On or immediately after May 1, 2018, the South Carolina General Assembly will most probably have approved the South Carolina Supreme Court’s Order of January 31, 2018, making substantive and impactful revisions to Rule 8 of the South Carolina Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules (SCADR); and I believe, at least from my perspective, that the South Carolina family court practitioners should be aware that there may be certain “unintended consequences” resulting from these Rule 8 revisions.
SCADR Rule 8 is, and has been from its inception, the Rule governing the confidentiality of the mediation process. Currently, Rule 8 begins by stating that “(C)ommunications during a mediation settlement conference shall be confidential”; and then the Rule moves forward from there.
The genesis for the “revised Rule 8” most probably came from the fairly recent case of Huck v. Avtex Commercial Properties, Op. No. 5500 (S.C. Ct.App. refiled on March 28, 2018), where one of the appellate issues focused on the appellant’s effort to disclose and introduce at trial a purported agreement which had been reached by the parties during their mediation; and in addressing that particular issue, the South Carolina Court of Appeals stated the following, in pertinent part:
“We find the trial court erred in denying Avtex’s motion to disclose settlement. The documents referred to in Rule 8 are designed to protect any documents prepared for use by the mediator and the parties to the mediation itself. Once the parties reach a settlement, documents prepared in conjunction with the settlement and release are not for the purpose of, or in the course of, mediation. Rather, they are documents prepared in connection with the litigation and to bring the litigation to a close. Rule 8 is designed to protect the communications made during the mediation itself and to protect the process. The parties’ mediation agreement reinforces the rule and simply incorporates the same language. The request for production of the settlement documents does not disclose confidential information from the mediation (i.e., it does not disclose or discuss information the parties utilized to reach the settlement). Further, any confidential matters the parties do not want disclosed can be protected through court proceedings including confidential provisions.” (Emphasis added)
Our Supreme Court’s ordered revisions to SCADR Rule 8 are intended to offer more clarity (1) as to parameters of “confidentiality” during the “course of the mediation proceeding”, and (2) as to what can, will – or might – fall outside these “confidentiality parameters”. And so with that stated, I would like to try and breakdown, section-by-section, the revisions to Rule 8 which will now govern the mediation process beginning around May 1, 2018, and I have tried to emphasize in bold lettering the “new revisions” from the current SCADR Rule 8, and then provide some brief “comments” regarding each of these revisions: