Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
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This case involves a dispute over a real estate development project in Beaufort County, South Carolina. The developer, Road, LLC, purchased a 229-acre peninsula with plans to develop it. However, the project was contingent on resolving two disputes concerning the only access road to the peninsula. The first dispute involved neighboring landowners who claimed ownership of a parcel of land the access road crossed. The second dispute involved Beaufort County's denial of the developer's request for a zoning variance to relocate and improve the access road. The developer, the neighboring landowners, and Beaufort County settled both disputes in a written "Settlement Agreement." However, the developer eventually defaulted on its loan and the lender took title to the peninsula. After the developer's options to repurchase the peninsula expired, Beaufort County purchased the peninsula to prevent its development. Road, LLC argued that Beaufort County breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in the Settlement Agreement by purchasing the peninsula, thereby extinguishing any opportunity Road might later gain to sell the parcel to another developer.The trial court initially ruled in favor of Road, LLC, but later granted Beaufort County's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, arguing that there was no breach of the Settlement Agreement and that Road presented no evidence to support the jury's $5 million award. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision on the grounds that there was no evidence Beaufort County was the proximate cause of Road's damages and that the evidence showed Road did not suffer $5 million in damages because the property was still worth $5 million after the County purchased the peninsula.The Supreme Court of South Carolina affirmed the court of appeals' decision in result. The court held that the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing cannot create new contractual duties not expressly stated or fairly implied in the contract itself. The court found that the Settlement Agreement did not prohibit Beaufort County from purchasing the peninsula once the developer's option expired. Therefore, the court concluded that Beaufort County could not have breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in the Settlement Agreement. View "Road, LLC and Pinckney Point, LLC v. Beaufort County" on Justia Law

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In South Carolina, Phillip Francis Luke Hughes, on behalf of the estate of his late mother, Jane Hughes, sued Bank of America for fraud, fraudulent concealment, and breach of contract, alleging that the bank charged insurance premiums in connection with a home equity line of credit his parents obtained in 2006, even though they declined the insurance offer. The bank argued that the claims did not survive Jane Hughes's death, were barred by res judicata and the statute of limitations, and that their motion for sanctions was not premature.The Supreme Court of South Carolina held that the claims for fraud and fraudulent concealment survived Jane Hughes's death. However, it also held that all three claims were barred by the res judicata effect of rulings in related federal court litigation. The court affirmed as modified in part and reversed in part the lower court's decision. The court also affirmed the lower court's decision that the sanctions motion was not premature. The court further held that the claim for breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act survived Jane Hughes's death, but was also barred by res judicata.As for the statute of limitations issue, the court held that the statute of limitations had expired before the action was commenced and that the plaintiff was precluded from relitigating the equitable tolling issue. The court remanded Bank of America's sanctions motion to the lower court for disposition. View "Hughes v. Bank of America" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Rick Hendrick Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram (Rick Hendrick Dodge) and Isiah White argued an arbitrator had to decide whether they could enforce an arbitration provision in a contract even after that contract had been assigned to a third party. The court of appeals rejected this argument and affirmed the circuit court's determinations that: (1) the circuit court was the proper forum for deciding the gateway question of whether the dispute is arbitrable; and (2) Petitioners could not compel arbitration because Rick Hendrick Dodge assigned the contract to a third party. The South Carolina Supreme Court held that the doctrine announced in Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 395 (1967) required the arbitrator to decide whether the assignment extinguished Petitioners' right to compel arbitration. Therefore, the Court reversed the court of appeals' decision and vacated the circuit court's discovery order. View "Sanders v. Savannah Highway Automotive Company" on Justia Law

