Act’s Definition of “Occurence” Only Applies Prospectively

The South Carolina Supreme Court held unconstitutional the retroactivity clause in S.C. Code Ann. Section 38-61-70, which was made effective on May 17, 2011. The Act defines “occurrence” in a commercial general liability policy as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions and property damage or  bodily injury resulting from faulty workmanship, exclusive of the faulty workmanship itself.”

The Act’s retroactivity clause provides: “This section applies to any pending or future dispute over coverage that would otherwise be affected by this section as to all commercial general liability policies issued in the past, currently in existence, or issued in the future.”

The S.C. Supreme Court held that this clause unconstitutionally violates the Contract Clause of both the U.S. and S.C. Constitutions because retroactive application of this definition would substantially impair existing contractual relationships. The Court addressed whether the Act was reasonable and necessary to effectuate a legitimate legislative purpose and held that it was not.

This site and any information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek a competent attorney for advice on any legal matter.

 

 

Notice of Arbitration Must Appear on First Page of Master Deed to be Enforceable

In Richland Horizontal Prop. Regime Homeowners Ass’n, Inc. v. Sky Green Holdings, Inc., the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling that an arbitration clause on a master deed was unenforceable. In this case, a developer created a horizontal property regime by master deed. The master deed included  a cover page and then a second page where the arbitration provision was found. The developer later created a supplemental master deed, also including an arbitration provision, to add a new unit to the existing regime and reduce the proportionate share of common area ownership held by the original unit owners. The original unit owners filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the supplemental master deed violated the original master deed. The developer moved to compel arbitration, which motion was denied.

The court held that the arbitration clause failed to comply with the Uniform Arbitration Act which provides in § 15-48-10(a): “Notice that a contract is subject to arbitration pursuant to this chapter shall be typed in underlined capital letters, or rubber stamped prominently, on the first page of the contract and unless such notice is displayed thereon the contract shall not be subject to arbitration.”

The developer argued that the cover page of the master deed should not be included because the second page contains the following statement: “This is the first page of the Master Deed for The Richland Horizontal Property Regime. In the event other pages including, but not limited to cover pages, indexes, or tables of contents are placed in front of this page, those pages shall not be deemed to be the first page. This page and only this page shall be deemed the first page of the Master Deed for all legal purposes.

The court strictly construed the language of the statute and held that the “first page of the contract” meant  “preceding all others.” Since the cover page preceded the other pages in the master deed and it did not contain an arbitration provision, the court held that arbitration was not required.

This site and any information contained herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek a competent attorney for advice on any legal matter.

Recent SC Case on Enforceability of Liquidated Damages

The South Carolina Court of Appeals in Erie Ins. Co. v. Winter Constr. Co., 393 S.C. 455, 713 S.E.2d 318 (Ct. App. 2011), held that the administrative burden provision in a Subcontract was enforceable.  The provision provided:

If SUBCONTRACTOR fails to cure an event of default within seventy-two (72) hours after receipt of written notice of default by WINTER to SUBCONTRACTOR, WINTER may, without prejudice to any of [its] other rights or remedies, terminate the employment of SUBCONTRACTOR and [ . . .] WINTER shall be entitled to charge all reasonable costs incurred in this regard (including attorney[‘s] fees) plus an allowance for administrative burden equal to fifteen percent (15%) to the account of SUBCONTRACTOR.           

The Subcontractor, Fountain Electric, agreed to each provision of the Subcontract and even initialed every page.  Fountain Electric defaulted and Erie, its surety, made a demand against Winter for payment of remaining contract balances.  Winter withheld $350,000 based on the administrative burden provision.

Erie filed suit against Winter for breach of contract.  Erie argued that the liquidated damages provision is an unenforceable penalty and that it was entitled to attorney’s fees.  The trial court granted Erie’s motion for summary judgment on the issue that the provision was unenforceable.

