Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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The South Carolina Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision in Wilson v. Gandis, Op. No. 2018-UP-078 (S.C. Ct. App. filed Feb. 7, 2018). David Wilson, John Gandis, and Andrea Comeau-Shirley (Shirley) are members of Carolina Custom Converting, LLC (CCC). Wilson filed suit against Gandis, Shirley and CCC, alleging they engaged in oppressive conduct against him. Wilson also brought a derivative action against CCC. Wilson sought a forced buyout of his membership interest by Gandis, Shirley, and CCC. CCC counterclaimed against Wilson, alleging Wilson misappropriated its trade secrets and communicated these secrets to Neologic Distribution, Inc. and to Fresh Water Systems, Inc. During a five-day bench trial, the trial court received over three hundred exhibits and heard testimony from ten witnesses. The trial court found Gandis and Shirley engaged in oppressive conduct and ordered them to individually purchase Wilson's distributional interest in CCC for $347,863.23. The trial court found in favor of Wilson on CCC's, Gandis', and Shirley's counterclaim for breach of fiduciary duty. The trial court also found in favor of Wilson, Neologic, and Fresh Water on CCC's trade secrets claim. CCC, Gandis, and Shirley appealed. In an unpublished opinion, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court and adopted the trial court's order in its entirety. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed as modified the court of appeals' decision as to Wilson's claim for oppression, affirmed the court of appeals' decision as to Gandis' and Shirley's claim for breach of fiduciary duty, and affirmed the court of appeals' decision as CCC's claim for misappropriation of trade secrets. View "Wilson v. Gandis" 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. Plaintiff Johnny Thomerson alleged Defendants, the former owners of Lenco Marine (a manufacturer of boat products), failed to give him a three-percent ownership interest in Lenco that was promised to him as part of his compensation package. Plaintiff was hired by Lenco no later than May 2007. Defendant Samuel Mullinax was the CEO of Lenco and Defendant Richard DeVito was its president. Lenco was sold in December 2016 to Power Products, LLC. In his complaint, Plaintiff asserted claims against Defendants for: (1) breach of contract and the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (2) promissory estoppel; (3) quantum meruit and unjust enrichment; (4) negligent misrepresentation; (5) constructive fraud; and (6) amounts due under the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing the claims were time-barred. The federal court asked whether the three-year statute of limitations of S.C. Code Ann. 15-3-530 applied to claims for promissory estoppel. The Supreme Court took the opportunity to clarify state law in this regard, and held that the statute of limitations did not apply to promissory estoppel claims. View "Thomerson v. DeVito" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court's review centered on whether Respondent, the Murkin Group, LLC (Murkin), engaged in the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). In April 2017, the Wando River Grill (Restaurant) became dissatisfied with the service of its linen supplier (Cintas) and Cintas' ability to supply the type of linens Restaurant needed. Restaurant contacted another supplier to secure some or all of its required linens and notified Cintas of its need to suspend at least a portion of Cintas' services. Cintas claimed Restaurant's suspension of service constituted a breach of the parties' contract, invoked a liquidated damages provision in the contract, sought more than $8,000 in damages, and hired Murkin to collect the outstanding debt. Petitioner, a South Carolina attorney, represented Restaurant in the resulting dispute. In April 2018, Murkin sent a demand-for-payment letter to Restaurant. Because a Murkin-prepared reinstatement agreement materially altered the terms of the parties' original contract and imposed new obligations on Restaurant and because the agreement's terms were contrary to discussions Cintas personnel had directly with Restaurant, Restaurant sent the proposed reinstatement agreement to Petitioner. All further communications were handled through Murkin. Ultimately, Restaurant did not sign the reinstatement agreement, and no South Carolina counsel for Murkin or Cintas contacted Petitioner. Further, Murkin threatened litigation of the dispute was not resolved. Petitioner then asked Murkin for the South Carolina Bar numbers of several Murkin employees, but Murkin felt Petitioner's desire to deal with Murkin's local counsel "means nothing, since that is a decision made between our client and our office." Murkin further claimed authority to bind any attorney to whom Murkin referred the matter to settle for no less than Murkin demanded. Petitioner lodged a petition with the Supreme Court, alleging UPL. A special master appointed by the Court determined Murkin went beyond the "mere collection of debt" and crossed into UPL by negotiating the contract dispute; purporting to advise Cintas as to what legal action it should take; advising the parties as to whether to take a settlement offer; and purporting to control whether and when the case would be referred to an attorney. The Supreme Court concurred Murkin's actions constituted UPL. View "Westbrook v. Murkin Group" on Justia Law

