Where a town annexed property pursuant to the 100 percent method, private parties that did not own property in the annexed area lacked standing to challenge the annexation. Because the State presumptively owned the marshland in the annexed area, it had standing to challenge the annexation. Its signature was required under the 100 percent method. Because the statute of limitations applicable to annexation challenges had expired before the State sought to intervene, the State's challenges were properly denied.
The Town annexed certain property, including marshlands, via the 100 percent method. See S.C. Code Ann. - 5-3-150(3). The Town's annexation ordinance stated that the petition had been signed by 100 percent of the persons owning real estate in the annexed area. However, the Town did not obtain the State's signature, which held title in the public trust to marshlands included in the annexed area. Nearby property owners challenged the annexation.
Before the circuit court ruled on the Town's motion for summary judgment, the State moved to intervene and to be substituted as the real party in interest. The circuit court granted summary judgment, finding 1) that the private property owners lacked standing; 2) that the Town did not need the State's signature for the 100 percent annexation method; and 3) the statute of limitations barred the State's motions.
On appeal, the Supreme Court agreed with the circuit court that the private property owners lacked standing and that the State's intervention was time-barred. A challenger to a 100 percent-method annexation must assert an infringement "of its own proprietary interests or statutory rights." The private property owners did not own property in the annexed area. Even though the State holds the marshlands in trust of the people, the private parties did not have a sufficient property interest under this theory to justify standing.
The Court held that the State was in fact a "person owning real estate" under the 100 percent annexation statute. The circuit court erred by finding that a "person owning real estate" was the same as a "freeholder" as used in other annexation statutes. The Town's annexation did not, therefore, comply with the requirements of the 100 percent method.
The State's challenge, however, was time-barred. The annexation statute requires a challenger to give notice of a challenge within 60 days after the annexation is published and to initiate the challenge within 90 days. The State's motion to intervene, filed some 15 months after the annexation ordinance was adopted, was therefore barred. The Court declined to adopt a "discovery rule" for annexation challenges, given the need for finality to annexation actions. The Court affirmed the circuit court's summary judgment.