Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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The Callawassie Island Members Club, Inc. ("the Club"), brought separate actions against three couples—the Martins, the Freys, and the Quinns—following a dispute over membership dues. The circuit court granted the Club's motion for summary judgment. The court of appeals consolidated the parties' appeals and affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted a petition for certiorari review filed by Michael Frey, who challenged the award of summary judgment. Frey contended material questions of fact existed as to whether the Club improperly billed him for continuing membership dues, particularly where his membership was suspended over a decade ago and membership was undisputedly optional when he joined. To this the Court concurred, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Callawasie Island Members Club v. Frey" on Justia Law

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PCS Nitrogen sought insurance coverage for liability arising from contamination of a fertilizer manufacturing site in Charleston, South Carolina, claiming its right to coverage stemmed from an assignment of insurance benefits executed by Columbia Nitrogen Corporation in 1986. Respondents, the insurance carriers who issued the policies at issue, claimed they owed no coverage because Columbia Nitrogen Corporation executed the assignment without their consent. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Respondents, and the court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted PCS's petition for a writ of certiorari, finding Columbia Nitrogen Corporation executed a valid post-loss assignment of insurance rights in 1986. "PCS cannot be denied coverage on the basis that Respondents did not consent to the assignment." The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "PCS Nitrogen, Inc. v Continental Casualty Company, et al." on Justia Law

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Before the South Carolina Supreme Court in this appeal was the trial court's dismissal of respondent Jeanne Beverly's claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. Beverly brought claims against Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, LLC. Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina (BCBS) was a mutual insurance company that provided health insurance coverage through Member Benefits Contracts to its Members. Beverly was a BCBS Member. In 2005, Grand Strand and BCBS entered into a contract labeled "Institutional Agreement." The Institutional Agreement contained a clause entitled, "No Third Party Beneficiaries," that provided in part, "This Agreement is not intended to, and shall not be construed to, make any person or entity a third party beneficiary." Grand Strand and BCBS were the only parties to the Institutional Agreement. Grand Strand made two promises to BCBS in the Institutional Agreement that Beverly contended created rights she and other BCBS Members could enforce. Beverly was injured in an automobile accident on September 6, 2012. The same day, she received health care services at a Grand Strand emergency room for injuries she sustained in the accident. Beverly alleges she provided Grand Strand proof of her status as a BCBS Member. Some time later, Beverly received a bill directly from Grand Strand for $8,000. Beverly alleges the $8,000 bill does not reflect the discount Grand Strand promised in the Institutional Agreement. Beverly filed this action on behalf of herself and a class of similarly situated BCBS Members who were denied the right to have their bills processed and discounted according to Grand Strand's promises in the Institutional Agreement. The primary question before the Supreme Court was whether the "no beneficiary" clause in the Institutional Agreement overrode an otherwise manifestly clear purpose of the contracting parties to provide a direct benefit to non-contracting parties. "Mindful that we are reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal order—not an order on the merits—we hold it does not." The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' opinion reversing the 12(b)(6) dismissal. The case was remanded to circuit court for discovery and trial. View "Beverly v. Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a construction defect lawsuit involving waterfront townhomes on Lake Keowee in Oconee County, South Carolina. After a two-week trial, Petitioners-Respondents Stoneledge at Lake Keowee Owners' Association, Inc. (the HOA) received plaintiff's verdicts against several defendants, including Respondents-Petitioners Marick Home Builders, LLC and Rick Thoennes. Marick Home Builders, Thoennes, and other defendants appealed, and in a pair of published opinions, the court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted several writs of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decisions. Here, the Court reviewed "Stoneledge I" and addressed the trial court's: (1) jury charge; (2) denial of Marick's directed verdict motions; (3) finding of amalgamation; and (4) calculation of damages. The Supreme Court affirmrf the court of appeals as to the jury charge and as to the trial court's denial of Marick's motions. The Court reversed the court of appeals as to amalgamation. The Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the court of appeals as to the amount of the judgment in favor of the HOA and remanded to the circuit court for final calculation and entry of judgment. View "Stoneledge at Lake Keowee v. IMK Development Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted three certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. In this case, Curt Hall sued UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS) (his former employer) and Mary Reid, a former co-worker, seeking to hold them liable for damages he allegedly incurred when he was fired by UBS. Hall's claims against UBS included one for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and Hall's claims against Reid included one for tortious interference with contractual relations. The certified questions concerned the nature of Hall's at-will employment and the viability of Hall's causes of action in the employment at-will context. Hall did not concede he was an at-will employee. The Supreme Court held: (1) terminable at-will employment relationships are contractual in nature as a matter of law; (2a) the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing may arise in the context of terminable-at-will employment relationships; (2b) an employer's termination of an at-will employee does not constitute a breach of the relationship such that it may give rise to a claim by the former employee against the employer for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (3) potential liability extends to third parties who are not fellow employees of the terminated employee. The Court issued a caveat to its responses to the district court's questions: it answered all questions under the assumption that no exception to the doctrine of at-will employment applies "our answers to these questions do not alter the established rule that, as long as an exception does not apply, an employer may terminate an at-will employee for any reason without incurring liability." View "Hall v. UBS Financial Services Inc." on Justia Law

