Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

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In 1999, Ronnie and Jeanette Dennis purchased property on Callawassie Island. At that time, the Dennises joined a private club known as the Callawassie Island Club, and paid $31,000 to become "equity members." The Club's bylaws stated "Any equity member may resign from the Club by giving written notice to the Secretary. Dues, fees, and charges shall accrue against a resigned equity membership until the resigned equity membership is reissued by the Club." In 2010, the Dennises decided they no longer wanted to be in the Members Club, so they submitted a "letter of resignation" and stopped making all payments. The Club filed a breach of contract action against the Dennises, alleging the unambiguous terms of the membership documents required the Dennises to continue to pay their membership dues, fees, and other charges until their membership was reissued. The Dennises denied any liability, alleging they were told by a Members Club manager that their maximum liability would be only four months of dues, because after four months of not paying, they would be expelled. The Dennises also alleged the membership arrangement violated the South Carolina Nonprofit Corporation Act. Finding no ambiguity in the Club bylaws, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and reinstated summary judgment for all unpaid dues, fees and other charges. View "Callawassie Island Club v. Dennis" on Justia Law

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Palmetto Mortuary Transport, Inc. sued Knight Systems, Inc. and Robert Knight (collectively, Knight) for breach of an asset purchase agreement executed in connection with the sale of Knight's mortuary transport business to Palmetto. A special referee found Knight breached the agreement by violating both a non-compete covenant and an exclusive sales provision contained in the agreement. Knight appealed, and the court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding the 150-mile territorial restriction in the non- compete covenant was unreasonable and unenforceable. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, holding that under the facts of this case, the territorial restriction in the non-compete covenant was reasonable and enforceable. The Court also found Knight's additional sustaining grounds to be without merit and therefore reinstated the special referee's order. View "Palmetto Mortuary v. Knight Systems" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Mark and Larkin Hammond built and operated several successful restaurants in Lake Lure, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina. The Hammonds hired Respondent Kyle Pertuis to manage the restaurants, and as part of his compensation, Pertuis acquired minority ownership interests in the three restaurants. Pertuis eventually decided to leave the business, and this dispute primarily concerned the percentage and valuation of Pertuis's ownership interests in the three restaurants. Following a bench trial, the trial court found the three corporate entities should have been amalgamated into a "de facto partnership" operating out of Greenville, South Carolina. The trial court further awarded Pertuis a 10% ownership interest in the two North Carolina restaurants, a 7.2% ownership interest in the South Carolina restaurant, and a total of $99,117 in corporate distributions from the restaurants. The trial court further concluded Pertuis was an oppressed minority shareholder, valued each of the three corporations, and ordered a buyout of Pertuis's shares. The court of appeals affirmed. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals findings as to amalgamation, "de facto partnership," and the award of 7.2% ownership interest in one of the restaurants. The Court affirmed as modified the court of appeals finding that Pertuis was entitled to unpaid shareholder distributions. The Court vacated the court of appeals opinion to the extent it made any findings as to the two North Carolina corporations, and affirmed the balance of the judgment of the court of appeals pursuant to Rule 220, SCACR. View "Pertuis v. Front Roe Restaurants, Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina certified a question of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. Jack Poole and his wife, Jennifer, were riding in a vehicle owned by Doris Knight, Jennifer's mother, when a drunk driver crossed the center line and struck them. The Pooles were both seriously injured in the collision; although Jack survived, Jennifer's catastrophic injuries resulted in her death several days later. In contrast with the substantial bodily injuries, the Pooles sustained minimal property damage because they did not own the vehicle. The at-fault driver's liability carrier tendered its policy limits. Farm Bureau, the insurer on Knight's vehicle, then tendered its underinsured motorist (UIM) policy limits for bodily injury to Jack individually and to Jack as the representative of Jennifer's estate. The Pooles then sought recovery from their own insurer, Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO), which provided them a split limits UIM policy with bodily injury coverage of up to $100,000 per person and $50,000 for property damage. GEICO tendered the UIM bodily injury limits of $100,000 each for Jack and Jennifer's estate. The Pooles requested another $50,000 from the UIM policy's property damage coverage in anticipation of a large punitive damages award, but GEICO refused. GEICO then initiated a declaratory judgment action with the federal district court to establish that it was not liable to pay any amounts for punitive damages under the property damage provision of the UIM policy because the source of the Pooles' UIM damages was traceable only to bodily injury. The federal court asked the South Carolina Supreme Court whether, under South Carolina law, when an insured seeks coverage under an automobile insurance policy, must punitive damages be apportioned pro rata between those sustained for bodily injury and those sustained for property damage where the insurance policy is a split limits policy? The Supreme Court answered the question, "No." View "Government Employees Insurance Company v. Poole" on Justia Law