On appeal, the court reversed the trial court’s holding and determined that the provision was enforceable.  The appellate court based its analysis on the test set forth in Tate v. LeMaster, 231 S.C. 429, 441, 99 S.E.2d 39, 45-6 (1957):

Implicit in the meaning of ‘liquidated damages’ is the idea of compensation; in that of ‘penalty,’ the idea of punishment. Thus, where the sum stipulated is reasonably intended by the parties as the predetermined measure of compensation for actual damages that might be sustained by reason of nonperformance, the stipulation is for liquidated damages; and where the stipulation is not based upon actual damages in the contemplation of the parties, but is intended to provide punishment for breach of the contract, the sum stipulated is a penalty.

The court determined that the provision of the subcontract was clearly meant to compensate Winter for administrative costs in the event that Erie failed to complete the work on time.  The court held that it would be impossible to determine the actual and consequential damages resulting from a subcontractor default, so a liquidated damages provision was appropriate.  The sliding scale approach of the administrative burden clause was a “reasonable and fair liquidated damages provision.”  In light of both contract interpretation and public policy the court upheld the provision as enforceable.

This site and any information contained herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  Seek a competent attorney for advice on any legal matter.

Limited Home Warranty Waived Implied Warranty of Habitability

Jones v. Centex Homes, 189 Ohio App. 3d 668 (2010).

The Joneses entered into a sales agreement with Centex Homes for the construction of a new home.  The agreement included a Limited Home Warranty provision covering defects in materials and workmanship.  The provision also contained a clause purporting to waive any and all express or implied warranties of habitability or fitness. 

Under the law in most states, a new homebuilder impliedly warrants to a purchaser that the home is structurally safe and free from defects.  In some states, it is incredibly difficult if not impossible to disclaim this warranty.  However, both the trial court and court of appeals in this Ohio case found that the buyers contractually waived their claims by virtue of the Limited Home Warranty. 

The court of appeals seemed to place great emphasis on the fact that the Joneses were in their 30s and 40s and made the conscious decision to enter into this agreement without the aid of an attorney.  The court relied on basic contract principles of freedom of contract and the presumption that a party reads what he signs.  The court also noted that although the Limited Home Warranty provision was not emphasized in the contract, it was also not hidden or in small font.  Because the language was clear and unambiguous and because the parties voluntarily entered into the agreement, the court upheld the waiver as the homebuyers’ exclusive remedy.

This site and any information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  Seek a competent attorney for advice on any legal matter.

Back Charges Must be Reasonable

Younger-Holmes Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. BE&K Building Group, LLC,
2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 128559 (D. Okla. Dec. 3, 2010).

In this case, BE&K (GC) hired Younger-Holmes (Sub) to provide electrical work on a medical center construction project.  Sub fell behind schedule in performing its contracted duties, so GC provided it with notification of default and three days time to cure.  GC eventually hired another subcontractor to work with Sub to finish the project on time.

Sub later filed suit against GC after receiving $277,000 in back charges for the supplemental subcontractor. Sub claimed GC breached the parties’ contract by failing to act reasonably and in good faith in declaring default and back-charging Sub.

The court determined that GC’s actions in issuing the default letter were proper because Sub failed to provide adequate manpower to keep up with the construction schedule and finish the job on time.  GC was only required by the subcontract to grant two days to cure after issuing the default letter, but GC actually gave Sub additional time before calling in the supplemental subcontractor.

However, the court did find that GC acted in bad faith in regard to the back charges.  The court found that $82,000 of the $277,000 charges were unreasonable and often inexplicable.  Some of these charges included charges for miscellaneous fees, personal items, equipment not expendable on the job, first-class airfare, and per diem charges for in state workers.  In addition, many charges were unexplained or duplicated.  Because GC had a duty of good faith and fair dealing based on its contract with Sub, it impliedly owed Sub a duty to minimize costs.

This site and any information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  Seek a competent attorney for advice on any legal matter.