Today’s Opinions from the Supreme Court of South Carolina: NARP v. Richardson & State v. Hawes

scsctToday (January 7, 2015), the Supreme Court of South Carolina issued two opinions.

In North American Rescue Products (NARP) v. Richardson, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision.  The Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict rendered on behalf of Richardson that awarded him the option to purchase 7.5% of NARP’s stock for $2,936,000.00 based on the interpretation of a 2000 contract known as the 2000 Outline.

At issue was the language of a 2004 contract named a Termination Agreement.  Signed in 2004 by both parties, this Termination Agreement stated that earlier agreements known as the “2000 Outline” were terminated.  Richardson and NARP disagreed as to the meaning of this 2004 Termination Agreement.

NARP’s position was that the 2004 agreement ended all other agreements, including the 2000 Outline which had included the stock option.  Richardson disagreed, arguing that the 2004 Termination Agreement had to be read in conjunction with future provisions that were contained in the 2004 agreement.

Reviewing the record, the Supreme Court of South Carolina reversed the Court of Appeals.  The Court noted that the determination of contractual ambiguity was a matter of law.  The Court stated that ambiguity exists when a contract “…is capable of more than one meaning or when its meaning is unclear.”  The Court concluded that the meaning of the 2004 Termination Agreement was clear and unambiguous.  It plainly stated that it terminated all other agreements.  The Court refused to accept Richardson’s argument that “…a provision mentioning a nonexistent document can defeat the plain language of an agreement….Provisions which are essentially agreements to agree in the future have no legal effect.” 

State v. Hawes considered the application of a Section 16-25-90 Motion, filed by Hawes, that requested early parole.

Hawes pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter for shooting and killing his wife in the presence of their children.  At his sentencing hearing, Hawes filed the 16-25-90 motion, asking for early parole as he contended that he had been a victim of domestic violence and thus was eligible under 16-25-90 to request early parole.

Examining the language of the statute, the trial court concluded that the language was mandatory.  Since Hawes fell within its definition, granted his motion.  The Court of Appeals affirmed.  The State then appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court applied the wrong version of the statute and that the language of the amended statute required the court to exercise judgment and discretion.  “Shall” did not mean mandatory.

The Supreme Court of South Carolina found “…legal error in the trial court’s reliance on the incorrect version of Section 16-25-90,” and vacated and remanded the decision.

About Lisa Smith-Butler

Associate Professor of Law Charleston School of Law 385 Meeting St., Suite 322B Charleston, S.C. 29403 843.377.2144
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