Justia South Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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This action involves a dispute stemming from the removal of a drainage pipe running across neighboring properties. The pipe was part of an easement originally owned by the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association (SIPOA) and was intended to carry away stormwater from a road within the community, with a pipe running through the backyard portions of seven contiguous lots. Over the years, the pipe degraded and began draining standing water from the backyards of those seven lots. Nearly twenty years later, SIPOA installed a new drainage system for the road. At a property owner's request, SIPOA formally abandoned the easement, though the old, degraded pipe remained in place. Petitioners Paul and Susan McLaughlin later purchased one of the seven lots containing the old drainage pipe (Lot 22). After years of meetings and consultation with SIPOA and their neighbors, Petitioners removed the pipe and built a new house over the area in which the pipe was previously located. Respondents Richard and Eugenia Ralph owned the parcel next door to Petitioners (Lot 23). Following removal of the old pipe, Respondents claimed their backyard flooding became worse that it already was and sued Petitioners. A jury awarded Respondents $1,000 in "nominal" damages, and they appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial on damages alone. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed, finding the trial court did not err in any respect, thus reversing the appellate court's decision. View "Ralph v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law

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Petitioners' real property was sold at a delinquent tax sale. They filed an action in circuit court to challenge the sale, and all parties consented to have the case referred to a special referee for trial. Petitioners agreed to allow defendants (respondents here) to present their evidence first. After the testimony of one witness, the county's tax collector, defendants moved to approve the sale. The special referee granted the motion. Petitioners objected, arguing they were not permitted to give their factual presentation of the case. The special referee denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. On appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court, petitioners argued they were deprived of due process, including the right to be heard and the right to present witnesses and other evidence. The Supreme Court granted the petition, dispensed with briefing, reversed the court of appeals, and remanded to the circuit court for a new trial. "The special referee made factual findings and issued judgment in the middle of a trial after hearing from only one witness. ... The law ... does not permit a court to issue judgment against a party before giving that party an opportunity to present evidence in support of her position." View "Halsey v. Simmons" on Justia Law

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Appellant Don Weaver brought a declaratory judgment action to challenge the constitutionality of S.C. Code Ann. section 6-11-271 (2004), which addressed the millage levied in certain special purpose districts. Appellant owned property and was a taxpayer in the Recreation District, a special purpose district created to fund the operation and maintenance of parks and other recreational facilities in the unincorporated areas of Richland County, South Carolina. Appellant first argued section 6-11-271 was unconstitutional because it violated the South Carolina Constitution's prohibition on taxation without representation. Appellant next contended section 6-11-271 did not affect all counties equally and was, therefore, special legislation that was prohibited by the South Carolina Constitution. Appellant lastly argued section 6-11-271 was void because it violated Home Rule as set forth in the state constitution and the Home Rule Act. The circuit court found Appellant failed to meet his burden of establishing any constitutional infirmity. To this, the South Carolina Supreme Court concurred and affirmed judgment. View "Weaver v. Recreation District" on Justia Law

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This case concerned accreting land along the South Carolina coast that owned by the Town of Sullivan. Petitioners Nathan and Ettaleah Bluestein and Theodore and Karen Albenesius (collectively, Petitioners) bought property in the Town that abutted the accreting land. Petitioners' properties were once considered oceanfront lots only a short distance from the beach, but due to accretion, the properties were now a substantial distance away. The accreting land was subject to a 1991 deed, which set forth certain rights and responsibilities respecting the condition of the property and the Town's duties concerning upkeep of the land. Petitioners were third party beneficiaries of the 1991 deed. Petitioners argued the 1991 deed mandated the Town keep the vegetation on the land in the same condition as existed in 1991, particularly as to the height of shrubs and vegetation. Conversely, the Town contended the 1991 deed granted it unfettered discretion to allow unchecked growth of the vegetation on the accreting land. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined all parties cherrypicked language from the 1991 deed to support their respective interpretations of the deed. But contrary to the holding of the court of appeals and the trial court's findings, the Supreme Court held the deed was “far from unambiguous;” because the 1991 deed is ambiguous in terms of the Town's maintenance responsibilities, the court of appeals erred in affirming the entry of summary judgment for the Town. As a result, the matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Bluestein v. Town of Sullivans Island" on Justia Law

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Homeowners Devery and Tina Hale purchased their home (the Property) twenty-one years ago and made timely mortgage payments ever since, accruing over $60,000 in equity in the Property, which had a fair market value of $128,000. However, after failing to pay $250 in homeowners' association dues to Winrose Homeowners' Association, Inc. (the HOA), the HOA foreclosed on the Property, and a third-party purchaser, Regime Solutions, LLC (Regime), bought it for a pittance. The Hales challenged the judicial sale, arguing the winning bid price of approximately $3,000 was grossly inadequate compared to the value of the Property. The South Carolina Supreme Court found there were two methods used to determine whether a winning bid at a foreclosure is grossly inadequate. While it did not draw a bright-line rule requiring the use of one method over the other, here, Regime took no affirmative steps to assume the Hales' mortgage. As a result, in determining whether the purchase price was grossly inadequate, the Supreme Court found it would be wholly inappropriate to add the value of the mortgage to Regime's winning bid. "When the value of the mortgage is not added to Regime's winning bid, the bid shocks the conscience of the court." The Supreme Court therefore reversed the judicial sale and remanded to the master-in-equity. View "Winrose Homeowners' Association v. Hale" on Justia Law

