Donald Coggins – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

The J. Waites Waring Judicial Center in Charleston, SC

When the 114th Congress adjourned, it left 59 Obama nominees unconfirmed.  Among his first batch of District Court nominees on May 8, 2017, President Trump renominated two names from that group: David Nye, and Scott Palk.  On August 3, 2017, Trump renominated a third: Donald C. Coggins Jr.

Background

Donald Cecil Coggins Jr. was born on July 17, 1959 in Spartanburg, SC.  Coggins attended Clemson University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1981.  He went on to the University of South Carolina School of Law, graduating in 1984.

After graduating, Coggins returned to Spartanburg, joining Cummings and Smith as an associate.  Two years later, Coggins was made partner in the firm, which was renamed Cummings, Smith and Coggins.

In 1993, Coggins became a partner in Smith and Coggins, Attorneys at Law.  After six years, Coggins founded the firm Harrison, White, Smith & Coggins, P.C. as a Shareholder.  He became the Managing Shareholder at the firm in 2010, and served in that capacity until 2013.  Coggins currently continues as a Shareholder there.

History of the Seat

Coggins has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.  This seat was opened by Judge Joseph Fletcher Anderson’s move to senior status on November 16, 2014.  Coggins’ name was first floated for this vacancy in early 2015, when news broke that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was urging the Obama Administration to nominate Coggins.[1]  Obama ultimately nominated Coggins and South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty to fill two vacancies on February 25, 2016.[2]

While Beatty did not get the support of Graham or Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Coggins did.[3]  Coggins received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 21, 2016, and was approved without objection on July 14.  However, Coggins’ nomination stalled on the floor due to the blockade on confirmations imposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  Without floor action, it was returned unconfirmed on January 3, 2017.

Coggins was renominated on August 3, 2017 by President Trump, with the support of Graham and Scott.[4]

Legal Experience

Coggins has spent virtually his entire legal career in Spartanburg, practicing a primarily civil litigation practice focused on representing plaintiffs in personal injury, product liability, and professional negligence cases.  In these fields, Coggins has secured large awards for his clients.  In 2001, Coggins secured a $1.35 million verdict in a Family and Medical Leave Act case, a record at the time.[5]

In 2007, Coggins was hired by South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster (now the Governor) to represent the State in an Unfair Trade Practices Act case against a pharmaceutical company.[6]  After a two week trial, Coggins helped secure a landmark $327 million award,[7] although it was reduced to $124 million by the South Carolina Supreme Court.[8]

Additionally, in 2014, Coggins helped secure the largest medical malpractice award ever obtained in Upstate South Carolina.[9]  The $2 million verdict was the result of the doctor’s failure to adequately diagnose and treat the patient’s mesenteric ischemia (a medical condition in which the small intestine fails to get sufficient blood flow).[10]

In addition to his work as a litigator, Coggins also serves as a member of the South Carolina Commission on Lawyer Conduct.  In this capacity, Coggins has overseen formal charges of misconduct against South Carolina attorneys, including making recommendations to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Political Activity

Coggins has a history of supporting candidates of both political parties, making his own political leanings hard to discern.  On one side, Coggins’ firm is Republican-leaning, and his candidacy was championed by Graham, a Republican.[11]  Additionally, Coggins has frequently supported Graham, including donating almost $15000.[12]  Coggins has also supported other Republicans, donating $5100 to Scott, $3000 to former Governor David Beasley, and $3200 to Rep. Trey Gowdy.[13]

On the other hand, Coggins has been a strong supporter of President Obama, volunteering on his behalf in the 2008 primary, and donating almost $7500 to his campaigns.[14]  Coggins has also donated to other Democrats, including Rep. Jim Clyburn, senate candidates Inez Tenenbaum and Vic Rawl, and house candidate Preston Brittain.[15]  Coggins also donated $1000 to the Democratic National Committee in 2008.[16]

Overall Assessment

Coggins is the first Trump nominee whose legal career has primarily been as a plaintiff’s attorney.  Coggins’ experience handling complex cases with large verdicts and complicated settlements will serve him well as a federal trial judge.  Furthermore, Coggins will benefit from his bipartisan history of support.  Given his nomination by Presidents Obama and Trump, as well as his support from Republicans, including Graham and Scott, and Democrats, including Rep. Jim Clyburn, Coggins should sail through the confirmation process.


[1] John Monk, Three Candidates Emerging for Two S.C. Federal Judgeships, The Herald, Jan. 2, 2015, http://www.heraldonline.com/news/local/article12319307.html.

[2] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Two to Serve on the United States District Court (February 25, 2016) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov).  

[3] John Monk, Beatty’s Nomination to be a SC Federal Judge is Stalled, The Herald, July 24, 2016, http://www.heraldonline.com/news/local/article91640322.html.  

[4] Press Release, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Joint Statement from Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott on Judicial Nominations (August 4, 2017) (on file at www.lgraham.senate.gov).

[5] Bellsey v. Betras Plastics, Inc. and Betras, No. 7:00-3882-13 (D.S.C. 2001) (Judge G. Ross Anderson).

[6] See Perry, et al. v. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories Co., et al., No. 99-0089, Circuit Court of Jefferson County (Miss.) (Judge Pickard), Vadino, et al. v. American Home Products Corp., et al., No. MID-L-425-98, Superior Court, Middlesex County (N.J.) (Judge Corodemus).

[7] South Carolina ex rel. Wilson v. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharms., Inc., No. 07-CP-42-1438, 2011 WL 2185861 (S.C. Com. Pl. June 3, 2011).

[8] State v. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharms., Inc., 777 S.E.2d 176 (S.C. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 824 (2016).

[9] Easler v. Spartanburg Reg. Health Serv. Dist. Inc., No. 2011-CP-42-2840 (Spartanburg Cty. Ct. Com. Pl. 2015).

[10] See id.

[11] See Monk, supra n. 1.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

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