Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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In August 2005, D.R. Horton, Inc. completed construction of the Smiths' home, and the Smiths closed on the property and received the deed. Thereafter, the Smiths experienced a myriad of problems with the home that resulted in severe water damage to the property. D.R. Horton attempted to repair the alleged construction defects on "numerous occasions" during the next five years, but was ultimately unsuccessful. In 2010, the Smiths filed a construction defect case against D.R. Horton and seven subcontractors. In response, D.R. Horton filed a motion to compel arbitration. The Smiths opposed the motion, arguing, inter alia, that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and therefore unenforceable. The circuit court denied D.R. Horton's motion to compel arbitration, finding that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable. D.R. Horton appealed, but finding no error in the circuit court's decision, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. View "Smith v. D.R. Horton, Inc" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of a $17 million verdict rendered in favor of Francis Maybank for claims sounding in contract, tort, and the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA). Maybank brought this action alleging he received faulty investment advice from Branch Banking and Trust (BB&T - the Bank) through BB&T Wealth Management (Wealth Management) and BB&T Asset Management (Asset Management), all operating under the corporate umbrella of BB&T Corporation (collectively, Appellants). Appellants appealed on numerous grounds, and Maybank appealed the trial court's denial of prejudgment interest. After review, the Supreme Court reversed as to an award of punitive damages based on a limitation of liability clause. The Court affirmed on all other grounds. View "Maybank v. BB&T" on Justia 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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Latoya Brown purchased a Mazda 6 from Dick Smith Nissan, Inc. through the dealer's salesman, Robert Hiller. The purchase was contingent on acquiring third-party financing. Due to continuing and unresolved issues with financing, Brown returned the vehicle to Dick Smith. The car was later repossessed and sold by Sovereign Bank with a deficiency against Brown. Brown filed a complaint against Dick Smith and Old Republic Surety Company, the surety on Dick Smith's licensing bond, alleging violations of the South Carolina Dealers Act. The trial judge, in a bench trial, found in favor of Brown and awarded damages plus interest as well as attorney's fees and costs. Dick Smith and Old Republic appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that any misconceptions that Brown had about her financing were caused by Sovereign Bank, not Dick Smith. Despite evidence in the record to support the trial judge's findings of fact, the Court of Appeals ignored those findings and substituted its own. By doing so, the Court of Appeals exceeded its standard of review. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the trial judge's decision. View "Brown v. Dick Smith Nissan" on Justia Law

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Charleston Auto Auction (Charleston Auto) is a wholesale auctioneer of automobiles. In 2008, an automobile dealer, A3 Auto Center (A3), sought to purchase three automobiles from other car dealerships (Sellers) and use Charleston Auto to facilitate the sale. Pursuant to a statutory requirement, A3 obtained a surety bond from CNA Surety. Charleston Auto located the three vehicles that A3 ultimately purchased. A3 paid Charleston Auto for the vehicles with three checks, which were eventually returned for insufficient funds. Charleston Auto sought reimbursement from its insurance carrier, petitioner Centennial Casualty Co. Petitioner paid Charleston Auto's claim and demanded reimbursement from CNA Surety pursuant to A3's surety bond. CNA Surety refused to pay, contending that the Dealer Bond Statute did not apply to the transaction as neither petitioner nor Charleston Auto was a "legal representative" who suffered a loss or damage. Petitioner then filed suit against CNA Surety, claiming that Charleston Auto was the "legal representative" of A3 and the Sellers and that Petitioner was subrogated to Charleston Auto's rights to seek damages under the Dealer Bond Statute. The trial court found that Petitioner was entitled to reimbursement under A3's surety bond, and CNA Surety appealed. The court of appeals reversed, finding that "[Charleston Auto] and [Petitioner] were not legal representatives of the Sellers" because Charleston Auto "did not stand in the shoes of the Sellers." Petitioner filed a petition for writ of certiorari contending that the court of appeals ignored the "legal representative" designation in the bills of sale and misapplied the plain language of the Dealer Bond Statute. The Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded. View "Centennial Casualty v. Western Surety Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts
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BADD, L.L.C. purchased three warehouse units in Myrtle Beach. To finance the transaction, BADD executed two promissory notes. A personal guaranty was also executed by William McKown, who was a member of BADD. After BADD defaulted, the Bank brought this foreclosure action and included McKown as a party based on his status as a guarantor. In McKown's amended answer and counterclaim, he demanded a jury trial because the Bank sought a money judgment for the breach of a guaranty arrangement. McKown further sought an accounting and a determination that the guaranty agreement was unconscionable. McKown then asserted two counterclaims: (1) civil conspiracy and (2) breach of contract, both based on an alleged conspiracy between the Bank and William Rempher. Finally, McKown asserted third-party claims against Rempher. The Bank moved for an order of reference. The circuit granted the motion, referring the matter in its entirety to the master-in-equity. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding McKown was entitled to a jury trial because the Bank's claim on the guaranty agreement was a separate and distinct legal claim. The Bank appealed, challenging the Court of Appeals' finding that McKown was entitled to a jury trial. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that McKown was not entitled to a jury trial solely because the Bank exercised its statutory right to join him as a party in the event of a deficiency judgment. Furthermore, the Court held McKown was not entitled to a jury trial based on his counterclaims, which, while legal, were permissive. McKown waived his right to a jury trial by asserting permissive counterclaims in an equitable action. View "Carolina First Bank v. BADD, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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North American Rescue Products, Inc. (NARP) brought a declaratory judgment action to determine whether P. J. Richardson had the right to purchase 7.5% of NARP's stock at a discount despite the fact that he had been terminated, the agreement to which purported to end the parties' relationship. A jury's verdict allowed Richardson to purchase the stock, but both parties appealed. The Supreme Court granted review of the appellate court's decision affirming the jury's verdict. After that review, the Supreme Court concluded the termination agreement unambiguously ended any right Richardson had to purchase the stock. The appellate court was reversed and the case remanded for entry of judgment in favor of NARP. View "North American Rescue Products v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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This action stems from a dispute between plaintiff James Robert Malloy and Swain R. Thompson, regarding assets of Robert L. Chamblee (Decedent). The complaint alleged that Thompson, with the assistance of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., acted to disrupt Decedent's estate plan and divert Decedent's assets from Malloy to Thompson. Malloy characterized his claims against Merrill Lynch as: (1) intentional interference with inheritance; (2) aiding and abetting intentional interference with inheritance; (3) and civil conspiracy. Merrill Lynch moved to dismiss and compel arbitration arguing that its only connection to this dispute was through its contractual duties under the client relationship agreements (CRAs) entered into between Decedent and Merrill Lynch, which contained mandatory arbitration clauses. Merrill Lynch argued that although Malloy was a non-signatory to the agreements, any duty, if any, owed by Merrill Lynch to Malloy derives from the CRAs, and therefore, he is bound by the arbitration clauses. The circuit court denied the motion and found that while non-signatories may be bound to an arbitration agreement under common law principles of contract and agency law, none of those principles applied in this case, and therefore, there was no basis to compel Malloy to arbitrate. Merrill Lynch appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's denial of Merrill Lynch's motion to dismiss and compel arbitration. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's decision. View "Malloy v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Delores Williams, the personal representative of the Estate of Edward Murry, and Matthew Whitaker, Jr., the personal representative of the Estate of Annie Mae Murry (PRs), brought a declaratory judgment action to determine whether a GEICO motor vehicle insurance policy issued to the Murrys provided $15,000 or $100,000 in liability proceeds for bodily injury for an accident in which both of the Murrys were killed. The circuit court concluded coverage was limited to the statutory minimum of $15,000 based on a family step-down provision in the policy that reduced coverage for bodily injury to family members from the stated policy coverage of $100,000 to the statutory minimum amount mandated by South Carolina law during the policy period. The PRs appealed, contending the step-down provision was ambiguous and/or violative of public policy. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Court agreed with the circuit court that GEICO's policy is not ambiguous, but concluded the family step-down provision, which reduced the coverage under the liability policy from the stated policy amount to the statutory minimum, was violative of public policy and was, therefore, void. "The provision not only conflicte[d] with the mandates set forth in section 38-77-142, but its enforcement would be injurious to the public welfare." View "Williams v. GEICO" on Justia Law

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The respondents, two developers and an architectural firm, Stevens & Wilkinson of South Carolina, Inc. (S&W), entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Columbia as part of a larger project team to develop a publicly-funded hotel for the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. The City eventually abandoned its plan under the MOU, and the respondents brought suit on several causes of action including breach of contract and equitable relief. The City moved for summary judgment arguing the MOU was not a contract and therefore the contract claims failed. The circuit court agreed and, rejecting the equitable claims as well, granted summary judgment in favor of the City. The respondents appealed and the court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court reversed. Because the MOU was comprised of agreements to execute further agreements, there was no meeting of the minds on numerous material terms which had not yet been defined. Accordingly, the court of appeals was reversed with respect to that portion of the court's judgment; the Supreme Court held the MOU was unenforceable as a matter of law. The Supreme Court agreed with the circuit court and reinstated its judgment in favor of the City. View "Stevens & Wilkinson of South Carolina, Inc. v. City of Columbia" on Justia Law