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Skipper v. ACE Property and Casualty Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of South Carolina

July 15, 2015

George Skipper, Veronica Skipper, Michael Perry Bowers, Specialty Logging, LLC, and Harold Moors, Plaintiffs,
v.
ACE Property and Casualty Insurance Company, Brantley C. Rowlen, and Erin Lawson Coia, Defendants

Heard April 7, 2015.

ON CERTIFICATION FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR SOUTH CAROLINA. Appellate Case No. 2014-001979. J. Michelle Childs, United States District Judge.

Blake A. Hewitt, of Bluestein Nichols Thompson & Delgado, of Columbia; Mark B. Tinsley, of Gooding & Gooding, of Allendale; and Randolph Murdaugh, IV, of Peters, Murdaugh, Parker, Eltzroth & Detrick, of Hampton, for Plaintiffs.

Robert H. Hood, Robert H. Hood, Jr., and Deborah Harrison Sheffield, all of the Hood Law Firm, LLC, of Charleston, for Defendants Brantley C. Rowlen and Erin Lawson Coia.

A. Camden Lewis, of Lewis, Babcock & Griffin, L.L.P., of Columbia; Ronald K. Wray, II and Gray T. Culbreath, both of Gallivan, White & Boyd, P.A., of Greenville; and Robert Rivera, Jr. and Robert S. Safi, both of Susman Godfrey L.L.P., of Houston, Texas, for Defendant Ace Property and Casualty Insurance Company.

David C. Marshall, of Turner Padget Graham & Laney P.A., of Columbia; and Alan G. Jones, of McAngus, Goudelock & Courie, of Myrtle Beach, for Amicus Curiae, South Carolina Defense Trial Attorneys' Association.

David C. Marshall and R. Hawthorne Barrett, of Turner Padget Graham & Laney P.A., of Columbia, for Amicus Curiae, Property Casualty Insurance Association of America.

JUSTICE KITTREDGE. TOAL, C.J., PLEICONES, BEATTY and HEARN, JJ., concur.

OPINION

[413 S.C. 37]CERTIFIED QUESTION

KITTREDGE, JUSTICE:

We certified the following question from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina: " Can a legal malpractice claim be assigned between adversaries in litigation in which the alleged legal malpractice arose?" In answering the question " no," we adopt the majority rule and hold that such assignments are void as against public policy.

I.

George Skipper, a citizen of Georgia, was involved in a motor vehicle accident with a logging truck that was driven by Harold Moors and owned by Specialty Logging, LLC (Specialty). Specialty had a commercial automobile insurance policy with a $1,000,000 per occurrence limit (the Policy), which was issued by ACE Property and Casualty Insurance Company (ACE). Following the accident, Skipper retained an attorney who wrote a demand letter to ACE offering to settle the case for the limits of the Policy. ACE retained two lawyers from Atlanta, Brantley C. Rowlen and Erin Lawson Coia, to represent Specialty and Moors. Specialty and Moors, through counsel, offered Skipper $50,000. [413 S.C. 38] Not satisfied with the $50,000 offer, Skipper and his wife (the Skippers) filed a lawsuit in the Allendale County Court of Common Pleas against Specialty and Moors. Additional attempts to settle the case proved fruitless.

Unbeknownst to ACE or its attorneys, the Skippers entered into a settlement with the allegedly at-fault defendants, Moors and Specialty. Moors, Specialty, and Specialty's owner Michael Perry Bowers (collectively, Specialty Parties) agreed to execute a Confession of Judgment for $4,500,000, in which they admitted liability for the Skippers' injuries and losses. The Specialty Parties also agreed to pursue a legal malpractice claim against ACE and its attorneys Rowlen and Coia (collectively, Defendants) and assigned the predominant interest in that claim to the Skippers.[1] In exchange for the Specialty Parties' admission ...


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