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The University of South Carolina and the university's booster club, known as the Gamecock Club (Petitioners), and several Gamecock Club members (Respondents) fought over parking spaces. As part of the bargain Respondents struck with Petitioners, Respondents were entitled to "assigned reserved parking" at home football games. Respondents claimed Petitioners violated this contract provision when USC discontinued parking on the "apron" around the football stadium and failed to give Respondents first priority in the selection of new parking spaces. Petitioners claimed the parking provision had no priority requirement and it was satisfied when Respondents were assigned reserved parking spaces in an adjacent lot. The issue for the South Carolina Supreme Court’s resolution was whether this was an appropriate case for the use of equitable estoppel: the trial court held it was not, but the court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and reversed the court of appeals. View "Rosarte v. USC" on Justia Law

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The Riverwalk at Arrowhead Country Club and Magnolia North Horizontal Property Regime developments were constructed between 1997 and 2000. After construction was complete and the units were sold, the purchasers became aware of significant construction problems, including building code violations, structural deficiencies, and significant water-intrusion problems. In 2003, the purchasers filed suit to recover damages for necessary repairs to their homes. Lawsuits were filed by the respective property owners' associations (POAs), which sought actual and punitive damages for the extensive construction defects under theories of negligent construction, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of warranty. As to the Riverwalk development, individual homeowners also filed a class action to recover damages for the loss of use of their property during the repair period. The defendants in the underlying suits were the related corporate entities that developed and constructed the condominium complexes: Heritage Communities, Inc. (the parent development company), Heritage Magnolia North, Inc. and Heritage Riverwalk, Inc. (the project-specific subsidiary companies for each separate development), and Buildstar Corporation (the general contracting subsidiary that oversaw construction of all Heritage development projects), referred to collectively as "Heritage." The issues presented to the Supreme Court by these cases came from cross-appeals of declaratory judgment actions to determine coverage under Commercial General Liability (CGL) insurance policies issued by Harleysville Group Insurance. The cases arose from separate actions, but were addressed in a single opinion because they involved virtually identical issues regarding insurance coverage for damages. The Special Referee found coverage under the policies was triggered and calculated Harleysville's pro rata portion of the progressive damages based on its time on the risk. After review of the arguments on appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the findings of the Special Referee in the Magnolia North matter, and affirmed as modified in the Riverwalk matter. View "Harleysville Group Ins. v. Heritage Communities, Inc." on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a Court of Appeals' decision affirming a circuit court order denying petitioner's John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods of the Carolinas, Inc.'s ("JWH") motion to compel arbitration. JWH sold lots and "spec" homes on a sixty-five acre residential subdivision. In 2007, respondents ("the Parsons") executed a purchase agreement to buy a home built and sold by JWH ("the Property"). In 2008, the Parsons discovered PVC pipes and a metal lined concrete box buried on their Property. The PVC pipes and box contained "black sludge," which tested positive as a hazardous substance. JWH entered a cleanup contract with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. JWH completed and paid for the cleanup per the cleanup contract. The Parsons claim they were unaware the Property was previously an industrial site and contained hazardous substances. In 2011, the Parsons filed the present lawsuit alleging JWH breached the purchase agreement by failing to disclose defects with the Property, selling property that was contaminated, and selling property with known underground pipes. The Parsons further alleged breach of contract, breach of implied warranties, unfair trade practices, negligent misrepresentation, negligence and gross negligence, and fraud. JWH moved to compel arbitration and dismiss the complaint. The motion asserted that all of the Parsons' claims arose out of the purchase agreement, and the Parsons clearly agreed that all such disputes would be decided by arbitration. The circuit court denied the motion and found the arbitration clause was unenforceable. The Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court's finding that the scope of the arbitration clause was restricted to Warranty claims and declined to address the circuit court's application of the outrageous torts exception doctrine. The Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court's conclusion and reversed. View "Parsons v. John Wieland Homes" on Justia Law

