Huff v. Jennings, 2363

CourtCourt of Appeals of South Carolina
Writing for the CourtHOWELL; GOOLSBY, J., and WILLIAM L. HOWARD, Sr.
Citation459 S.E.2d 886,319 S.C. 142
PartiesWilliam A. HUFF, Appellant, v. Kathleen P. JENNINGS, Respondent. . Heard
Docket NumberNo. 2363,2363
Decision Date02 May 1995

Page 886

459 S.E.2d 886
319 S.C. 142
William A. HUFF, Appellant,
v.
Kathleen P. JENNINGS, Respondent.
No. 2363.
Court of Appeals of South Carolina.
Heard May 2, 1995.
Decided June 19, 1995.
Rehearing Denied Aug. 10, 1995.

Page 888

[319 S.C. 144] O.W. Bannister, of Hill, Wyatt, Bannister & Brown; and Kenneth C. Porter, of Porter & Rosenfeld, Greenville, for appellant.

Samuel W. Outten, of Leatherwood, Walker, Todd & Mann, Greenville, for respondent.

HOWELL, Chief Judge:

William Huff sued attorney Kathleen Jennings for slander of title for filing an allegedly invalid lien against Huff's property. Jennings admitted filing the lien and that Huff had satisfied it, but claimed several defenses to the suit. Both sides moved for summary judgment, and stipulated to certain facts. The trial court granted summary judgment for Jennings, and Huff appeals. We reverse and remand.

Huff was married to Betty Jean Huff (the Wife). They divorced in September 1990. As part of the equitable distribution, the family court awarded the Wife an interest in the marital house and lot. The Wife was represented by Jennings in the divorce and sought an award of attorney's fees from Huff. The divorce decree, however, provided:

16. Plaintiff [the Wife], with her attorney, has prevailed on the issue of custody, however, due to Plaintiff's inability to prove the divorce as she requested, I find it fair and equitable for each party to be fully and completely responsible for the prompt discharge and payment of their own attorney's fees and costs associated with this action.

Shortly after the divorce, Huff elected to purchase the Wife's interest, as provided for in the divorce decree. On October 8, 1990, Kenneth Porter, Huff's attorney in the divorce, forwarded to Jennings a deed to be executed by the Wife as part of Huff's buy-out of her interest. In a second letter to Jennings, dated October 31, 1990, Porter stated he had received no response from the first letter but that Huff told him the Wife would not sign the deed. Porter also indicated that the Wife stated Jennings no longer represented her, and Porter offered to deal directly with the Wife. Porter added, "I would [319 S.C. 145] rather close this matter through your office as it is my understanding some additional attorney's fees are owed unto you."

On November 3, 1990, Jennings wrote Porter that the Wife refused to sign the deed. Jennings confirmed that she was still the Wife's lawyer and was still owed fees. On November 14, 1990, Jennings filed a lien for unpaid attorneys fees in the amount of $578.36 (plus interest) against the house and lot, purportedly under S.C.Code Ann. § 20-3-145. 1 Subsequent to the filing of the lien, Huff closed the purchase of the Wife's interest. Jennings did not receive any of the funds from the sale of the Wife's interest, nor did she receive notice of the closing.

Page 889

Sometime in 1993, Huff sought to refinance the outstanding debt on the house and lot. Huff's attorney found the lien of record and refused to close the refinancing until the lien and debt were cleared from public records. At that time, Jennings claimed unpaid attorney's fees and interest in the amount of $935.79. On June 8, 1993, Huff wrote Jennings that he discovered the lien, which "was apparently placed against the property when it was still titled in both our names." Huff stated he needed to settle the matter because he needed to refinance his home. Huff paid Jennings $935.79 on July 6, 1993, and Jennings satisfied the lien the same day.

In August 1993, Huff filed this slander of title action against Jennings. In his complaint, Huff alleged that as an attorney, Jennings knew or should have known she had no valid lien against the property, and that filing the lien created a cloud on Huff's title. Huff claimed he suffered damages in the amount of $935.79, the amount he was compelled to pay Jennings. Because he claimed Jennings's actions were wilful and wanton, Huff also sought punitive damages.

Jennings answered and admitted she filed the lien for $578.36, plus 18% per annum interest pursuant to her agreement with the Wife, against Huff's property. She also admitted Huff satisfied the lien on July 6, 1993, by paying $935.79. However, Jennings maintained no action for slander of title [319 S.C. 146] exists in South Carolina, and that Huff, therefore, failed to state a cause of action. As additional defenses, Jennings alleged she acted in good faith, even if her lien was invalid, and that she filed the lien pursuant tos 20-3-145, given the Wife owed her attorney fees and also owned an interest in Huff's house and lot. Jennings contended Huff assumed the risk when he purchased the Wife's interests in the house on November 14, 1990, subject to and with record notice of Jennings's lien. Finally, Jennings asserted that by paying the lien and voluntarily satisfying the Wife's debt, Huff acted on his own as a volunteer and could not recover against Jennings.

