Articles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court

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The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted a certified question of South Carolina law from the federal district court, which stemmed from the construction of a home near Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Mark Lawrence constructed his home using structural insulated panels manufactured by General Panel Corporation. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are a structural alternative to traditional wood-frame construction. Lawrence claims faulty installation of the General Panel SIPs used in constructing his home allowed water intrusion, which in turn caused the panels to rot, damaging the structural integrity of his home. He brought a claim in federal district court alleging General Panel was liable for providing defective installation instructions to the subcontractor installing the SIPs. General Panel filed a motion for summary judgment, based on a South Carolina statute of repose: 15-3-640. The statute provided "No actions to recover damages based upon or arising out of the defective or unsafe condition of an improvement to real property may be brought more than eight years after substantial completion of the improvement." General Panel's relief depended on the date of "substantial completion." The subcontractor completed the installation of the SIPs in Lawrence's home by March 2007. The home was not finished, however, until over a year later. Charleston County issued a certificate of occupancy on December 10, 2008. Lawrence filed his lawsuit against General Panel on December 8, 2016, more than eight years after installation of the SIPs, but less than eight years after the certificate of occupancy was issued. The federal district court asked whether South Carolina Act 27 of 2005 amended section 15-3- 640 (Supp. 2018) so that the date of "substantial completion of the improvement" is measured from the date of the certificate of occupancy (unless the parties establish a different date by written agreement), thereby superseding the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision in Ocean Winds Corp. of Johns Island v. Lane, 556 S.E.2d 377 (2001). The Supreme Court responded in the negative: the 2005 amendments did not supersede Ocean Winds. View "Lawrence v. General Panel Corp." 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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The court of appeals affirmed a jury verdict for Jacklyn Donevant in her wrongful termination action against the Town of Surfside Beach, finding her cause of action fit within the public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Donevant was fired because she carried out her mandatory responsibility under the law to enforce the provisions of the South Carolina building code. Donevant discovered unpermitted construction work she determined to be in violation of the building code, and she issued a stop work order. She was fired a few days later. The Town appealed, contending the court of appeals misinterpreted the "public policy exception." The South Carolina Supreme Court determined the Town misinterpreted the public policy exception: "Donevant was enforcing the building code and therefore enforcing a clear mandate of public policy when she issued the stop-work order. ... Under the circumstances of this case, firing Donevant for carrying out her mandatory responsibility to enforce the building code violates public policy." View "Donevant v. Town of Surfside Beach" on Justia Law

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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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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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The issue before the Supreme Court centered on the grant of summary judgment in favor of Respondent Action Concrete Contractors, Inc. in a mechanic's lien foreclosure action. Owners Elvira Chappelear, Craig Chappelear, Premier Southern Homes, LLC, Henry G. Beal, Jr. and First Citizens Bank and Trust Co., Inc. argued on appeal there were material issues of fact and that the grant of summary judgment was inappropriate. The Supreme Court disagreed after its review of the trial court record and affirmed. View "Action Concrete v. Chappelear" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the court of appeals decision affirming the circuit court's order that upheld an arbitration award. The underlying dispute arose from a construction contract whereby general contractor respondent C-Sculptures, LLC agreed to build a home for Petitioners Gregory and Kerry Brown. The contract price was in excess of $800,000. However, Respondent only possessed what is referred to as a Group II license, limiting Respondent to construction projects that did not exceed $100,000. A dispute arose between the parties, and Respondent filed an action in circuit court seeking to enforce a mechanic's lien against Petitioners. Upon Petitioners' motion and pursuant to an arbitration clause in the parties' contract, the circuit court matter was stayed pending arbitration. Petitioners sought to have the matter dismissed after they learned Respondent held only a Group II license. The arbitrator was apprised of the applicable law, but nevertheless denied Petitioners' motion to dismiss "after due consideration of all the evidence and authorities presented by the parties in this Arbitration." Respondent prevailed at arbitration, receiving an award of damages and an award of attorney's fees as the prevailing party pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. section 29-5-10(b) (Supp. 2012). Petitioners challenged the arbitration award, contending the arbitrator's denial of their motion to dismiss amounted to a manifest disregard of the law. Following adverse decisions in the circuit court and the court of appeals, the Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari. Petitioners argue the court of appeals erred in refusing to find the arbitrator manifestly disregarded the law in declining to dismiss the action. Upon review, the Court agreed, and reversed the appellate court and directed that judgment be entered for Petitioners. View "C-Sculptures v. Brown" on Justia Law

