Damico v. Lennar Carolinas, LLC, 28114

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtKITTREDGE JUSTICE:
PartiesPatricia Damico and Lenna Lucas, Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Joshua and Brettany Buetow, Edward and Sylvia Dengg, Jonathan and Theresa Douglass, Anthony and Stacey Ray, Danny and Ellen Davis Morrow, Czara and Chad England, Bryan and Cynthia Camara, and Matthew Collins, Respondents, v. Lennar Carolinas, LLC, Spring Grove Plantation Development, Inc., Manale Landscaping, LLC, Super Concrete of SC, Inc., Southern Green, Inc., TJB Trucking/Leasing, LLC, Paragon Site Constructors, Inc., Civil Site Environmental and Rick Bryant, Individually, Defendants, of which Spring Grove Plantation Development, Inc., Manale Landscaping, LLC, Super Concrete of SC, Inc., Southern Green, Inc., TJB Trucking/Leasing, LLC, and Civil Site Environmental are Respondents. and Lennar Carolinas, LLC, Appellant, v. The Earthworks Group, Inc., Volkmar Consulting Services, LLC, Geometrics Consulting, LLC, Land/Site Services, Inc., Myers Landscaping, Inc., A.C. &A. Concrete, Inc., Knight's Concrete Products, Inc., Knight's Redi-Mix, Inc., Coastal Concrete Southeast, LLC, Coastal Concrete Southeast II, LLC, Guaranteed Framing, LLC, Ozzy Construction, LLC, Construction Applicators Charleston, LLC, LA New Enterprises, LLC, Decor Corporation, DVS, Inc., Raul Martinez Masonry, LLC, Alpha Omega Construction Group, Inc., South Carolina Exteriors, LLC, Builders Firstsource-Southeast Group, LLC, and Low Country Renovations and Siding, LLP, Third-Party Defendants, of which Volkmar Consulting Services, LLC, Land/Site Services, Inc., Myers Landscaping, Inc., A.C. &A. Concrete, Inc., Knight's Concrete Products, Inc., Knight's Redi-Mix, Inc., Coastal Concrete Southeast, LLC, Coastal Concrete Southeast II, LLC, Guaranteed Framing, LLC, Ozzy Construction, LLC, Construction Applicators Charleston, LLC, LA New Enterprises, LLC, Decor Corporation, DVS, Inc., Raul Martinez Masonry, LLC, Alpha Omega Construction Group, Inc., South Carolina Exteriors, LLC, Builders Firstsource-Southeast Group, LLC, are also Respondents. And Decor Corporation, Fourth Party Plaintiff, v. Baranov Flooring, LLC, DJ Construction Services, LLC, Creative Wood Floors, LLC, Geraldo Cunha, Ebenezer Flooring, LLC, Emmanuel Flooring and Siding, LLC, Eusi Flooring and Covering, LLC, Nicolas Flores, Alexander Martinez, Isidru Mejia, Juan Perez, N&B Construction, LLC, Jose Dias Rodrigues, Livia Sousa, Jose Paz Castro Hernandez, Divinio Aperecido Corgosinho, Ricardo Chiche, CEBS Construction, Bayshore Siding and Flooring, Sebastio Luiz de Araujo, and John Does 1-4, Fourth-Party Defendants. of whom Patricia Damico, Joshua and Brettany Beutow, Bryan and Cynthia Camara, Matthew Collins, Jonathan and Teresa Douglas, Czarra and Chad England, Lena Lucas, and Danny and Ellen Davis Morrow are the Petitioners.
Docket Number28114,Appellate Case 2020-001048
Decision Date14 September 2022

Patricia Damico and Lenna Lucas, Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Joshua and Brettany Buetow, Edward and Sylvia Dengg, Jonathan and Theresa Douglass, Anthony and Stacey Ray, Danny and Ellen Davis Morrow, Czara and Chad England, Bryan and Cynthia Camara, and Matthew Collins, Respondents,
v.

Lennar Carolinas, LLC, Spring Grove Plantation Development, Inc., Manale Landscaping, LLC, Super Concrete of SC, Inc., Southern Green, Inc., TJB Trucking/Leasing, LLC, Paragon Site Constructors, Inc., Civil Site Environmental and Rick Bryant, Individually, Defendants,

of which Spring Grove Plantation Development, Inc., Manale Landscaping, LLC, Super Concrete of SC, Inc., Southern Green, Inc., TJB Trucking/Leasing, LLC, and Civil Site Environmental are Respondents. and Lennar Carolinas, LLC, Appellant,
v.

