Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts

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In November 2008, the Anderson County, South Carolina Council (2008 Council) approved a $1.1 million Severance Agreement for county administrator Joey Preston (Preston). In January 2009, a new county council (2009 Council) was sworn in, and filed suit seeking to invalidate the Severance Agreement. The circuit court ruled that, despite tainted votes, the Severance Agreement was valid and also held: (1) public policy rendered neither the Severance Agreement nor the vote adopting it void; (2) Preston did not breach a fiduciary duty because he owed no duty to disclose Council members' personal conflicts of interest; (3) the County failed to prove its claims for fraud, constructive fraud, and negligent misrepresentation; (4) the 2008 Council's approval of the Severance Agreement was neither unreasonable or capricious nor a product of fraud and abuse of power; (5) the County's constructive trust claim no longer remained viable; (6) rescission was unavailable as a remedy; (7) the County had unclean hands; (8) adequate remedies at law barred the County from invoking the court's equitable jurisdiction; (9) the County breached the covenant not to sue in the Severance Agreement by bringing this lawsuit; and (10) the issue concerning the award of attorney's fees should be held in abeyance pending the final disposition and filing of a petition. Pertinent here, a panel of the Court of Appeals found the trial court erred in refusing to invalidate the 2008 Council's approval of the Severance Agreement based upon the absence of a quorum, and reversed. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined this judgment was made in error: the County lacked a quorum. The matter was remanded to the circuit court to determine the exact amount Preston had to refund the County. View "Anderson County v. Preston" 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. The Supreme Court was asked to construe section 38-77-350(C) of the South Carolina Code (2015) and determine whether, under the facts presented, an insurance company was required to make a new offer of underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage when an additional named insured is added to an existing policy. In 2012, Wayne Reeves acquired an insurance policy from Progressive Direct Insurance Company (Progressive) covering his motorcycle. When the policy was issued, Wayne declined optional UIM coverage. In 2015, Wayne's wife (Jennifer) and son (Bryan) were added to the policy as "drivers and household residents," because they also drove motorcycles. In 2017, Bryan sold his motorcycle and purchased another motorcycle, a 2016 Harley Davidson, which was added to the policy. At the time, Wayne had Bryan added as named insured to the policy. Progressive did not offer Bryan any optional coverages. Later in 2017, Bryan was involved in an accident while driving his 2016 Harley Davidson. Bryan ultimately made a claim against Progressive to reform the policy to include UIM coverage based on Progressive's failure to offer him the optional coverage. Progressive contended that adding Bryan as a named insured was a change to an existing policy, and as a result, Progressive was not required to offer Bryan UIM coverage. Based on the undisputed facts, the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The Supreme Court concluded under South Carolina law, Progressive was not required to make an additional offer of UIM coverage to Bryan. View "Progressive Direct v. Reeves" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from fourteen lawsuits brought by various plaintiffs against (1) Laura Willis, an insurance agent; (2) Jesse Dantice, the insurance broker who hired Willis and made her the agent in charge of the insurance office; (3) their insurance agency, Southern Risk Insurance Services, LLC (Southern Risk), and (4) six insurance companies for which their office sold policies (the Insurers). The plaintiffs in the lawsuits were Willis's customers (the Insureds) and other insurance agents (the Agents) in competition with Willis and Southern Risk. The Insureds filed twelve of the lawsuits, asserting claims against Willis, Dantice, and Southern Risk for, inter alia, violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA), common law unfair trade practices, fraud, and conversion. They also named the Insurers as defendants on a respondeat superior theory of liability for failing to adequately supervise or audit Willis and Southern Risk. The question before the South Carolina Supreme Court was whether arbitration should have been enforced against nonsignatories to a contract containing an arbitration clause. The circuit court denied the motion to compel arbitration. The court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding equitable estoppel was applicable to enforce arbitration against the nonsignatories. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding the circuit court properly denied the motion to compel arbitration. View "Wilson v. Willis" on Justia Law

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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

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

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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

Posted in: Contracts

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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