or gift card payments, have increased in the last year to become the most frequent type of fraud. To address this ongoing problem, the SSA has created an online form at https://oig.ssa.gov/ for people to report suspected fraud.

If you have received a call, email, text or in-person communication from someone pretending to be from the SSA, you can report the scam directly to the SSA by using the online form. The form will allow you to create a unique Personal Identification Number (PIN), so if someone contacts you about your report, you can verify that the call is legitimate. The SSA will use the data it receives from the reports to find the people responsible for the scams and reduce this type of fraud and the number of victims.

SSA employees do occasionally contact people by telephone. This contact is usually when the person has ongoing claims or other business with the agency. However, an SSA employee will never threaten you with arrest or other legal action if you are unable to pay a fine or debt.  Any request for money from the SSA will come in the mail. The letter will have specific details of how to make the payment and explain any appeal rights you have if you disagree with the amount owed to the SSA. Similarly, the SSA will normally mail a letter if there are any problems with your Social Security number or record.

As a reminder, the SSA employees will not:

• Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.

• Contact you to demand an immediate payment.

• Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash.

• Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.

• Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.

If you receive a call promising or threatening any of the above actions, you should hang up and report the call to the SSA at https://oig.ssa.gov. If you receive a letter stating that you owe money to the SSA and you do not agree or want to know more about your rights, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. To see if you qualify for our free services, call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.