The Earthworks Group, Inc., Volkmar Consulting Services, LLC, Geometrics Consulting, LLC, Land/Site Services, Inc., Myers Landscaping, Inc., A.C. &A. Concrete, Inc., Knight's Concrete Products, Inc., Knight's Redi-Mix, Inc., Coastal Concrete Southeast, LLC, Coastal Concrete Southeast II, LLC, Guaranteed Framing, LLC, Ozzy Construction, LLC, Construction Applicators Charleston, LLC, LA New Enterprises, LLC, Decor Corporation, DVS, Inc., Raul Martinez Masonry, LLC, Alpha Omega Construction Group, Inc., South Carolina Exteriors, LLC, Builders Firstsource-Southeast Group, LLC, and Low Country Renovations and Siding, LLP, Third-Party Defendants,

of which Volkmar Consulting Services, LLC, Land/Site Services, Inc., Myers Landscaping, Inc., A.C. &A. Concrete, Inc., Knight's Concrete Products, Inc., Knight's Redi-Mix, Inc., Coastal Concrete Southeast, LLC, Coastal Concrete Southeast II, LLC, Guaranteed Framing, LLC, Ozzy Construction, LLC, Construction Applicators Charleston, LLC, LA New Enterprises, LLC, Decor Corporation, DVS, Inc., Raul Martinez Masonry, LLC, Alpha Omega Construction Group, Inc., South Carolina Exteriors, LLC, Builders Firstsource-Southeast Group, LLC, are also Respondents. And Decor Corporation, Fourth Party Plaintiff,
v.

Baranov Flooring, LLC, DJ Construction Services, LLC, Creative Wood Floors, LLC, Geraldo Cunha, Ebenezer Flooring, LLC, Emmanuel Flooring and Siding, LLC, Eusi Flooring and Covering, LLC, Nicolas Flores, Alexander Martinez, Isidru Mejia, Juan Perez, N&B Construction, LLC, Jose Dias Rodrigues, Livia Sousa, Jose Paz Castro Hernandez, Divinio Aperecido Corgosinho, Ricardo Chiche, CEBS Construction, Bayshore Siding and Flooring, Sebastio Luiz de Araujo, and John Does 1-4, Fourth-Party Defendants.

of whom Patricia Damico, Joshua and Brettany Beutow, Bryan and Cynthia Camara, Matthew Collins, Jonathan and Teresa Douglas, Czarra and Chad England, Lena Lucas, and Danny and Ellen Davis Morrow are the Petitioners.

No. 28114

Appellate Case No. 2020-001048

Supreme Court of South Carolina

September 14, 2022


Heard February 1, 2022

Appeal from Berkeley County J.C. Nicholson Jr., Circuit Court Judge

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

1

Jesse Sanchez, of The Law Office of Jesse Sanchez, John Calvin Hayes IV, of Hayes Law Firm, LLC, and Catherine Dunn Meehan, of The Steinberg Law Firm, LLP, all of Charleston; and Michael J. Jordan, of The Steinberg Law Firm, LLP, of Goose Creek, all for Petitioners.

James Lynn Werner, Jenna Brooke Kiziah McGee, and Katon Edwards Dawson Jr., all of Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP, of Columbia, for Respondent Lennar Carolinas, LLC; Robert Trippett Boineau, Heath McAlvin Stewart III, and John Adam Ribock, all of McAngus, Goudelock & Courie, LLC, of Columbia, for Respondent Spring Grove Plantation Development, Inc.; Carmen Ganjehsani, James H. Elliott Jr., and Francis Heyward Grimball, all of Richardson, Plowden, &Robinson, of Columbia, for Respondents Manale Landscaping, LLC and Decor Corporation; Samia Hanafi Nettles, of Richardson Plowden & Robinson, PA, of Charleston, for Respondent Decor Corporation; Theodore

