In Carolina Chloride, Inc. v. Richland County, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that a member of the public has no legal right to rely solely upon the representations of county personnel and should consult the official record to determine the legal zoning classification of property.
Carolina Chloride sought advice from Richland County's zoning administrator concerning property zoning. In a letter to Carolina Chloride, the county administrator stated that, in his opinion, the property should be properly zoned M-2, heavy industrial. Carolina Chloride did not learn of the property's true zoning classification until a prospective buyer contacted the county inquiring whether an expansion would be in conformance with the property's legal zoning designation. The county sent a letter to Carolina Chloride informing the company that its existing facilities were nonconforming uses that could legally continue, but could not be expanded. Carolina Chloride was informed that it could file an application for county council to rezone the property.
Carolina Chloride sued the county alleging that the county had incorrectly advised it of the legal zoning classification of its property and that it had lost a potential sale due to the zoning issue. The trial judge directed a verdict for the county on all claims. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the negligence and negligent misrepresentation claims, but upheld the remaining claims on appeal. Both parties appealed.
The South Carolina Supreme Court stated that the county was not liable for incorrectly interpreting the zoning classification because the interpretation was a matter of law, not fact. The Court added that Carolina Chloride should have consulted the official tax map to determine its property's zoning classification. The Court's decision is consistent with its prior ruling in Quail Hill, LLC v. County of Richland, Opinion No. 26788, which involved a purchaser's reliance on incorrect zoning information from the county. In that case, the Court held that the purchaser's reliance on the county's incorrect zoning classification was not justified because the purchaser could have reviewed the official zoning map to determine the proper zoning classification. The Court was also influenced by policy concerns, wanting to refrain from imposing liability on the county for innocent mistakes.
The Court upheld the trial judge's directed verdict for the county on all claims and reversed the Court of Appeals decisions on the negligence and negligent misrepresentation claims.