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Hicks Unlimited, Inc. contracted to rent uniforms for its employees from UniFirst Corporation. The contract contained an arbitration provision stating all disputes between them would be decided by binding arbitration to be conducted "pursuant to the Expedited Procedures of the Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association [AAA] and shall be governed by the Federal Arbitration Act [FAA]." A dispute arose; UniFirst moved to compel arbitration. Hicks contended the arbitration agreement was unenforceable because it did not comply with the notice requirements of South Carolina's Arbitration Act (SCAA). The circuit court denied the motion to compel arbitration, ruling the contract did not implicate interstate commerce and, therefore, the FAA did not apply. The circuit court further ruled the arbitration provision was not enforceable because it did not meet the SCAA's notice requirements. UniFirst appealed. The court of appeals reversed, holding arbitration should have been compelled because the contract involved interstate commerce and, therefore, the FAA preempted the SCAA. The South Carolina Supreme Court found that because the contract between Hicks and UniFirst did not involve interstate commerce in fact, the order of the circuit court denying UniFirst's motion to compel arbitration was affirmed, and the court of appeals' opinion was reversed. View "Hicks Unlimited v. UniFirst" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Appellant Nationwide Affinity Insurance Company of America (Nationwide) issued a personal automobile insurance policy to Shameika Clark, Respondent Andrew Green's mother. The policy included $25,000 in UIM property damage coverage for Clark and her family members. The general definition section broadly defined "property damage" as "physical injury to, destruction of[,] or loss of use of tangible property." The UIM endorsement, however, more narrowly defined "property damage" as "injury to or destruction of 'your covered auto.'" In October 2018, Green was hit by a vehicle while walking home from school. Green pursued a claim against Nationwide for UIM bodily injury, but Nationwide refused to pay because the accident did not result in “damage to a “covered auto.” Nationwide filed this declaratory judgment action and requested a declaration that Green was not entitled to UIM property damage. The circuit court reformed Nationwide’s policy rider issued to Clark, finding that under South Carolina case law, insurers could not limit that coverage to vehicles defined in policy as “covered autos.” The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. View "Nationwide v. Green" on Justia Law

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The federal district court for the District of South Carolina certified a question of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. In 2019, USAA issued a personal automobile policy to Megan Jenkins. The policy defined "your covered auto" as any vehicle shown on the policy's declaration, any newly acquired vehicle, and any trailer owned by the insured. While riding her bicycle, Jenkins was struck and killed by an underinsured motorist. Defendant Vincent Rafferty—Jenkins' personal representative—made a claim under Jenkins' policy for UIM property damage arising from damage to the bicycle. USAA Casualty Insurance Company (USAA) denied the claim and commenced this action in federal court, asserting Jenkins' bicycle did not fall within the definition of "your covered auto." Whether USAA prevailed depended upon whether automobile insurers were required to offer UIM property damage coverage at all. If insurers were not required to offer UIM property damage coverage, they were free to restrict such coverage to an insured's "covered auto." The federal court asked the Supreme Court whether, under South Carolina Law, an auto insurer could validly limit underinsured motorist property damage coverage to property damage to vehicles defined in the policy as a “covered auto.” In their briefs and during oral argument, the parties did not directly address the question as framed by the district court. Instead, the parties briefed and argued the broader question of whether an automobile insurer's offer of underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage had to include property damage coverage. Because the answer to the broader question yielded the answer to the certified question, the Supreme Court addressed the parties’ question. USAA rightly conceded that if the Supreme Court held an insurer was required to offer UIM property damage coverage, the Court had to answer the certified question "no." The Court indeed held insurers were required to offer UIM property damage coverage, and therefore answered the certified question "no." View "USAA Casualty v. Rafferty" on Justia Law

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This case involved promises made and broken to homeowners by a developer and its affiliated entities. A jury returned verdicts on several causes of action in favor of the homeowners, and the developer appealed. The court of appeals initially upheld the jury's verdict for $1.75 million on the homeowners' breach of fiduciary claim and a verdict for $10,000 on a breach of contract claim by an individual homeowner. Thereafter, upon petitions for rehearing, the court of appeals completely reversed course, dismissing all of the homeowners' claims as a matter of law and reversing and remanding the breach of contract claim by the individual homeowner. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari and affirmed in part and reversed in part, thus reinstating the jury's verdicts. The Court: (1) reversed the court of appeals' ruling on the statute of limitations because the issue as to when Homeowners had adequate notice to begin the limitations clock was properly presented to the jury and resolved by it; (2) found any procedural issues related to the derivative claims either (a) moot as the HOA was realigned as a plaintiff and the trial court explicitly found it adopted its own claims against the Developers, or (b) demand was saved by futility due to the Developer's continuing veto power; (3) held that Developers breached the fiduciary duties owed to Homeowners; (4) reversed the court of appeals' decision that Developers could not be amalgamated, as there was more than enough evidence of bad faith, abuse, fraud, wrongdoing, or injustice resulting from the blurring of the entities' legal distinctions; and (5) affirmed the court of appeals that the recreational easement was invalid. View "Walbeck, et al. v. The I'On Company" on Justia Law

