November 9, 2017
From Lee County Walter Graham Newman, Special Referee
Jahue Moore and John Calvin Bradley, Jr., of Moore Taylor Law
Firm, PA, of West Columbia, for Appellant.
William W. Wheeler, III, of Jennings & Jennings, PA, of
Bishopville, for Respondents.
action seeking ejectment and monetary damages, A&P
Enterprises, LLC (A&P) argues the special referee erred
in finding SP Grocery of Lynchburg, LLC and Suresh
"Sam" Patel (collectively, Respondents) hold an
equitable interest in the real property on which Sam operates
a liquor store and convenience store (Tommy's Grill). We
affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for any eviction
proceedings that may be necessary.
and Procedural History
"Kim" Patel is the sole member of A&P. Payel
Suresh Patel, daughter of Sam Patel, is the sole member of SP
Grocery. Sam and Kim are brothers.
immigrated to the United States from India in 1979. By the
early 1980s, Sam's extended family lived in Chicago with
Sam and his wife. In 1989, Sam purchased a store on Willow
Grove Road in Lynchburg, South Carolina. Sam's family,
along with his parents and his younger brother, Kim, then
moved to South Carolina, where the family worked in and lived
on the premises of the Lynchburg store. The business grew and
eventually the brothers acquired a store in Sumter. Although
there is some dispute as to the circumstances, by 1992, Kim
was operating the Sumter store as his own. From this point
forward, Sam and Kim conducted their own respective
businesses and both eventually came to have other stores and
2010, Sam owned three parcels of improved real estate in
Lynchburg (the Property). On two of these parcels, Sam ran a
liquor store and Tommy's Grill. On the third parcel, Sam
operated a British Petroleum station (the Gas Station);
however, the Gas Station was no longer open at the time of
the proceeding before the special referee. On February 16,
2010, First Citizens Bank and Trust Co., Inc., initiated
foreclosure proceedings against Sam, demanding judgment in
relation to the Property. Thereafter, Sam approached Kim
about purchasing the Property; A&P later bought it for
$350, 001 at a May 9, 2011 foreclosure sale.
A&P bought the Property, Sam continued to operate
Tommy's Grill; however, no rental agreement or writing of
any kind exists to confirm the nature of Sam's occupancy.
Due to financial difficulties, Sam placed Tommy's Grill
in the name of SP Grocery during the summer of 2011. SP
Grocery obtained all of the operating, lottery, and alcohol
licenses for Tommy's Grill and the liquor store.
Kim's purchase of the Property at the foreclosure sale,
Sam failed to pay rent and other expenses necessary for the
continued operation of the liquor store and Tommy's
Grill; thus, A&P sued for ejectment and monetary damages.
Respondents timely answered and counterclaimed, alleging
A&P promised Respondents title to the Property and
"that in due reliance upon this promise, [Respondents]
expended considerable sums of money and [a] large amount of
labor in making numerous improvements to the
[Property]." A&P denies the existence of any such
hearing before the special referee, Sam and Kim gave
conflicting accounts regarding Kim's purchase of the
Property and the circumstances of Sam's occupancy.
According to Kim, when A&P purchased the Property, Kim
told Sam he could continue to operate the liquor store and
Tommy's Grill rent-free for six or seven months so that
Sam could get back on his feet. Kim testified that he asked
and expected Respondents to begin paying monthly rent of $3,
750 in May 2012. Kim explained that Respondents were also
responsible for taxes, insurance, maintenance, and upkeep. On
direct examination, Kim testified he sent several lease
agreements to Sam, who refused to sign any of them. On
cross-examination, Kim admitted he neither prepared nor
presented Sam with a written lease agreement prior to July
denied buying the Property solely to help his brother and
testified that he expected a twelve to fifteen percent return
on his investment. However, Kim admitted he and Sam had no
agreement regarding the sale of the Property or rent
payments. According to Kim, the families have had a poor
relationship since 1992, and the only time he ever heard from
Sam was when Sam needed money.
further claimed A&P paid $3, 700 in outstanding property
taxes on the Property despite Sam's agreement to pay the
taxes. Additionally, on two separate occasions, Sam asked Kim
to purchase gasoline for Sam to sell at the Gas Station.
Initially, A&P purchased gas for Respondents from Turner
Oil. Although Respondents agreed to reimburse A&P $17,
415 for this purchase, they had not yet done so at the time
of the hearing before the special referee. A&P
subsequently incurred approximately $20, 000 in costs for
gasoline purchased from Southern Gas and Fuel. Kim testified,
and the special referee agreed, Respondents still owe A&P
approximately $17, 000 for this purchase.
story differs. Sam contends Kim purchased the Property in
order to convey it back to Sam, not to rent it to him.
Although Kim offered to buy the Property for Sam and title it
in Sam's name, Sam insisted on paying Kim back over three
to five years. Sam claimed he told Kim not to put the
Property in his name until he could repay him. Sam further
testified that Kim promised Sam he would be able ...