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Rodarte v. University of South Carolina

Supreme Court of South Carolina

May 11, 2017

Linda Rodarte, J. Perry Kimball, George M. Lee, III, Mena H. Gardiner, and John Love, Plaintiffs,
v.
University of South Carolina and University of South Carolina Gamecock Club, Petitioners. of whom George M. Lee, III, Mena H. Gardiner, and John Love are Respondents, Appellate Case No. 2015-002103

          Heard March 1, 2017

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

         Appeal from Richland County G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

          Robert E. Stepp and Bess J. DuRant, both of Sowell Gray Stepp & Laffitte, L.L.C., of Columbia, for Petitioners.

          J. Lewis Cromer and Julius W. Babb, IV, both of J. Lewis Cromer & Associates, L.L.C., of Columbia, for Respondents.

          KITTREDGE JUSTICE.

         This case stems from a contract dispute between the University of South Carolina and the university's booster club known as the Gamecock Club (Petitioners) and several Gamecock Club members (Respondents). As part of the bargain Respondents struck with Petitioners, Respondents are entitled to "assigned reserved parking" at home football games. Respondents claim Petitioners violated this contract provision when USC discontinued parking on the "apron" around the football stadium and failed to give Respondents first priority in the selection of new parking spaces. Petitioners assert that the parking provision has no priority requirement and it was satisfied when Respondents were assigned reserved parking spaces in an adjacent lot. As the case comes before this Court on certiorari to the court of appeals, the only issue before us is whether this is an appropriate case for the use of equitable estoppel: the trial court held it was not, but the court of appeals reversed. We agree with the trial court and reverse the court of appeals.

         I.

         Petitioners USC and the Gamecock Club work together to promote the school's athletic programs. This includes selling tickets to sporting events and offering other privileges that are contingent on the amount of a Gamecock Club member's financial contributions. In the mid-1980s, the Gamecock Club instituted the Lifetime Membership program, which offered[1] Gamecock Club members the opportunity to become Lifetime Members. Lifetime Membership was achieved by making donations at specified levels or purchasing a life insurance policy valued at a minimum of $100, 000 and naming USC as the beneficiary. In 1990, Respondents George M. Lee, III and John Love became Lifetime Members. Stuart Hope became a Lifetime Member in 1986, which membership passed to Respondent Mena H. Gardiner, his daughter and named beneficiary, upon his death.[2]

         The terms of the Lifetime Membership program were placed in written contracts, signed by Respondents (or their predecessors), which included an attached "Exhibit A" listing the benefits of membership. These benefits included

Four Season Football Tickets (Best Available)
Additional Four Season Football Tickets (Total of 8)
Assigned Reserved Parking
Second Priority on Away and Bowl Game Tickets
Tickets May Be Assigned to One Designated Heir
Four Season Basketball Tickets (Best Available)
Assigned Parking[3] at Coliseum (If Available)
Second Priority on Away and Tournament Game ...

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