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Barry Clarke brought this action for specific performance of a right of first refusal. Clarke owned a strip club at 2015 Pittsburgh Avenue in Charleston, South Carolina. Group Investment Company, Inc., whose shareholders were John Robinson and Robin Robinson, owned a strip club across the street at 2028 Pittsburgh Avenue (the Subject Property). The Subject Property included buildings, a parking lot, and other land. In 1999, Clarke and Group Investment entered into a recorded lease that allowed Clarke to use half of the parking spaces located on the Subject Property. In 2007, Group Investment conveyed the Subject Property to RRJR, LLC for the stated consideration of $5.00. John Robinson and Robin Robinson were members of RRJR. Clarke testified he "probably" knew Group Investment transferred the Subject Property to RRJR, but Clarke claimed he did not seek to exercise the Right at that time because Group Investment and RRJR were "the same people." In 2013, RRJR conveyed the Subject Property to Fine Housing for $150,000.00. Fine Housing's closing attorney did not take note of the Lease or the Right prior to the closing, but Fine Housing conceded it had record notice of both the Lease and the Right. Neither Fine Housing nor RRJR notified Clarke of the sale of the Subject Property. Clarke learned of the sale in March 2014, and in May 2015, Clarke initiated this action for specific performance against Fine Housing and RRJR. RRJR did not answer and was in default. After a bench trial, the trial court ruled the Right was enforceable as to the entire Subject Property and ordered Fine Housing to convey title to the Subject Property to Clarke upon his payment of $350,000.00. The court of appeals reversed, holding the Right was an unreasonable restraint on alienation and was therefore unenforceable. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the Right did not identify the property it encumbered, contain price provisions, or contain procedures governing the exercise of the Right. Therefore, the Court concluded the Right was an unreasonable restraint on alienation, and affirmed the court of appeals' holding that the Right was unenforceable. View "Clarke v. Fine Housing, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case arose from a construction defect suit brought by a number of homeowners (Petitioners) against their homebuilder and general contractor, Lennar Carolinas, LLC (Lennar). Lennar moved to compel arbitration, citing the arbitration provisions in a series of contracts signed by Petitioners at the time they purchased their homes. Petitioners pointed to purportedly unconscionable provisions in the contracts generally and in the arbitration provision specifically. Citing a number of terms in the contracts, and without delineating between the contracts generally and the arbitration provision specifically, the circuit court denied Lennar's motion to compel, finding the contracts were grossly one-sided and unconscionable and, thus, the arbitration provisions contained within those contracts were unenforceable. The court of appeals reversed, explaining that the United States Supreme Court's holding in Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood & Conklin Manufacturing Co. forbade consideration of unconscionable terms outside of an arbitration provision (the Prima Paint doctrine). The court of appeals found the circuit court's analysis ran afoul of the Prima Paint doctrine as it relied on the oppressive nature of terms outside of the arbitration provisions. While the South Carolina Supreme Court agreed that the circuit court violated the Prima Paint doctrine, it nonetheless agreed with Petitioners and found the arbitration provisions, standing alone, contained a number of oppressive and one-sided terms, thereby rendering the provisions unconscionable and unenforceable under South Carolina law. The Court further declined to sever the unconscionable terms from the remainder of the arbitration provisions, as "it would encourage sophisticated parties to intentionally insert unconscionable terms—that often go unchallenged—throughout their contracts, believing the courts would step in and rescue the party from its gross overreach. ... Rather, we merely recognize that where a contract would remain one-sided and be fragmented after severance, the better policy is to decline the invitation for judicial severance." View "Damico v. Lennar Carolinas, LLC et al." on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit certified a question of law to the South Carolina Supreme Court. In June 2005, Poly-Med, Inc. (Poly-Med) entered into a Sale of Materials and License Agreement with the predecessor in interest to Defendants Novus Scientific Pte. Ltd., Novus Scientific, Inc., and Novus Scientific AB (collectively, Novus). The Agreement required Poly-Med to develop a surgical mesh for Novus's exclusive use in hernia-repair products. The dispute between Poly-Med and Novus arose from two ongoing obligations in the parties' Agreement. As characterized by the Fourth Circuit, the alleged breach of the Agreement centered on the contractual provisions that contained these two obligations: the "hernia-only" provision and the "patent-application" provisions. The federal court asked whether, under a contract with continuing rights and obligations, did South Carolina law recognize the continuing breach theory in applying the statute of limitations to breach-of-contract claims, such that claims for separate breaches that occurred (or were only first discovered) within the statutory period are not time-barred, notwithstanding the prior occurrence and/or discovery of breaches as to which the statute of limitations has expired? The Supreme Court found South Carolina did not recognize the continuing breach theory. "Moreover, it may matter greatly 'if the breaches are of the same character or type as the previous breaches now barred.'" Nevertheless, in a contract action, the Court held it was the intent of the parties that controlled: "Whether separate breaches of the same character or type as time-barred breaches trigger a new, separate statute of limitations depends on the parties' contractual relationship—specifically, what the parties intended." View "Poly-Med, Inc. v. Novus Scientific Pte. Ltd., et al." on Justia Law