Justia Construction Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in South Carolina Supreme Court
The Kitchen Planners v. Friedman
The Kitchen Planners, LLC, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari asking the South Carolina Supreme Court to review the court of appeals' decision in Kitchen Planners, LLC v. Friedman, 851 S.E.2d 724 (Ct. App. 2020). In that decision, the court of appeals affirmed the circuit court's order granting summary judgment to the Friedmans and dissolving Kitchen Planners' mechanic's lien. The Supreme Court granted Kitchen Planners' petition in part and affirmed as modified: the court of appeals incorrectly applied the wrong standard of decision for a motion for summary judgment when the motion was based on insufficiency of the evidence. Reviewing the circuit court's order using the correct standard of decision, however, the Court nevertheless found the court of appeals reached the correct result in affirming the summary judgment. View "The Kitchen Planners v. Friedman" on Justia Law
Walbeck, et al. v. The I’On Company
This case involved promises made and broken to homeowners by a developer and its affiliated entities. A jury returned verdicts on several causes of action in favor of the homeowners, and the developer appealed. The court of appeals initially upheld the jury's verdict for $1.75 million on the homeowners' breach of fiduciary claim and a verdict for $10,000 on a breach of contract claim by an individual homeowner. Thereafter, upon petitions for rehearing, the court of appeals completely reversed course, dismissing all of the homeowners' claims as a matter of law and reversing and remanding the breach of contract claim by the individual homeowner. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted certiorari and affirmed in part and reversed in part, thus reinstating the jury's verdicts. The Court: (1) reversed the court of appeals' ruling on the statute of limitations because the issue as to when Homeowners had adequate notice to begin the limitations clock was properly presented to the jury and resolved by it; (2) found any procedural issues related to the derivative claims either (a) moot as the HOA was realigned as a plaintiff and the trial court explicitly found it adopted its own claims against the Developers, or (b) demand was saved by futility due to the Developer's continuing veto power; (3) held that Developers breached the fiduciary duties owed to Homeowners; (4) reversed the court of appeals' decision that Developers could not be amalgamated, as there was more than enough evidence of bad faith, abuse, fraud, wrongdoing, or injustice resulting from the blurring of the entities' legal distinctions; and (5) affirmed the court of appeals that the recreational easement was invalid. View "Walbeck, et al. v. The I'On Company" on Justia Law
Fountain v. Fred’s, Inc., et al.
The South Carolina Supreme Court granted review of a court of appeals' decision affirming a trial court's finding that Respondents Fred's, Inc. (Fred's) and Wildevco, LLC (Wildevco) were entitled to equitable indemnification from Petitioner Tippins-Polk Construction, Inc. (Tippins-Polk). Respondent Fred's was a Tennessee corporation that operated a chain of discount general merchandise stores in several states, including South Carolina. Respondent Wildevco is a South Carolina limited liability company that owned a tract of undeveloped commercial property in Williston, South Carolina. In February 2005, Wildevco and Fred's entered into a lease agreement in which Wildevco agreed to construct a 16,000-square-foot commercial space located in Williston, South Carolina, according to Fred's conceptual design specifications. In turn, Fred's agreed to lease the property for ten years. In April 2005, Wildevco entered into a contract with general contractor Tippins-Polk for the construction of the Fred's store and adjoining strip center. Pursuant to the lease agreement between Wildevco and Fred's, Wildevco was the party responsible for "keep[ing] and repair[ing] the exterior of the  Premises, including the parking lot, parking lot lights, entrance and exits, sidewalks, ramps, curbs," and various other exterior elements. Fred's was responsible for maintenance of the interior of the premises. Five years after the Fred's store opened, on a sunny day in March, Martha Fountain went to the Williston Fred's to purchase light bulbs. Her toe caught the sloped portion of the ramp at the entrance of the store, causing her to trip and fall. Fountain sustained serious injuries to her hand, wrist, and arm and has undergone five surgeries to alleviate her pain and injuries. Fountain and her husband filed a premises liability suit against Fred's and Wildevco, alleging Respondents breached their duty to invitees by failing to maintain and inspect the premises and failing to discover and make safe or warn of unreasonable risks. Pertinent to this appeal, Tippins-Polk argued the court of appeals erred in finding a special relationship existed between it and Fred's and in finding Respondents proved they were without fault as to the Fountain premises liability claim. Because the Supreme Court found Respondents failed to establish they were without fault in the underlying action, judgment was reversed. View "Fountain v. Fred's, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Stoneledge at Lake Keowee v. IMK Development Co., LLC
This appeal stemmed from a construction defect lawsuit involving waterfront townhomes on Lake Keowee in Oconee County, South Carolina. After a two-week trial, Petitioners-Respondents Stoneledge at Lake Keowee Owners' Association, Inc. (the HOA) received plaintiff's verdicts against several defendants, including Respondents-Petitioners Marick Home Builders, LLC and Rick Thoennes. Marick Home Builders, Thoennes, and other defendants appealed, and in a pair of published opinions, the court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The South Carolina Supreme Court granted several writs of certiorari to review the court of appeals' decisions. Here, the Court reviewed "Stoneledge I" and addressed the trial court's: (1) jury charge; (2) denial of Marick's directed verdict motions; (3) finding of amalgamation; and (4) calculation of damages. The Supreme Court affirmrf the court of appeals as to the jury charge and as to the trial court's denial of Marick's motions. The Court reversed the court of appeals as to amalgamation. The Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the court of appeals as to the amount of the judgment in favor of the HOA and remanded to the circuit court for final calculation and entry of judgment. View "Stoneledge at Lake Keowee v. IMK Development Co., LLC" on Justia Law
Builders Mutual Insurance Company
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
Lawrence v. General Panel Corp.
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
Nationwide Mutual Insurance v. Eagle Window & Door
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
Donevant v. Town of Surfside Beach
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
Harleysville Group Ins. v. Heritage Communities, Inc.
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
Smith v. D.R. Horton, Inc
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