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Wachesaw Plantation East Community Services Association, Inc. v. Alexander

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

June 28, 2017

Wachesaw Plantation East Community Services Association, Inc., Respondent,
v.
Todd C. Alexander, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2011-198986

          Heard May 11, 2017

         Appeal From Georgetown County Joe M. Crosby, Master-in-Equity

          Charles T. Smith, of Georgetown, for Appellant.

          Stephanie Carol Trotter, of McCabe, Trotter & Beverly, P.C., of Columbia, for Respondent Wachesaw Plantation East Community Services Association, Inc.

          Jack M. Scoville, Jr., of Jack M. Scoville, Jr., P.A., of Georgetown, for Respondent William George.

          GEATHERS, J.

         In this lien foreclosure action filed by Respondent Wachesaw Plantation East Community Services Association, Inc. (the Association), Appellant Todd C. Alexander (Homeowner) seeks review of an order of the Master-in-Equity denying his motion to vacate the judicial sale of his property. Homeowner argues (1) the master erred in denying the motion to vacate because the sale price was inadequate and was accompanied by other circumstances warranting the interference of the court, namely, Homeowner's health problems and his lack of prior knowledge of the judicial sale; (2) the sale constituted a forfeiture of Homeowner's property because the sale was involuntary and resulted in a price that was $135, 000 less than the property's tax valuation; (3) the third-party bidder, Respondent William George (Bidder), was unjustly enriched because Homeowner was unable to attend the sale; and (4) Homeowner had an equitable right to redeem his property up to the time Bidder complied with the bid and received the deed to the property. We affirm.

         I. Circumstances Warranting Interference

         Homeowner first argues that the inadequacy of the sale price combined with his health problems and his lack of prior knowledge of the sale warranted setting it aside. We disagree.

         "[T]he determination of whether a judicial sale should be set aside is a matter left to the sound discretion of the trial court." Wells Fargo Bank, NA v. Turner, 378 S.C. 147, 150, 662 S.E.2d 424, 425 (Ct. App. 2008). "An abuse of discretion occurs when the judgment is controlled by some error of law or when the order, based upon factual, as distinguished from legal conclusions, is without evidentiary support." Regions Bank v. Owens, 402 S.C. 642, 647, 741 S.E.2d 51, 54 (Ct. App. 2013). This standard of review "merely represents the appellate courts' effort to incorporate the two sound principles underlying the proper review of an equity case."[1] Crossland v. Crossland, 408 S.C. 443, 452, 759 S.E.2d 419, 423-24 (2014) (quoting Lewis v. Lewis, 392 S.C. 381, 391, 709 S.E.2d 650, 655 (2011)). "[T]hose two principles are the superior position of the trial [court] to determine credibility and the imposition of a burden on an appellant to satisfy the appellate court that the preponderance of the evidence is against the finding of the trial court." Id. at 452, 759 S.E.2d at 424 (first alteration in original) (quoting Lewis, 392 S.C. at 391, 709 S.E.2d at 655).

         "Our courts zealously insure judicial sales be openly and freely conducted and nothing be allowed to chill the bidding." E. Sav. Bank, FSB v. Sanders, 373 S.C.349, 355, 644 S.E.2d 802, 805-06 (Ct. App. 2007). However, "[a] judicial sale will be set aside when either: (1) the sale price 'is so gross as to shock the conscience[;]' or (2) the sale 'is accompanied by other circumstances warranting the interference of the court.'" Wells Fargo, 378 S.C. at 150, 662 S.E.2d at 425 (second alteration in original) (quoting Poole v. Jefferson Standard Life Ins. Co., 174 S.C. 150, 157, 177 S.E. 24, 27 (1934)).

As has been said time and again in cases involving the setting aside of judicial sales, it is the policy of the [c]ourts to uphold such sales when regularly made, and when it can be done without violating principle or doing injustice; and that mere inadequacy of price, unaccompanied by other circumstances [that] would invoke the exercise of the [c]ourt's discretion is not sufficient, unless, perhaps, it is so great as to raise a presumption of fraud or to shock the conscience of the [c]ourt.

Henry v. Blakely, 216 S.C. 13, 18, 56 S.E.2d 581, 583 (1949).

         Here, Homeowner does not argue that the sale price shocks the conscience. Rather, he asserts (1) the price of $181, 000 is inadequate because the fair market value of the property is $316, 800 and (2) he did not know about the foreclosure hearing, the foreclosure judgment, or the judicial sale until the day after the sale. He maintains his lack of knowledge of these events constitutes excusable neglect. See Wells Fargo, 378 S.C. at 152 n.1, 662 S.E.2d at 426 n.1 (explaining a party seeking to set aside a judicial sale on the ground that the price at which the property was sold was merely inadequate, rather than shocking to the conscience, must show excusable neglect). Homeowner ...


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