Opinions from the South Carolina Court of Appeals

Court of AppealsOn Wednesday, the South Carolina Court of Appeals published the following five decisions:

One Bell Hall v. Trammell Crow was an appeal of a civil matter, in which Tamko Building Products, Inc. (“Tamko”) appeal the circuit court’s denial of its motion to dismiss the claims of One Bell Hall Property Owners Association (the Association) and Brandy Ramey (collectively “Respondents”) and compel them to arbitration.

The court relied heavily upon two prior cases addressing the subject to find that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable and unenforceable due to the cumulative effect of several oppressive and one-sided terms in the warranty. In its appeal, Tamko argued the court erred in finding that the arbitration clause located in its limited warranty was unconscionable and unenforceable.

This Court reversed the decision of the circuit court finding that the cumulative effect of the Warranty’s purportedly unlawful terms did not render the arbitration agreement unconscionable and unenforceable. Accordingly, the circuit court’s decision was reversed.

In State v. Land, a Lexington County jury convicted David Land of three counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, second degree. Land appealed his convictions, arguing the circuit court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict because the State failed to provide sufficient proof from which a reasonable jury could conclude that he knowingly distributed or exchange pictures or videos of minors engaged in sexual acts as prohibited by S.C. Code Section 16-15-405(A).

This Court affirmed the lower court’s decision finding that the State presented ample evidence demonstrating Land’s knowledge and intent to commit the alleged offenses, including Land’s own admissions. Accordingly, the Court upheld Land’s conviction.

In Delaney v. First Financial of Charleston, Delaney appealed the trial court’s grant of First Financial of Charleston, Inc’s (“First Financial”) motion to dismiss his class action complaint for damages and equitable relief under the UCC, alleging the court erred in (1) dismissing the complaint as time-barred by applying the incorrect statute of limitations, and (2) determining the date the statute of limitations began to run.

First Financial argued that Delaney’s claim was barred under the one year statute of limitations application for statutory penalties set forth in SC Code Section 15-3-570. Delaney argued  two positions to the court: 1) that the claim was a remedial claim for damages under section 36-9-625 and, therefore, the UCC six-year statute of limitations of SC Code section 36-2-725(1) applied, or 2) in the alternative, if the recovery is a penalty rather than a compensable remedy, the actions should be governed by S.C. Code section 15-3-540(2) which allows for a  three-year statute of limitations. The lower courts found that the six-year statute under 36-2-275(1)  was not applicable since Delaney did not plead breach of contract. The court concluded that the appropriate limitations period would be one or three years pursuant to S.C. Code Ann Section 15-3-570 or 15-3-540(2) respectively. Ultimately, the court found Delaney’s complaint was time-barred under either section based on the date of accrual of the action.

This Court affirmed the finding of the lower court holding that the applicable three year statute of limitations (pursuant to SC Code Section 15-3-540(2)) began to run in May 2008, thus time-barring Delaney’s complaint filed on October 4, 2011.

Judge Thomas concurred in part and dissented in part in a separate opinion.

In State v. Walters, the State appealed the circuit court’s dismissal of its case against Steven Walters, Jr. for driving under the influence (DUI), second offense. The State argued that the court erred in finding: (1) the video recording of the incident site failed to comply with the requirements of SC Code section 56-5-2953(A); and (2) SC Code section 56-5-2953(B) was not applicable.

The issue was whether or not SC Code section 56-5-2953(A) required every aspect of the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test to be viewable in order to judge a person’s performance or the officer’s administration of the test. Specifically, the State argued that the plain language of the statute does not require the officer’s hand to be visible at all times during the administration of the HGN test, nor does it require the video to provide the viewer with the ability to assess the defendant’s success or failure. The State further argued that as long as the recording included “any field sobriety tests administered” it was in compliance with the plain, unambiguous language of the statute.

This Court found that the video recording at issue properly included the recording of any field sobriety tests administered pursuant to SC code section 56-5-2953(A). Additionally,  the Court noted that although the trooper’s finger disappeared at times during the test, the statute does not require video recordings of the HGN test to include all angels of the test. And further noted that such a  requirement would be unreasonable given the limitations of dashboard cameras. Accordingly, this Court reversed the circuit court’s dismissal of the case.

This Court did not address the applicability of SC Code Section 56-5-2953(B) in light of the courts reversal on the first issue.

Rose Electric v. Cooler Erectors of Atlanta is a dispute arising out of a construction project. Rose Electric, Inc. (“Rose Electric”) appealed the trial court’s order finding for Southern Product, Inc. (“Southern”) and S2P, LLC (“S2P”) (collectively Respondents) arguing the trial court erred in (1) finding an express contract barred its recovery under the theory of quantum meruit; (2) finding Rose Electric did not establish the elements of its quantum meruit claim; (3) and failing to award Rose Electric damages.

Southern leased a parcel of land from S2P in the new SC Farmers Market in Lexington County. Southern entered into a flat fee, turnkey contract with Cooler Erectors of Atlanta (Cooler Erectors) to construct a refrigerated processing center on the property. Cooler Erectors subcontracted with Rose Electric for electrical work on the Southern project. During the project Southern requested that Rose Electric modify the plans and materials that  Rose Electric had received from Cooler Erectors. To which, Rose Electric agreed. Although Southern paid Cooler Electors, Cooler Electors did not pay Rose Electric. Rose Electric filed a mechanics lien on Southern’s property to collect the outstanding debt on the project. Rose Electric pursued an equitable cause of action for quantum meruit. The trial court found for Respondents finding that an expressed contract existed between Rose Electric and Southern for the change orders between Rose Electric and Cooler Erectors. The court held that the existence of the expressed contract precluded Rose Electric from recovery under quantum meruit.

Following Rose Electric’s appeal, this Court found that the trial court erred in finding an express contract between Rose Electric and Cooler Erectors and Rose Electric and Southern.  The Court noted that while the evidence supported the inference that the parties intended to be bound by their agreements, the missing price term was fatal to finding an express contract.

Additionally, the Court  found that  Rose Electric could not recover under quantum meruit because it could not prove Southern unjustly retained a benefit without paying for its value. The evidence showed that Southern had paid over 95% of the contract price to Cooler Erectors and had offered to pay the prorated shares of the retainage to Rose Electric prior to trial.

Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded to the trial court to modify its judgment to include an award of damages to Rose Electric in the amount of its prorated share of the retainage and to address Rose Electric’s claim for prejudgment interest.

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