The trial court ruled that Jennings's lien was valid and that the Wife did not pay her fees as ordered by the family court; thus, Jennings properly filed a lien against the property of her client pursuant to § 20-3-145. The court further found that because Huff purchased the Wife's interest with notice of Jennings's lien and paid the Wife $11,789.00 without satisfying the lien, the lien was binding on Huff. Moreover, the court held the question of the validity of the lien was moot, because Huff satisfied the lien. The court also found Huff lacked standing to raise any issue as to the validity of Jennings's lien, and that only the Wife could challenge the lien.

As to Huff's claim of slander of title, the trial court found that such a cause of action exists in South Carolina. Relying on a West Virginia case, the court determined the elements of the cause of action to be:

(1) the publication of (2) a false statement (3) derogatory to plaintiff's title (4) with malice (5) causing special damages (6) as a result of diminished value in the eyes of third parties.

See TXO Production Corp. v. Alliance Resources Corp., 187 W.Va. 457, 419 S.E.2d 870 (1992), aff'd, 509 U.S. 443, 113 S.Ct. 2711, 125 L.Ed.2d 366 (1993). However, the court found Huff's claim failed because there was no evidence that a false statement was made by Jennings, that the filing of the lien was derogatory to Huff's title, that Jennings filed the lien with malice, or that the property was diminished in value in the eyes...

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29 practice notes
  • Eagle Container v. County of Newberry, No. 4037.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • December 15, 2005
    ...to show by clear and convincing evidence the arbitrary and capricious nature of the ordinance." Bear Enterprises, 319 S.C. at 140, 459 S.E.2d at 886 (citing Town of Scranton v. Willoughby, 306 S.C. 421, 412 S.E.2d 424 In the present case, this Court must give effect to the Council's in......
  • State v. McAteer, No. 2795.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 21, 1998
    ...enacted the reception statute, incorporating the body of English common law into the jurisprudence of South Carolina. Huff v. Jennings, 319 S.C. 142, 459 S.E.2d 886 (Ct.App.1995). The reception statute provides: "All, and every part, of the common law of England, where it is not altere......
  • Pond Place Partners, Inc. v. Poole, No. 3521.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 17, 2002
    ...63, 67 (R.I.1990). By contrast, our modern history with the tort for slander of title is relatively brief. The case of Huff v. Jennings, 319 S.C. 142, 459 S.E.2d 886 (Ct.App.1995), sets forth for the first time in South Carolina the specific elements of the common law action for slander of ......
  • Solley v. Navy Fed. Credit Union, Inc., No. 4937.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 1, 2012
    ...title and (5) causes special damages (6) as a result of diminished value of the property in the eyes of third parties.” Huff v. Jennings, 319 S.C. 142, 149, 459 S.E.2d 886, 891 (Ct.App.1995). “Actual malice can mean the defendant acted recklessly or wantonly, or with conscious disregard of ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
29 cases
  • Eagle Container v. County of Newberry, No. 4037.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • December 15, 2005
    ...to show by clear and convincing evidence the arbitrary and capricious nature of the ordinance." Bear Enterprises, 319 S.C. at 140, 459 S.E.2d at 886 (citing Town of Scranton v. Willoughby, 306 S.C. 421, 412 S.E.2d 424 In the present case, this Court must give effect to the Council's in......
  • State v. McAteer, No. 2795.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 21, 1998
    ...enacted the reception statute, incorporating the body of English common law into the jurisprudence of South Carolina. Huff v. Jennings, 319 S.C. 142, 459 S.E.2d 886 (Ct.App.1995). The reception statute provides: "All, and every part, of the common law of England, where it is not altere......
  • Pond Place Partners, Inc. v. Poole, No. 3521.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • June 17, 2002
    ...63, 67 (R.I.1990). By contrast, our modern history with the tort for slander of title is relatively brief. The case of Huff v. Jennings, 319 S.C. 142, 459 S.E.2d 886 (Ct.App.1995), sets forth for the first time in South Carolina the specific elements of the common law action for slander of ......
  • Solley v. Navy Fed. Credit Union, Inc., No. 4937.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • February 1, 2012
    ...title and (5) causes special damages (6) as a result of diminished value of the property in the eyes of third parties.” Huff v. Jennings, 319 S.C. 142, 149, 459 S.E.2d 886, 891 (Ct.App.1995). “Actual malice can mean the defendant acted recklessly or wantonly, or with conscious disregard of ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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