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In August 2005, D.R. Horton, Inc. completed construction of the Smiths' home, and the Smiths closed on the property and received the deed. Thereafter, the Smiths experienced a myriad of problems with the home that resulted in severe water damage to the property. D.R. Horton attempted to repair the alleged construction defects on "numerous occasions" during the next five years, but was ultimately unsuccessful. In 2010, the Smiths filed a construction defect case against D.R. Horton and seven subcontractors. In response, D.R. Horton filed a motion to compel arbitration. The Smiths opposed the motion, arguing, inter alia, that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and therefore unenforceable. The circuit court denied D.R. Horton's motion to compel arbitration, finding that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable. D.R. Horton appealed, but finding no error in the circuit court's decision, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. View "Smith v. D.R. Horton, Inc" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of a $17 million verdict rendered in favor of Francis Maybank for claims sounding in contract, tort, and the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA). Maybank brought this action alleging he received faulty investment advice from Branch Banking and Trust (BB&T - the Bank) through BB&T Wealth Management (Wealth Management) and BB&T Asset Management (Asset Management), all operating under the corporate umbrella of BB&T Corporation (collectively, Appellants). Appellants appealed on numerous grounds, and Maybank appealed the trial court's denial of prejudgment interest. After review, the Supreme Court reversed as to an award of punitive damages based on a limitation of liability clause. The Court affirmed on all other grounds. View "Maybank v. BB&T" on Justia Law

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Knight Systems, Inc., owned and operated by Buddy Knight, engaged primarily in the mortuary transport business until 2007. Knight Systems entered into an asset purchase agreement with Palmetto Mortuary Transport, Inc., a business owned by Donald and Ellen Lintal. Pursuant to the agreement, Knight Systems sold various tangible assets, goodwill, and customer accounts (including body removal service contracts with Richland County, Lexington County, and the University of South Carolina) to Palmetto in exchange for a purchase price of $590,000. The agreement also contained an exclusive sales provision that obligated Palmetto to purchase body bags at specified discounted prices from Knight Systems for ten years, and a non-compete clause. At issue in this case was a Richland County-issued request for proposal (RFP) seeking mortuary transport services from a provider for a period of five years. At that time, Palmetto still held the services contract with Richland County as a result of the Agreement. Palmetto timely submitted a response to the RFP. One day before responses to the RFP were due, Buddy accused Palmetto of breaching the agreement by buying infant body bags from other manufacturers in 2008. After this telephone conversation, Buddy consulted with his attorney and submitted a response to the RFP. After the RFP deadline passed, Buddy contacted an official at the Richland County Procurement Office, seeking a determination that Knight Systems be awarded the mortuary transport services contract because it was the only provider of odor-proof body bags required by the RFP. Although Palmetto asserted its response to the RFP contained the lowest price for services and had the highest total of points from the Richland County Procurement Office, Richland County awarded Knight Systems the mortuary transport services contract for a five-year term. Palmetto filed a complaint against Knight, asserting claims for breach of contract, breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act, and intentional interference with prospective contractual relations. A special referee ruled in favor of Palmetto, and Knight appealed. Knight argued the special referee erred in failing to find: (1) the geographic restriction in the parties' covenant not to compete was unreasonable and void; (2) the Covenant's territorial restriction was unsupported by independent and valuable consideration; (3) the Covenant was void as a matter of public policy; and (4) the Covenant became void after any breach by Palmetto. The Supreme Court found that the Covenant's 150-mile territorial restriction was unreasonable and unenforceable. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Palmetto Mortuary Transport v. Knight Systems, Inc." on Justia Law