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After sustaining injuries in a vehicle driven by her son, Kevin Simms, Petitioner Belinda Pickens sought UM coverage through her policy with Respondent United Services Automobile Association (USAA). At the time of the accident, Pickens's policy covered five vehicles, including the 1997 Chevrolet involved in the accident. The policy included liability, personal injury protection (PIP), UM, and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. Pickens also executed a named driver exclusion. Pickens's declarations page also contained a provision that stated, "***COVERAGES EXCLUDED WHEN ANY VEHICLE OPERATED BY KEVIN SIMMS***." USAA denied Pickens's claim and initiated a declaratory judgment action asserting she was not entitled to UM coverage because Simms, the excluded driver, was operating the vehicle at the time of the accident. Pickens sued USAA and lost. The issue this case presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court's review centered on whether Section 38-77-340 of the South Carolina Code (2015) permitted a named driver exclusion that precluded uninsured motorist (UM) coverage to a passenger injured in an accident involving an unknown driver. The Court held that it did. "As the circuit court noted, no liability coverage would have been afforded to a third party had Simms been at fault, and thus, it would violate public policy to allow Pickens to recover UM when she was the person who executed the exclusion yet knowingly allowed Simms to drive her vehicle." View "United Services Automobile Association v. Pickens" on Justia Law

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Kristina Knight agreed to an endorsement to her Nationwide automobile insurance policy providing the coverage in the policy would not apply to her husband. During the policy period, Danny Knight was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. Knight, as personal representative of Danny's estate, recovered $25,000 in UIM coverage under Danny's motorcycle insurance policy with Progressive Casualty Insurance Company and $25,000 in UIM coverage under a policy with ACCC Insurance Company insuring a different vehicle Danny owned. Knight made a claim with Nationwide to recover an additional $25,000 in UIM coverage under her insurance policy. Nationwide denied the claim and filed this lawsuit asking the trial court to declare Nationwide did not have to pay the $25,000 because Danny was excluded from all coverages under the policy. On appeal, Knight claimed the endorsement excluding coverage for her husband violated public policy and Nationwide could not enforce it. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the exclusion was clear and unambiguous and was not in violation of any statute. Therefore, the Court held the exclusion was enforceable. View "Nationwide Insurance Company of America v. Knight" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina certified a question to the South Carolina Supreme Court on whether a homeowner's insurance policy that did not define the term "actual cash value," an insurer could depreciate the cost of labor in determining the "actual cash value" of a covered loss when the estimated cost to repair or replace the damaged property includes both materials and embedded labor components. This issue arose in two cases in which the homes of Miriam Butler and Joseph Stewart were damaged in separate fires. Butler and Stewart each purchased a homeowner's insurance policy from one of the defendants, both of whom were subsidiaries of The Travelers Companies, Inc. Butler and Stewart elected not to immediately repair or replace their damaged property. Each thus elected not to receive replacement cost but instead to receive a cash payment for the ACV of the damaged property. The certified question addressed whether Travelers properly calculated the ACV payments Travelers offered to Butler and Stewart to settle their property damage claims. The Supreme Court responded affirmatively: “the fact the labor cost is embedded makes it impractical, if not impossible, to include depreciation for materials and not for labor to determine ACV of the damaged property. Rather, the value of the damaged property is reasonably calculated as a unit. Therefore, we answer the certified question "yes," because it makes no sense for an insurer to include depreciation for materials and not for embedded labor.” View "Butler v. The Travelers Home" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a civil action to collect a debt under a contract that contained an arbitration provision. The defendants appealed the master in equity's order refusing to set aside the entry of their default. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal on the basis that an order refusing to set aside an entry of default was not immediately appealable. The defendants filed a petition for a writ of certiorari claiming the order was immediately appealable because it had the effect of precluding their motion to compel arbitration, and in fact, the order states, "Defendants' motion to stay and compel arbitration is denied as [the defendants are] in default." Finding no reversible error, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals. View "Palmetto Construction Group, LLC v. Restoration Specialists, LLC" on Justia Law

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William Crenshaw, a tenured professor of English at Erskine College, filed suit claiming he was wrongfully fired. A jury found in favor of Dr. Crenshaw and awarded him $600,000. However, after review of the College's appeal, the South Carolina Supreme Court determined the trial court properly granted Erskine's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict because, as a matter of law, Erskine did not breach its contract with Dr. Crenshaw. View "Crenshaw v. Erskine College" on Justia Law