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Respondent David Repko, the owner of two lots in Harmony Phase 2-D-1, commenced this action against the County alleging that the County negligently and grossly negligently failed to comply with or enforce its rules, regulations, and written policies governing its handling of a line of credit granted to a residential land developer in Harmony Township (part of Georgetown County, South Carolina). When the Developer began developing Harmony Phase 2-D-1 in 2006, the County determined it would allow the requirement of a financial guarantee to be satisfied by the Developer's posting of a letter of credit (LOC) to cover the remaining cost of completion of infrastructure. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted Georgetown County's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision in Repko v. County of Georgetown, 785 S.E.2d 376 (Ct. App. 2016). Georgetown County argued the court of appeals erred by: (1) construing the County Development Regulations as creating a private duty of care to Respondent David Repko; (2) holding the South Carolina Tort Claims Act1 (TCA) preempted certain language contained in the Regulations; (3) applying the "special duty" test; (4) finding Brady Development Co., Inc. v. Town of Hilton Head Island, 439 S.E.2d 266 (1993), distinguishable from this case; (5) reversing the trial court's ruling that the County was entitled to sovereign immunity under the TCA; and (6) rejecting the County's additional sustaining ground that Repko's claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The Supreme Court addressed only issue (5) and held the court of appeals erred in reversing the trial court's determination that the County was immune from liability under subsection 15-78- 60(4) of the TCA (2005); the Court therefore reversed the court of appeals and reinstated the directed verdict granted to the County by the trial court. View "Repko v. County of Georgetown" 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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In 1999, homeowners Renaul and Karen Abel contracted with Gilliam Construction Company, Inc. for the construction of a house in an upscale Landrum subdivision. In constructing the house, Gilliam used windows manufactured by Eagle & Taylor Company d/b/a Eagle Window & Door, Inc. (Eagle & Taylor). Sometime after the home was completed, the Abels discovered damage from water intrusion around the windows. The Abels brought suit against Gilliam for the alleged defects and settled with Gilliam and its insurer, Nationwide Mutual, for $210,000. Nationwide and Gilliam (collectively Respondents) then initiated this contribution action seeking repayment of the settlement proceeds from several defendants, including Eagle, alleging it was liable for the obligations of Eagle & Taylor. The narrow question presented by this case on appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court was whether Eagle Window & Door, Inc. was subject to successor liability for the defective windows manufactured by a company who later sold its assets to Eagle in a bankruptcy sale. The Court determined answering that question required a revisit the Court's holding in Simmons v. Mark Lift Industries, Inc., 622 S.E.2d 213 (2005) and for clarification of the doctrine of successor liability in South Carolina. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's holding that Eagle is the "mere continuation" of the entity. The Supreme Court reversed because both the trial court and court of appeals incorrectly applied the test for successor liability. View "Nationwide Mutual Insurance v. Eagle Window & Door" on Justia Law

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At issue before the South Carolina Supreme court was the propriety of the grant of partial summary judgment in a condemnation action. The court of appeals affirmed the circuit court's ruling that the landowner, David Powell, was not entitled to compensation for any diminution in value of his remaining property due to the rerouting of a major highway which previously was easily accessible from his property. South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) condemned a portion of Powell's 2.5 acre property in connection with its upgrade to U.S. Highway 17 Bypass (the Bypass) near the Backgate area of Myrtle Beach. His unimproved parcel, located on the corner of Emory Road and Old Socastee Highway, was originally separated from the Bypass by a power line easement and a frontage road; access to that major thoroughfare was via Emory Road, which intersected with the Bypass. Because Powell's property was zoned "highly commercial," his easy access to the Bypass significantly enhanced its value. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial. The record contained evidence the condemnation of Powell's property, the closure of the intersection, and the curving of the frontage road over the condemned parcel were all integrally connected components of the project, creating a material issue of fact as to which of these acts was a direct and proximate cause of the taking, thus rendering summary judgment improper. Employing the clear language of our just compensation statute, the Court held that a jury should have been permitted to hear evidence on the diminution in value to the remaining property. View "SCDOT v. Powell" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the South Carolina Supreme Court’s review centered on whether Petitioner David Gooldy was entitled to an implied easement where his deed incorporated by reference a plat that indicated a road, marked "50' Road," bordered the adjoining property owned by Respondent Storage Center-Platt Springs, LLC (Storage Center). The master-inequity held Gooldy was entitled to the presumption of an implied easement, which the Storage Center failed to rebut, but the court of appeals reversed, holding the presumption did not apply and that no evidence supported the master's order. The Supreme Court concluded the appellate court erred in its conclusion that the master’s decision was not supported by evidence in the record. The Court determined parties to the 1986 conveyance intended to create an easement. The implied easement encumbered the Storage Center's property as the Loflin Plat was duly recorded in its chain of title. The master’s order was reinstated. View "Gooldy v. The Storage Center" on Justia Law