DNR v. Town of McClellanville, No. 25324.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtBURNETT, Justice
Citation550 S.E.2d 299,345 S.C. 617
PartiesSOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, Respondent, v. The TOWN OF McCLELLANVILLE, a body politic, Petitioner.
Decision Date23 July 2001
Docket NumberNo. 25324.

345 S.C. 617
550 S.E.2d 299

SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, Respondent,
v.
The TOWN OF McCLELLANVILLE, a body politic, Petitioner

No. 25324.

Supreme Court of South Carolina.

Heard May 24, 2001

Decided July 23, 2001.


345 S.C. 620
Frances I. Cantwell and Carl W. Stent, of Regan, Cantwell & Stent, of Charleston, for petitioner

James A. Quinn, of South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, of Charleston; and Buford S. Mabry, Jr., Paul S. League, and Susan S. Quinn, of South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, of Columbia, for respondent.

BURNETT, Justice:

This case involves the interpretation of a restriction contained in a deed of land from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the Town of McClellanville (the town). The Court of Appeals held the town could not charge a permit fee for access to the property. South Carolina Dep't of Natural Resources v. Town of McClellanville, Op. No.2000-UP-165 (Ct.App. filed Mar. 6, 2000). We reverse.

FACTS

In 1991, DNR deeded a 4.27 acre tract of land to the town. This transfer was part of a land swap between the state and federal governments to enable the town to qualify for federal funds to repair the town hall, which was damaged by Hurricane Hugo. The parcel included the town hall, a fire tower, a boat ramp, and a parking area. The deed contained a restriction providing that "the parking area and boat launching ramp shall remain accessible to and remain available for use by the public." At the time of the conveyance, no fee was charged for use of the boat ramp.

The town has a population of about 360 and an annual budget of less than $200,000, $75,000 to $80,000 of which is dedicated to the fire department. During the period after the town took title to the land, use of the boat ramp and parking area increased dramatically. In 1995, Charleston County Public Works, which had previously provided maintenance for the facilities, notified the town it was unable to continue to provide that assistance. The town commissioned a study of

345 S.C. 621
the facilities and a committee held public hearings to determine the best way to fund maintenance of the ramp

In response to the committee's findings, the town enacted an ordinance requiring users of the boat launching ramp to obtain a permit. For $40.00 for town residents and $90 for non-residents, the holder of a permit receives 24-hour, 365day use of the boat launching ramp and parking lot for one year. All revenue from the permits is placed into a restricted account to be used by the town "for the sole purpose of improving, operating and maintaining the boat ramp and related parking area ... and for reasonable administrative costs associated therewith."

DNR sought an injunction to prohibit enforcement of the ordinance, claiming the boat ramp fee violated the restrictive covenant contained in the deed. In the short period of time between the ordinance's enactment and the issuance of a preliminary injunction enjoining its enforcement, the town issued permits to 88 residents and 304 non-residents.

The case was referred to the Master-in-Equity, who refused DNR's request for a permanent injunction. The Master ruled the ordinance did not violate the deed. The Master reasoned the deed did not address how the facilities were to be operated or maintained, but "merely requires that the public have access to these facilities." The Master refused to read restrictions into the deed which "DNR could have effortlessly written in itself." The Circuit Court affirmed, and the Court of Appeals reversed.

ISSUE

Did the Court of Appeals err in holding the town's ordinance establishing a boat launching permit fee violated the covenant in the deed by which the town acquired title?

DISCUSSION

The town argues the Court of Appeals erred in holding the town's ordinance establishing a boat launching permit fee violated the covenant contained in the deed. The town asserts the language of the deed is ambiguous, and, even if unambiguous,

345 S.C. 622
the intent attributed to the parties does not comport with the language used. We agree

An action to enforce restrictive covenants by injunction is in equity. Taylor v. Lindsey, 332 S.C. 1, 3, n. 2, 498 S.E.2d 862, 864, n. 2 (1998). On appeal of an equitable action tried by a Master, the Court can find facts in accordance with its own view of the evidence. Id.; Townes Assoc. v. City of Greenville, 266 S.C. 81, 86, 221 S.E.2d 773, 775 (1976). However, a Master's findings, concurred with by the circuit court, will not be disturbed on appeal unless without evidentiary support. Townes Assoc., 266 S.C. at 86, 221 S.E.2d at 775-76.

