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Dorrestein v. Schuiling

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

January 16, 2018

Ronald Dorrestein and Christine S. Dorrestein, Plaintiffs,
v.
William E. Schuiling and Karen Schuiling, Defendants.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on defendants William and Karen Schuiling's (the “Schuilings”) motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 22. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This litigation arises out of a real estate sales contract, under which the Schuilings contracted to purchase a house and lot on Kiawah Island, South Carolina (“the Property”) from the Dorresteins for $4, 822, 500. Compl. ¶ 3. The Dorresteins are husband and wife, and are residents of South Carolina. Id. ¶ 1. The Schuilings are also husband and wife, and are residents of Virginia. Id. ¶ 2. The parties entered into a written contract for the Property on February 1, 2017, at which point the Schuilings paid a $200, 000 down payment, currently held in trust by the Dorresteins's real estate company, Kiawah Island Real Estate, LLC (“KIRE”). Id. ¶¶ 8-10. The Dorresteins chose not to complete the sale before it closed. Id. ¶¶ 11-12.

         The Dorresteins allege that the Schuilings anticipatorily repudiated the contract, and that their reasons for not closing on the property are not justified under the terms of the contract. Id. ¶ 18. The Dorresteins request specific performance of the contract, or alternatively, the $200, 000 down payment in liquidated damages plus consequential damages. Id. ¶¶ 23-33. The Schuilings deny the allegations and argue that the contract was rendered null and void pursuant to the terms of ¶ 3, which requires membership in the Kiawah Island Club (“the Club”) as a condition of purchasing the property. Def.'s Ans. ¶ 40. The Schuilings contend that their failure to make the deposit to the Club within five days of executing the contract rendered it null and void and excused them from having to close on the sale of the Property. Id.

         The Schuilings also bring a counterclaim against the Dorresteins for breach of contract, arguing that the Dorresteins provided them with inaccurate information that fundamentally informed their decision to enter into the contract to purchase the Property. Id. ¶¶ 42-43. This purportedly inaccurate information included: the amount of traffic and construction in the immediate area around the Property; that the Property was built in compliance with Kiawah regulations and in line with the design plans and specifications; and that the property's dock was constructed pursuant to OCRM regulations. Id. ¶ 44. The Schuilings request the return of their down payment and consequential damages. Id. ¶ 48. The Schuilings also raise the affirmative defenses of unclean hands and mutual mistake, unilateral mistake, and/or recision. Defs.' Ans. ¶¶ 37-38.

         The Dorresteins originally filed suit in this court on May 5, 2017. ECF No. 1. On October 18, 2017, the Schuilings filed a motion for summary judgment, ECF No.22, to which the Dorresteins responded on November 13, 2017, ECF No. 31, and the Schuilings replied on November 17, 2017, ECF No. 32. The court held a hearing on this motion on November 27, 2017. ECF No. 36. This matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARD

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that the district court enter judgment against a party who, ‘after adequate time for discovery . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.'” Stone v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 188, 190 (4th Cir. 1997) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). “By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. at 248. “[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. When the party moving for summary judgment does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial, it may discharge its burden by demonstrating to the court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). The non-movant must then “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Id. at 322.

         Any reasonable inferences are to be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, Webster v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 685 F.3d 411, 421 (4th Cir. 2012). However, to defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must rely on more than conclusory allegations, mere speculation, the building of one inference upon another, or the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; Stone, 105 F.3d at 191. Rather, “a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment . . . must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 522 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (2002) (amended 2010)). If the adverse party fails to provide evidence establishing that the fact-finder could reasonably decide in his favor, then summary judgment shall be entered “regardless of ‘[a]ny proof or evidentiary requirements imposed by the substantive law.'” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Schuilings filed a motion for summary judgment on both causes of action in the Dorresteins's complaint-specific performance and breach of contract. Defs.' Mot. Sum. Judg., 1. The Schuilings request summary judgment on both counts, arguing that “under the plain reading of the contract, it became null and void.” Id. at 3. While parties may bring an action for specific performance of a contract under South Carolina law, Ingram v. Kasey's Assocs., 531 S.E.2d 287, 291 (S.C. 2000), specific performance is a potential remedy that the court could impose if it finds that a party breached a contract. Thus, the first task before the court is to determine whether to grant either party summary judgment on the Dorresteins's breach of contract claim against the Schuilings. The court will then determine whether to order the remedy of specific performance, as requested by the Dorresteins, or to order traditional damages, as requested by the Schuilings. Notably, neither party has requested summary judgment on the Schuilings's counterclaim against the Dorresteins for breach of contract.

         The Dorresteins claim that the Schuilings breached the contract for sale by providing “unequivocal and written notice of their intent not to close” on the sale approximately four months after signing the contract. Compl. ¶¶ 29-33. The Schuilings argue in their motion for summary judgment that the lawsuit should be dismissed because of their failure to meet the requirements of § 3 of the contract, which they contend automatically rendered the contract null and void and of no further force and effect. Defs.' Mot. Sum. Judg., 3. Section 3 of the contract requires that the Schuilings, as the purchasers, obtain membership at the Club in the same classification of membership that the Dorresteins hold. This section requires that new purchasers of property in the neighborhood obtain membership to the Club by submitting a “Conditional Application for ...


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