2

L. Manos, of Robertson Hollingsworth Manos & Rahn, LLC for Respondent Super Concrete of SC; David Cooper Cleveland and Trey Matthew Nicolette, both of Clawson and Staubes, LLC, of Charleston, for Respondent Myers Landscaping, Inc.; Rogers Edward Harrell III, of Murphy & Grantland, PA, of Columbia, for Respondents Knight's Concrete Products, Inc. and Knight's Redi-Mix, Inc.; Steven L. Smith and Zachary James Closser, both of Smith Closser, of Charleston, and Samuel Melvil Wheeler, of Whitfield-Cargile Law, PLLC, of Brevard, NC, all for Respondent Knight's Concrete Products, Inc.; Brent M. Boyd and Timothy J. Newton, both of Murphy & Grantland, PA, of Columbia, for Respondents Coastal Concrete Southeast, LLC and Coastal Concrete Southeast II, LLC; Alan Ross Belcher Jr. and Elizabeth Wieters, both of Hall Booth Smith, PC, of Mount Pleasant, and Christine Companion Varnado, of Siebels Law Firm, of Charleston, all for Respondent Guaranteed Framing, LLC; Erin DuBose Dean, of Tupper, Grimsley, Dean & Canaday, PA, of Beaufort, for Respondents LA New Enterprises Construction, Inc. and Raul Martinez Masonry; Stephen Lynwood Brown and Catherine Holland Chase, both of Clement Rivers, LLP, of Charleston, and Preston Bruce Dawkins Jr., of Aiken Bridges Elliott Tyler & Saleeby, PA, of Florence, all for Respondent Alpha Omega Construction Group, Inc.; and Jenny Costa Honeycutt, of Best Honeycutt, PA, of Charleston, for Respondent South Carolina Exteriors, LLC; Clarke W. DuBose, of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, PA, of Columbia, for Respondent Southern Green, Inc.; Stephen P. Hughes, of Howell Gibson & Hughes, PA, of Beaufort, for Respondent Builders Firstsource-Southeast Group, LLC; Ronald G. Tate Jr., of Gallivan, White & Boyd, PA, and Robert Batten Farrar, of Rogers Townsend, LLC, both of Greenville, for Respondent Volkmar Consulting Services, LLC; Sidney Markey Stubbs, of Baker Ravenel & Bender, LLP, of Columbia, for Respondent DVS, Inc.; David Shuler Black, of Howell Gibson & Hughes, PA, of Beaufort, for Respondent TJB Trucking/Leasing, LLC; Shanna

3

Milcetich Stephens and Wade Coleman Lawrimore, both of Anderson Reynolds & Stephens, LLC, of Charleston, for Respondent A.C.& A. Concrete, Inc.; John Elliott Rogers II, of Ward Law Firm, PA, of Spartanburg, for Respondent Land/Site Services, Inc.; David Starr Cobb, of Turner Padget Graham &Laney, PA, of Charleston, for Respondent Construction Applicators Charleston, LLC; Kathy Aboe Carlsten, of Copeland, Stair, Valz &Lovell, LLP, and N. Keith Emge Jr., of Resnick & Louis, PC, both of Charleston, for Respondent Civil Site Environmental, Inc.; Scott Harris Winograd, Jeffrey A. Ross, and Philip Paul Cristaldi III, all of Ross & Cristaldi, LLC, of Mount Pleasant, for Respondent Ozzy Construction, LLC.

KITTREDGE JUSTICE:

This case arises out of a construction defect suit brought by a number of homeowners (Petitioners) against their homebuilder and general contractor, Lennar Carolinas, LLC (Lennar). Lennar moved to compel arbitration, citing the arbitration provisions in a series of contracts signed by Petitioners at the time they purchased their homes. As we will explain, those contracts were contracts of adhesion. Petitioners pointed to purportedly unconscionable provisions in the contracts generally and in the arbitration provision specifically. Citing a number of oppressive terms in the contracts, and without delineating between the contracts generally and the arbitration provision specifically, the circuit court denied Lennar's motion to compel, finding the contracts were grossly one-sided and unconscionable and, thus, the arbitration provisions contained within those contracts were unenforceable. The court of appeals reversed, explaining that the United States Supreme Court's holding in Prima Paint Corp. v. Flood &Conklin Manufacturing Co. forbids consideration of unconscionable terms outside of an arbitration provision (the Prima Paint doctrine).[1] Damico v. Lennar Carolinas, L.L.C., 430 S.C. 188, 844 S.E.2d 66 (Ct. App. 2020).

4

The court of appeals found the circuit court's analysis ran afoul of the Prima Paint doctrine as it relied on the oppressive nature of terms outside of the arbitration provisions.

While we agree with the court of appeals that the circuit court violated the Prima Paint doctrine, we nonetheless agree with Petitioners and find the arbitration provisions-standing alone-contain a number of oppressive and one-sided terms, thereby rendering the provisions unconscionable and unenforceable under South Carolina law. We further decline to sever the unconscionable terms from the remainder of the arbitration provisions for two reasons. First, doing so would require us to blue-pencil the agreement regarding a material term of the contract, a result strongly disfavored in contract disputes. Second, as a matter of policy, we find severing terms from an unconscionable contract of adhesion (in this case, an arbitration provision) discourages fair, arms-length transactions. Rather, were we to honor the severability clause in contracts such as these, it would encourage sophisticated parties to intentionally insert unconscionable terms-that often go unchallenged-throughout their contracts, believing the courts would step in and rescue the party from its gross overreach. This is not to say severability clauses in general should not be honored, because of course we are constrained to enforce a contract in accordance with the parties' intent. Rather, we merely recognize that where a contract would remain one-sided and be fragmented after severance, the better policy is to decline the invitation for judicial severance. We therefore affirm in part and reverse in part the court of appeals' decision and reinstate the circuit court's denial of Lennar's motion to compel.

I.

The Abbey is a subdivision in the Spring Grove Plantation neighborhood located in Berkeley County and consists of sixty-nine single-family homes constructed between 2010...

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