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The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari on the narrow question of whether a creditor may execute on a judgment more than ten years after its enrollment when the time period has expired during the course of litigation. In 2001, Rudolph Drews, the now-deceased uncle of Petitioner Donald Lancaster, was found liable in a civil action for violating securities laws in an investment scheme for a new business venture in Charleston. Judgment was enrolled against Drews in 2002; in August of 2006, Respondent Frank Gordon, a creditor on the 2002 judgment, filed a petition at circuit court for supplemental proceedings. After a hearing, Gordon's counsel became suspicious that Drews' wife and Lancaster were complicit in shielding Drews' assets from creditors. The hearing was continued when Drews failed to produce tax and financial documents. In 2007, Rudolph Drews died, and his estate was opened shortly thereafter. Gordon sought to continue supplemental proceedings, but delays in administering the estate arose. In 2010, Lancaster was deposed as part of supplemental proceedings, which confirmed Gordon's suspicions that he and Drews' wife were involved in shielding Drews' assets. Soon after, one day before her scheduled deposition, Drews' wife died. In November 2010, Gordon filed this action, asserting Lancaster assisted Drews in hiding assets from creditors in violation of the Statute of Elizabeth. In November 2011, Drews' estate confessed judgment of $293,703.43, and his wife's estate settled with Gordon for $60,000. Both estates assigned their interests to him. A two-day bench trial occurred in June 2013, wherein Lancaster moved for a directed verdict based on Gordon's prior concession that this suit was based on the 2001 judgment. According to Lancaster, because more than ten years had elapsed from the date the judgment was entered, the judgment's "active energy" had expired. The court disagreed and denied the motion, finding in favor of Gordon for $211,677.30. Lancaster appealed to the court of appeals, and in a split decision, the majority, held the trial court correctly determined section 15-39-30 did not bar satisfaction of the 2001 judgment because Gordon had timely filed this action within the ten-year window and continued to pursue it. The Supreme Court’s resolution of this case required it to revisit Linda Mc Co. v. Shore, 703 S.E.2d 499 (2010), which the court of appeals broadly interpreted as extending a judgment's life beyond the statutory ten-year limit merely by filing the action within ten years. The Supreme Court reversed and overruled Linda Mc. View "Gordon v. Lancaster" 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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Appellant Retail Services owned and operated three separate liquor store locations in Charleston, Greenville, and Columbia, South Carolina. SCDOR was charged with the administration of South Carolina's statutes concerning the manufacturing, sale, and retail of alcoholic liquors. Retail Services petitioned SCDOR to open a fourth store in Aiken, however, SCDOR refused to grant Retail Services a fourth liquor license under sections 61-6-140 and -150 of the South Carolina Code, which limited a liquor-selling entity to three retail liquor licenses. Additionally, ABC Stores lobbied the General Assembly on behalf of its members who are owners and holders of retail dealer licenses. Therefore, Retail Services brought this action against SCDOR and ABC Stores seeking a declaratory judgment that these provisions of the South Carolina Code were unconstitutional. The trial court found the provisions constitutional because: (1) they were within the scope of the State's police power; and (2) they satisfied the rational basis test, which, because they did not infringe on a fundamental right or implicate a suspect class, was all that was required. Therefore, the circuit court granted Respondents' motions for summary judgment. Appellant appealed the circuit court's decision. The Supreme Court reversed. "Not only is there no indication in this record that these provisions exist for any other reason than economic protectionism, the provisions themselves and statutory scheme to which they belong lend further support to Appellant's position. As Appellant points out, the provisions do not limit the number of liquor stores that can be licensed in a certain area-only the number than can be owned by one person or entity. Another provision governs the specific placement of retail establishments away from churches, schools and playgrounds. Therefore, Respondents' contention that the provisions advance the safety and moral interests of the State, no doubt a legitimate State interest, is unavailing with respect to sections 61-6-140 and -150." View "Retail Services & Systems, Inc. v. SDCOR" on Justia Law

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The underlying matter to this appeal stemmed from Emmitt Scully's departure from Allegro, Inc., a professional employer organization (PEO), in order to form a competing PEO, Synergetic, Inc., along with former Allegro employees, including Yvonne Yarborough. Allegro brought this suit against petitioners Scully, Yarborough, Synergetic, and George Corbin (a former client of Allegro who also performed some accounting services for the company). The jury returned a verdict in favor of Allegro on all claims and awarded it $1.76 million in actual damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. Petitioners moved for, inter alia, judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) on all causes of action, which the trial court denied. The court of appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial. In its review of the case, the South Carolina Supreme Court addressed only whether the claims for civil conspiracy, breach of contract, and breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act should have been included in the remand. The Supreme Court found those causes of action should never have been submitted to the jury and therefore held the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court's denial of JNOV as to those claims. View "Allegro, Inc. v. Scully" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business 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

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In 2006, Alice Hancock waited in her vehicle in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart while her sister, Donna Beckham, attempted to shoplift several articles of clothing. Hope Rollings, a Wal-Mart customer service manager, noticed Beckham attempting to shoplift and alerted several other employees, including fellow manager Shawn Cox and the on-duty security guard Derrick Jones of U.S. Security Associates, Inc. (USSA), which provided security in the Wal-Mart parking lot pursuant to a contract with Wal-Mart. Ultimately, Beckham exited Wal-Mart without the clothing. However, Jones approached her in the parking lot. Beckham ran towards Hancock's vehicle, and Jones followed her in his truck and blocked Hancock's vehicle with his truck. After Beckham entered Hancock's vehicle, Hancock turned the vehicle around and drove towards the parking lot's exit, with Jones following. Hancock exited the parking lot onto a highway, and Jones followed. Approximately two miles from Wal-Mart, Hancock's vehicle left the highway and crashed. Hancock died at the scene of the accident. Petitioner Travis Roddey, the personal representative of Hancock's estate, brought an action alleging negligence on the part of Wal-Mart, USSA, and Jones. Petitioner appealed the court of appeals' decision to affirm the trial court's grant of Wal-Mart's motion for a directed verdict on Petitioner's negligence claim. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the Supreme Court found that there was evidence from which a jury could determine that Wal-Mart was negligent, and that its negligence proximately caused the injuries in this case. Accordingly, the Court held that the trial court should have submitted to the jury the issues of Wal-Mart's negligence and proximate cause, and remanded for a new trial as to all of the defendants. View "Roddey v. Wal-Mart Stores" on Justia Law