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This case presented a "novel" question of whether a member of a limited liability company could be held personally liable for torts committed while acting in furtherance of the company's business. Carl R. Aten, Jr., and his wife are the only members of R. Design Construction Co., LLC. In this particular case, R. Design selected a lot in Beaufort, South Carolina, on which it planned to build a four-unit condominium project. When Aten could not secure the necessary financing, he approached Dennis Green about entering into a contract for R. Design to construct the building. Green ultimately formed 16 Jade Street, LLC for this purpose, and R. Design entered into an agreement with Jade Street for the construction of the condominium. One of the subcontractors selected by R. Design was Catterson & Sons Construction. Michael Catterson is the sole shareholder of Catterson & Sons, and he is a specialty subcontractor with a special license for framing in addition to holding his general contractor's license. As the general contractor, it was Aten's job to supervise the project. A couple months into construction, problems arose concerning the AAC block construction and the framing. Following a progress payment dispute, Catterson & Sons left the job site and did not return. In the ensuing months, Aten's relationship with Green deteriorated as Aten tarried in fixing the defects, and the construction eventually ground to a halt. R. Design subsequently left the project, never replacing Catterson & Sons nor adequately addressing the defects. The day after R. Design left the project, Kern-Coleman conducted another inspection of the property. This time, it identified thirty-four defects in addition to the original four, which had not yet been remedied, for a total of thirty-eight. Anchor Construction was retained as the new general contractor, and its own inspection revealed sixty defects in the original construction. After Anchor began working on the project, more defects surfaced. Jade Street subsequently sued R. Design, Aten, Catterson & Sons, and Catterson for negligence and breach of implied warranties. As to Aten personally, the circuit court concluded that despite the fact he was a member of an LLC, he was personally liable because he held a residential home builder's license. In particular, the court concluded the statutes pertaining to the license create civil liability for the licensee. The court imposed no liability against Catterson himself. The court ultimately awarded Jade Street damages for its claims. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the General Assembly did not intend the LLC act to shield a member from liability for his own torts. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the circuit court's holding that Aten was personally liable for his negligence, and that Catterson was not personally liable for the acts of Catterson & Sons. View "16 Jade Street v. R. Design Construction" on Justia Law

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Appellant/Respondent Harleysville Mutual Insurance Company ("Harleysville") issued a series of standard CGL policies to the Respondent developers or their predecessors (collectively "Crossmann") for a series of condominium projects in the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina. The exterior components of the condominium projects were negligently constructed, which resulted in water penetration and progressive damage to otherwise nondefective components of the projects. The homeowners settled their lawsuits against Respondents. Crossmann then filed this declaratory judgment action to determine coverage under Harleysville's policies. Upon review of the lower court’s order, the Supreme Court reversed a finding of joint and several liability against the developers and its insurer, and found the scope of Harleysville's liability was limited to damages accrued during its "time on the risk." In so ruling, the Court adhered to its holding in “Joe Harden Builders, Inc. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co.”: “[u]sing our ‘time on risk’ framework, the allocation of the damage award against Crossmann must conform to the actual distribution of property damage across the progressive damage period. Where proof of the actual property damage distribution is not available, the allocation formula adopted herein will serve as an appropriate default method for dividing the loss among Crossmann's insurers.’ The Court remanded the case to the trial court for further consideration of the "time on risk" allocation. View "Crossmann Communities v. Harleysville Mutual" on Justia Law

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In May 2002, Respondent Eagle Windows & Doors, Inc.’s predecessor purchased Eagle & Taylor Company’s assets (Eagle I) from Eagle I's bankruptcy estate. In 2000, homeowners constructed a residence using defective windows manufactured by Eagle I. In 2006, homeowners settled their construction claims against the Appellant contractor. The contractor and its insurer (Appellants) then brought this contribution suit against Respondent as successor to Eagle I. The circuit court granted respondent's motion to dismiss, holding (1) dismissal was required under Rule 12(b)(6) because a bankruptcy order expressly precluded any state law successor liability actions since the sale was "free and clear" under 11 U.S.C. 363(f) of the Bankruptcy Code; and (2) that dismissal was proper under Rule 12(b)(1) of the state rules of civil procedure because the bankruptcy court in Ohio which issued the Eagle I order retained jurisdiction over any claims against respondent for successor liability. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that Appellants' claim did not arise under either the settlement agreement or the order, nor did their claim relate to Eagle I. Rather, it was predicated upon Respondent's post-sale conduct which, Appellants contended, exposed it to successor liability under South Carolina state law. The Supreme Court concluded the court erred in dismissing this suit, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Nationwide Mutual v. Eagle Windows" on Justia Law