Southeastern Home Bldg. & Refurbishing, Inc. v. Platt, 22215

Decision Date17 January 1985
Docket NumberNo. 22215,22215
Citation283 S.C. 602,325 S.E.2d 328
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesSOUTHEASTERN HOME BUILDING & REFURBISHING, INC., Appellant, v. V.F. PLATT, Jr.; VFQ Associates, a South Carolina Limited Partnership, composed of Thomas D. Quinn, a/k/a T. Scott Quinn, General Partner; Coastal Country Jamboree, Inc.; Quality Gold, Inc.; Owens Steel and Machine Works, Inc.; Donald Richardson Landscaping, Inc.; Milo Myers, d/b/a Myers Well Drilling Company; Eaglewood, Inc.; Conway National Bank; Executive Tours and Travel; Lowe's of South Carolina, Inc., d/b/a Lowe's of Myrtle Beach, Inc.; and Low Country Security of Myrtle Beach, Inc., Defendants, Of Whom V.F. Platt, Jr.; VFQ Associates, a South Carolina Limited Partnership, composed of Thomas D. Quinn, a/k/a T. Scott Quinn, General Partner and V.F. Platt, Jr., Limited Partners are Respondents.

Hudson & Sweeny, Conway, for appellant.

Van Osdell, Lester, Stewart & McCutchen, Myrtle Beach, for respondent V.F. Platt, Jr. and VFQ Associates, a South Carolina Ltd. Partnership.

HARWELL, Justice:

This mechanics' lien action was initiated by the appellant Southeastern Home Building and Refurbishing, Inc. against the respondents Platt and VFQ Associates. The trial court granted the respondents a partial summary judgment, and we affirm.

The sole issue before this Court is whether the attorney's fee provisions of the mechanics' lien statutes, S.C.Code Ann. § 29-5-10 (1983 Cum.Supp.) and § 29-5-20 (1976), deny defendants equal protection of the law in contravention of the United States and South Carolina Constitutions. §§ 29-5-10 and -20 allow the award of attorney's fees to prevailing claimants in mechanics' lien actions but provide for no fee award to prevailing defendants. We hold the attorney's fee provisions in §§ 29-5-10 and -20 unconstitutional.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Art. I, § III, of the South Carolina Constitution forbid denial by the State of equal protection of the laws. A court will declare a statute unconstitutional if its repugnance to the Constitution is clear and beyond reasonable doubt. University of South Carolina v. Mehlman, 245 S.C. 180, 139 S.E.2d 771 (1964). When the constitutionality of a statute awarding attorney's fees is questioned as a violation of equal protection, a court must determine whether the legislative classification is rationally related to the object of the statute. See Bradley v. Hullander, 277 S.C. 327, 287 S.E.2d 140 (1982); Ramey v. Ramey, 273 S.C. 680, 258 S.E.2d 883 (1979).

The statutes granting attorney's fees to successful plaintiffs and denying fees to prevailing defendants in mechanics' lien actions create a classification of otherwise similarly situated parties to a private contract. The classification, however, has no rational relationship to any legitimate State goal. The appellant contends that the goal of giving priority to claims regarding work performed and materials furnished justifies the classification. We disagree. Allowing attorney's fees only to successful lien claimants bears no reasonable relationship to that goal. Indeed, authorizing fee awards to prevailing defendants, as well as plaintiffs, would not chill the laborer's right to seek relief in court.

The second alleged State purpose, that of easing the burden on the pocketbooks of laborers and materialmen, is admirable but does not justify placing an unfair burden on landowners and other defendants. See Atkinson v. Woodmansee, 68 Kan. 71, 74 P. 640 (1903). Nor should the dissimilar treatment of plaintiffs and defendants be upheld on grounds that the attorney's fees are "costs" of the plaintiff rather than a...

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6 cases
  • WDW PROPERTIES v. City of Sumter
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • July 24, 2000
    ...unconstitutional unless its repugnance to the Constitution is clear and beyond a reasonable doubt. Southeastern Home Bldg. & Refurbishing, Inc. v. Platt, 283 S.C. 602, 325 S.E.2d 328 (1985); Pelzer, Rodgers & Co. v. Campbell & Co., 15 S.C. 581 DISCUSSION WDW contends the master erred in rul......
  • Taylor v. Medenica
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • June 22, 1998
    ...of attorney's fees to prevailing plaintiffs but not to prevailing defendants. CIBL relies on Southeastern Home Building & Refurbishing v. Platt, 283 S.C. 602, 325 S.E.2d 328 (1985). Both the United States and South Carolina Constitutions forbid denial by the State of the equal protection of......
  • T.W. Morton Builders, Inc. v. von Buedingen
    • United States
    • South Carolina Court of Appeals
    • February 8, 1994
    ...Construction Company, Inc. v. Palmetto Properties, Inc., 281 S.C. 415, 315 S.E.2d 370 (1984). In Southeastern Home Building & Refurbishing, Inc. v. Platt, 283 S.C. 602, 325 S.E.2d 328 (1985), the Supreme Court declared the attorneys' fees provisions of Sections 29-5-10 and 29-5-20 unconstit......
  • South Carolina Nat. Bank v. Central Carolina Livestock Market, Inc.
    • United States
    • South Carolina Supreme Court
    • November 4, 1985
    ...unconstitutional unless its repugnance to the constitution is clear and beyond reasonable doubt. Southeastern Home Building & Refurbishing, Inc. v. Platt, 283 S.C. 602, 325 S.E.2d 328 (1985). A court must uphold the constitutionality of legislation if possible, and if its construction is do......
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