August 20, 2014 South Carolina Supreme Court opinions

Stevens & Wilkinson of South Carolina Inc. v City of Columbia I

Stevens provided architectural services to City on a hotel project. Stevens sent a letter offering to continue to provide services after the initial period and City authorized payment of fees. Stevens sued alleging further fees were due. The circuit court entered partial summary judgment ruling a contract existed based on offer by Stevens and acceptance by City. The Court of Appeals affirmed on the grounds that City counteroffered by authorizing payment and Stevens accepted by performance. The Court affirmed as modified holding that because City admitted a contract existed, the only issue on appeal, it was barred from erasing the counteroffer theory as it was not raised ion the circuit court. The case was remanded to determine the terms of the contract.

Stevens & Wilkinson of South Carolina v City of Columbia II

Stevens and two contractors provided services to City on a hotel project. After the project was cancelled, Stevens and the contractors sued City arguing the memorandum of understanding was a binding contract or they were entitled to recover under quantum meruit. The circuit court granted summary judgment to City on all counts. The Court of Appeals reversed in part holding there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the memorandum of understanding was a contract and whether one claim for quantum meruit were established. The Court, 4-1, reversed. The majority looked to the four corners of the memorandum and held it was unambiguously not a contract as it stated it was agreement to enter into contracts in the future and lacked essential terms such as the amount to be paid to Stevens and the contractors. The majority also held that the quantum meruit claims failed as there was no evidence the plans created by contractor were used by the firm which ultimately built the hotel. The dissent argued that eh majority erroneous extended the parol evidence rule to incomplete writings and that the new rule affects the statue of frauds by barring certain methods of proving a contact was formed.

Williams v GEICO

A married couple died when their car was hit by a train. Williams in her role as personal representative of husband sued for a declaratory judgment that the face value of the insurance coverage should be paid. The circuit court ruled the contract unambiguously limited recovery to the statutory minimum and this limitation did violate public policy. The Court, with two justices dissenting in part, affirmed in part and reversed in part. All five justices agreed that contract, while poorly written, could only be understood when read as whole to limit the amount of money available when members of the same family are involved in the claim. Three justices held this limitation as to family members was void as against public policy as south Carolina Code 38-77-142 prohibits reductions in the declared value of the policy and it is arbitrary and capricious to exclude coverage based on familial status particularly s here when both family members are dead and cannot collude. The partial dissent argued the 38-77-142 is not applicable as it merely identifies who must be covered and the limitation at issue here is consistent with 38-77-140 and 56-9-20(d) and should thus be enforced. It also argued that the legislature, not the court should make any changes in this area and in any event the rule announced by the majority should be given prospective application only.

Hansen v Beachwood Development Group of South Carolina, LLC

Hansen sued Group alleging it was liable for breach of contract and tort claims based on the acts of its promoter. The trial court denied Group’s motion for directed verdict and the jury returned a verdict for Hansen. The Court reversed. It held there was no evidence that Hansen entered into a contract with Group or that Group was in any way benefited by Hansen’s contracts with the promoter. The Court adopted the prevailing rule that corporations and limited liability companies cannot be liable for the pre-creation acts of the promoter and held Group was not liable as a matter of law

Sloan v South Carolina Department of Revenue

Sloan field a freedom of information request with Department. After Department failed to respond in a timely manner, Sloan brought suit pursuant to South Carolina Code 30-4-100 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and attorney fees. Department provided the requested documents after suit was field and the circuit court summarily ended the case. The Court, with two justices dissenting in part, affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. The Court held that the delivery of the documents mooted the declaratory and injunctive claims as Sloan had received all he was entitled to receive, three justices held that the circuit court erred in dismissing the attorney fees claim as 100(b) mandates fees to the prevailing party, Sloan was the prevailing party as he had to file suit to vindicate his rights and he is thus entitled to fees and costs and the case was remanded of determination of the amount. The dissent argued that the fees issue should be remanded for a full consideration of matter as fee awards are always discretionary.

Malloy v Thompson (Estate of Chamblee)

Malloy sued Thompson and Merrill Lynch alleging Thompson used Merrill Lynch to divert Chamblee’s assets thus denying Mallory his inheritance. Merrill lynch moved to compel arbitration which the circuit court denied. The Court affirmed. It held that because Malloy did not sign any contract and no third party theory obligating Malloy to arbitrate is satisfied here, arbitration cannot be compelled.

State v Collins

Collins was convicted of manslaughter and keeping dangerous animals based on his dogs attacking and killing a young boy. The Court of Appeals remanded for a new trial based on the admission of gruesome autopsy phots. The Court, with a tow justice plurality, two justice concurrence and one dissent, reversed. The plurality argued that that the Court of Appeals allowed its revulsion at the graphic photos lead it to an incorrect conclusion. The Court held that because the injuries and other elements of eh charges were I dispute and the photos assisted the jury in determining the facts, the photos were properly admitted. Alternatively, the plurality argued that the admission of the photos was harmless given Collins let his dogs run free, they attacked and killed one boy and attacked another and Collins was aware of the dogs’ violent propensities. The concurrence argued that the admission of the photos was erroneous as it did nothing but inflame the jury. However, it agreed that admission of the photos was harmless for reasons set out by the plurality. The dissent argued that the photos probative value was far exceeded by the prejudicial effect of gruesome wounds. It argued that the photos should be published as an example of what is beyond the bounds of what a jury may consider.

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