Notable Cases

Making a Mark on South Carolina Law

The lawyers at Smith Closser & Wheeler have assisted in drafting legislation and have tried significant cases, many of which have led to changes or important clarifications in the law. Some notable examples of our cases are:

Hawkins v. Greenwood Development Corp., 328 S.C. 585, 493 S.E.2d 875 (Ct. App. 1997):
Hawkins, Smith Closser & Wheeler’s client, sold property to Greenwood for use as a residential development and golf course. Greenwood agreed, among other things, to build a very specific access road, in a very specific location, across the property. Because of some problems obtaining the permit, Greenwood built a different road at a different location, claiming that construction as intended was impossible. Hawkins sued for breach of contract, and recovered a substantial judgment.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that difficulty and impossibility are not the same thing, and merely because performance under a contract might be harder than anticipated, non-performance is not excused. The court also held that a property owner is uniquely qualified to testify about the value of his own property, even though he is not an expert in real estate generally.

Cohen’s Drywall Co. v. Sea Spray Homes, LLC, 374 S.C. 195, 648 S.E.2d 598 (2007):
Cohen’s Drywall filed a Mechanic’s Lien after it was not paid for work it performed. Before the complaint seeking to foreclose the lien was filed, the owner filed a statutory bond releasing the property, but did not inform Cohen’s that the lien had been bonded off. Cohen’s filed a complaint seeking to foreclose the property, and the trial court dismissed the Mechanic’s Lien. The trial court held that the property was no longer in the case, and, since no action had been filed against the bond, Cohen’s had run out of time in which to file an action to foreclose on it. Smith Closser & Wheeler argued, on Cohen’s behalf, that once the Lien had been perfected, it was attached to either the bond or the property, whichever was in place.

Clarifying the very strict timing requirements of the Mechanic’s Lien statutes, the Supreme Court made it clear that, while the lien claimant is required to file the foreclosure action within 120 days of the date of the last work, the filing is unaffected by whether the claimant seeks to foreclose the property or the bond. If the property is bonded off after the Lien is filed, future pleadings automatically transfer to the bond. The claimant does not need to refile simply because the identity of the security on the Lien is altered.

Goodwin v. Johnson, 357 S.C. 49, 591 S.E.2d 34 (Ct. App. 2003):
The Goodwins sought, and obtained, an easement across the Johnsons’ property. This was an easement by necessity, granted to the Goodwins in order to allow them access they would otherwise not have to the main road. After the easement was situated by the original judge, the Johnsons sought to have it moved on the grounds that it was too close to their residence, and posed a danger for their children. The Goodwins tried to stop the relocation, claiming that the court did not have the power to move an existing easement. Smith Closser & Wheeler argued that the court could move an easement by necessity so as not to create too great a burden on the property across which it runs.

The Court of Appeals noted that this was an issue of first impression and had never been considered by a South Carolina court. The Court went on to find that where the easement was created by necessity, and not by an express writing, the trial courts had the authority and power to place it wherever it would be most fair and least burdensome to the parties.

Quality Lightning Protection, Inc. v. H.C. Brown Construction Co., 311 S.C. 62, 427 S.E.2d 676 (Ct. App. 1992):
Brown had a contract with the South Carolina Department of Highways and Public Transportation, and one of its subcontractors further subcontracted with Quality Lightning Protection. After it wasn’t paid, Quality filed a claim against Brown, and Brown’s surety company, under the Little Miller Act, S.C. § 11-35-3030, and was awarded $8,475.00. Smith Closser & Wheeler, representing the contractor and surety, appealed, on the grounds that Quality had failed to give the contractor the notice required by law within 90 days of the last date upon which it worked on the project. Quality argued that it had been at the site three times within the 90-day period immediately preceding the filing of the claim.

The Court of Appeals examined in detail what qualifies as “doing labor or furnishing or supplying materials” within the meaning of the Little Miller Act. All three of Quality’s final visits had been for the purposes of correcting deficiencies noted in the final inspection. Relying on federal law interpreting identical language in the Miller Act, the Court of Appeals held that fixing problems, conducting inspections, or making repairs are not acts that are equivalent to work performed in furtherance of the contract. The Court of Appeals therefore reversed the decision in favor of Quality, and instructed the trial court to enter judgment in favor of the contractor and surety.

Burbage v. Richburg, 417 F. Supp. 2d 746 (D.S.C. 2006)

Steinmetz v. Am. Media Svcs., LLC, 393 S.C. 72, 709 S.E.2d 708 (Ct. App. 2011)

Bickerstaff v. Prevost, 380 S.C. 52,; 670 S.E.2d 660 (Ct. App. 2009)

Fin. Fed. Credit, Inc. v. Brown, 384 S.C. 555, 683 S.E.2d 486 (2009)

Gissel v. Hart, 382 S.C. 235, 676 S.E.2d 320 (2009)

RS Builders, Inc. v. Neunsinger, 364 S.C. 59,; 614 S.E.2d 629 (2005)

Owners Ins. Co. v. Salmonsen, 366 S.C. 336, 622 S.E.2d 525 (2005)

Charleston Lumber Co. v. Miller Hous. Corp., 338 S.C. 171, 525 S.E.2d 869 (2000)

Charleston Lumber Co. v. Miller Hous. Corp., 329 S.C. 414, 496 S.E.2d 637 (Ct. App. 1998)

Charleston Lumber Co. v. Miller Hous. Corp., 329 S.C. 414, 496 S.E.2d 637 (Ct. App. 1998)

Charleston Lumber Co. v. Miller Hous. Corp., 318 S.C. 471, 458 S.E.2d 431 (Ct. App. 1996)

Moore Elec. Supply, Inc. v. Ward, 316 S.C. 367, 450 S.E.2d 96 (Ct. App. 1994)

William M. Bird & Co. v. Whitmire, 306 S.C. 558, 413 S.E.2d 804 (1992)

A.V.A. Constr. Corp. v. Palmetto Land Clearing, 308 S.C. 377, 418 S.E.2d 317 (Ct. App. 1992)

Charleston Lumber Co. v. GBT, 303 S.C. 350, 400 S.E.2d 508 (Ct. App. 1991)

A.V.A. Constr. Corp. v. Santee Wando Constr., 303 S.C. 333, 400 S.E.2d 498 (Ct. App. 1990)

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