Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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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: β€œthe 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

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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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Several insurance companies (the Insurers) appealed the denial of their motions to intervene in a construction defect action between a property owners' association (the Association) and a number of construction contractors and subcontractors (the Insureds). The underlying construction defect action proceeded to trial, resulting in a verdict for the Association. After review, the South Carolina Supreme Court determined the Insurers were not entitled to intervene as a matter of right, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying them permissive intervention. However, the Court held the Insurers had a right to a determination of which portions of the Association's damages are covered under the commercial general liability (CGL) policies between the Insurers and the Insureds. The Court also recognized that the Insurers had the right and ability to contest coverage of the jury verdict in a subsequent declaratory judgment action. "In that action, the Insurers and the Insureds will be bound by the existence and extent of any jury verdict in favor of the Association in the construction defect action. However, they will not be bound as to any factual matters for which a conflict of interest existed, such as determining what portion of the total damages are covered by any applicable CGL policies." View "Builders Mutual Insurance Company" 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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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