Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
Nationwide v. Green
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
USAA Casualty v. Rafferty
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
Walbeck, et al. v. The I’On Company
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
Clarke v. Fine Housing, Inc.
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
Damico v. Lennar Carolinas, LLC et al.
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
Poly-Med, Inc. v. Novus Scientific Pte. Ltd., et al.
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
Posted in: Business Law, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Health Law, South Carolina Supreme Court
Callawasie Island Members Club v. Frey
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
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Contracts, South Carolina Supreme Court
PCS Nitrogen, Inc. v Continental Casualty Company, et al.
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
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Contracts, Insurance Law, South Carolina Supreme Court
Beverly v. Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, LLC
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
Posted in: Contracts, Health Law, Insurance Law, South Carolina Supreme Court
Stoneledge at Lake Keowee v. IMK Development Co., LLC
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
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Construction Law, Contracts, South Carolina Supreme Court