We recently explained the rules for interpreting restrictive covenants in South Carolina:

Restrictive covenants are contractual in nature, so that the paramount rule of construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the parties as determined from the whole document. The court may not limit a restriction in a deed, nor, on
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152 practice notes
  • Congaree Riverkeeper, Inc. v. Carolina Water Serv., Inc., Civil Action Number: 3:15-cv-00194-MBS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • March 29, 2017
    ...(1981). It is a question of law whether the language of a contract is ambiguous. S.C. Dep't of Nat. Res. v. Town of McClellanville , 345 S.C. 617, 550 S.E.2d 299, 302–03 (2001).The language at issue in paragraph 3(c) of the NDPES permit states:Within 90 days after the issuance date of the P......
  • Ward v. West Oil Co., Inc., No. 4389.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 12, 2008
    ...of a clear and unambiguous contract is a question of law for the court. S.C. Dep't of Natural Resources v. Town of McClellanville, 345 S.C. 617, 550 S.E.2d 299 (2001); S. Atl. Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Middleton, 349 S.C. 77, 80-81, 562 S.E.2d 482, 484-85 (Ct.App.2002), aff'd as modified, 356 S.......
  • Cedar Cove Homeowners Ass'n v. DiPietro, No. 4092.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 13, 2006
    ...("An action to enforce restrictive covenants by injunction is in equity."); see also S.C. Dep't of Natural Res. v. Town of McClellanville, 345 S.C. 617, 622, 550 S.E.2d 299, 302 (2001) (holding an action to enforce restrictive covenants by injunction is an equitable action). Because the Ass......
  • Ashley Ii of Charleston Llc v. Pcs Nitrogen Inc., Civil Action No. 2:05–cv–2782–MBS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • August 19, 2011
    ...94, 97 (1961). Whether a contract's language is ambiguous is a question of law. S.C. Dep't of Natural Res. v. Town of McClellanville, 345 S.C. 617, 550 S.E.2d 299, 302–03 (2001). A contract is ambiguous “only when it may fairly and reasonably be understood in more ways than one.” Hansen v. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
152 cases
  • Congaree Riverkeeper, Inc. v. Carolina Water Serv., Inc., Civil Action Number: 3:15-cv-00194-MBS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • March 29, 2017
    ...(1981). It is a question of law whether the language of a contract is ambiguous. S.C. Dep't of Nat. Res. v. Town of McClellanville , 345 S.C. 617, 550 S.E.2d 299, 302–03 (2001).The language at issue in paragraph 3(c) of the NDPES permit states:Within 90 days after the issuance date of the P......
  • Ward v. West Oil Co., Inc., No. 4389.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • May 12, 2008
    ...of a clear and unambiguous contract is a question of law for the court. S.C. Dep't of Natural Resources v. Town of McClellanville, 345 S.C. 617, 550 S.E.2d 299 (2001); S. Atl. Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Middleton, 349 S.C. 77, 80-81, 562 S.E.2d 482, 484-85 (Ct.App.2002), aff'd as modified, 356 S.......
  • Cedar Cove Homeowners Ass'n v. DiPietro, No. 4092.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 13, 2006
    ...("An action to enforce restrictive covenants by injunction is in equity."); see also S.C. Dep't of Natural Res. v. Town of McClellanville, 345 S.C. 617, 622, 550 S.E.2d 299, 302 (2001) (holding an action to enforce restrictive covenants by injunction is an equitable action). Because the Ass......
  • Ashley Ii of Charleston Llc v. Pcs Nitrogen Inc., Civil Action No. 2:05–cv–2782–MBS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • August 19, 2011
    ...94, 97 (1961). Whether a contract's language is ambiguous is a question of law. S.C. Dep't of Natural Res. v. Town of McClellanville, 345 S.C. 617, 550 S.E.2d 299, 302–03 (2001). A contract is ambiguous “only when it may fairly and reasonably be understood in more ways than one.” Hansen v. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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