Heard: December 9, 2014.
Appeal From Charleston County W. Jeffrey Young, Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2012-213055.
Joseph Francis Runey, of Charleston, for Appellants.
John A. Massalon and Irish Ryan Neville, both of Wills Massalon & Allen LLC, of Charleston, for Respondent.
KONDUROS, J. HUFF and SHORT, JJ., concur.
[411 S.C. 528] KONDUROS, J.:
In this lease dispute, Madison Price and Carter Smith appeal the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Frewil, LLC on its claim for breach of contract. Price and Smith further appeal the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in Frewil's favor as to their counterclaims. We reverse.
Price and Smith were prospective students planning to attend the College of Charleston. In April 2009, they contacted David Abdo, a Frewil employee, about renting an apartment at the beginning of the Fall semester. According to both Price and Smith, they informed Abdo they wanted an apartment with a washer/dryer and dishwasher. Price went [411 S.C. 529] to see the apartment with an assistant of Abdo's and testified in her affidavit she was told tenants were occupying the apartment and she would only be able to look at it quickly. She was " rushed around the living room and two bedrooms" and " only spen[t] a few minutes looking at the inside of the unit." Smith indicated she viewed the apartment with Carl Dietz, an independent contractor who worked for Frewil, and was " not allowed to inspect the apartment because there were tenants living there." Her affidavit states she was " only allowed to look at [the apartment] for less than a minute" and " not allowed to go beyond the foyer." Price and Smith attested they asked Abdo and Dietz at the time of signing the lease if the apartment had a washer/dryer and dishwasher and they were told yes. They signed the lease and other documents including a policies agreement and security deposit agreement.
In August 2009, when they arrived to move in, Price and Smith discovered the apartment did not contain a washer/dryer or dishwasher. They told Dietz the apartment was unacceptable, and they discussed moving into another Frewil unit that did contain a washer/dryer and dishwasher or to which a washer/dryer connection and dishwasher might be able to be added at a later date. Neither of those alternatives worked out, and Price and Smith found alternate housing.
Abdo sent a letter to Price's and Smith's parents indicating Frewil would retain its security deposit on the apartment and seek to mitigate damages by renting it. Frewil did rent the apartment but at a lesser rent than Price and Carter had agreed to under the terms of their lease. Frewil filed suit for breach of contract or in the alternative, unjust enrichment or quasi contract/quantum meruit. Price and Smith counterclaimed for negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act, and violation of the South Carolina Landlord Tenant Act.
The circuit court granted summary judgment to Frewil stating no genuine issues of fact existed, the lease was unambiguous that it contained no washer/dryer or dishwasher, Smith and Price signed the lease, and they committed an unjustified failure to perform their obligations under the lease. The circuit court reasoned any representations by Abdo or [411 S.C. 530] Dietz were not part of the lease and were subsumed by the merger clause contained therein. With respect to Price's and Smith's counterclaims, the circuit court stated fraud could not be proven when they had the opportunity to inspect the apartment, removing any reliance they could have had on the ...