Supreme Court Seal
South Carolina
JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT
Site Map | Feedback
2011-UP-086 - Douglas v. Martins Point

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE. IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Douglas E. David, individually and as the President of Island Refuge, Inc., General Partner of Martins Point, LP, and Martins Point, LP, Respondents,

v.

Martins Point Property Owners Association, Inc. and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, Defendants,

of whom Martins Point Property Owners Association, Inc. is Appellant.


Appeal From Charleston County
Roger M. Young, Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2011-UP-086  
Heard September 15, 2010 – Filed March 1, 2011


AFFIRMED


G. Trenholm Walker and Francis M. Ervin, both of Charleston, for Appellant

James Theodore Gentry, Wallace K. Lightsey, and Rita Bolt Barker, all of Greenville, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: Martins Point Property Owners Association (Appellant) appeals the trial court's ruling enforcing a negative deed covenant and enjoining the construction of a dock at a community lot in a subdivision on Wadmalaw Island.  We affirm.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 2005, Douglas E. David, as the sole owner of Island Refuge, Inc., a partner of Martins Point Limited Partnership (the LP), brought suit against Appellant, as well as the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), to enforce a deed restriction prohibiting the construction of a dock and permanently enjoining the same (the Covenant Case).  Shortly thereafter, the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, Inc., (Lowcountry) filed a separate action against Appellant, seeking specific performance of an alleged conservation easement (hereinafter the Conservation Easement Case).  The trial court granted a motion to consolidate the cases, as well as DHEC's motion for Summary Judgment, which dismissed DHEC from the case. 

After the trial court heard the matter, but before it issued a ruling, Appellant settled the Conservation Easement Case with Lowcountry.   On July 22, 2008, the trial court signed an order dismissing the Conservation Easement Case.  On August 4, the trial court entered an order finding in favor of the LP on the Covenant Case; however, because the order was prepared by the LP prior to the settlement, it contained findings and conclusions relating to the Conservation Easement Case. 

On August 25, Appellant filed a Motion to Reconsider, Alter or Amend, and in response, the trial court amended the August 4 order "insofar as it makes legal conclusions which affect the Conservation Easement [Case] which was originally part . . . [of this case, but] was dismissed by agreement of those parties while I had the matter under advisement after trial."

FACTS

In 1989, the LP purchased 1,000 acres of property on Wadmalaw Island, which included both marsh and river-front property, to be subdivided for the purpose of developing a neighborhood.  There were initially six members of the LP, each being required to simultaneously purchase a lot in the subdivision when the LP closed on the larger 1,000-acre plot.  Of the thirty-two lots, eight have deep-water frontage and each of these eight lots now have a private dock.

When the LP initially began the development of Martins Point, the goal of the development was to preserve and protect the ecologically valuable area and to design and develop it in a low-impact, ecologically friendly manner.  The LP's Placement Memorandum states:  "MARTINS POINT LP IS NOT A CONVENTIONAL DEVELOPMENT.  THE PRIMARY OBJECTIVE IS TO PROVIDE THE PARTNERS AN OPPORTUNITY TO OWN PRIME WATERFRONT PROPERTY IN AN ENVIRONMENTALLY SIGNIFICANT LOCATION.  THE PARTNERSHIP IS NOT COMMITTED TO MAXIMIZING RETURN ON INVESTMENT."

The LP currently retains ownership of three lots in the subdivision, as well as the title to Martins Point Road; however, in August, 1991, the LP deeded to Appellant the common areas, consisting of roughly fifty acres, including the .725-acre parcel on which the boat ramp and landing area in question is located.  The 1991 deed contained the following restriction: "No dock shall be constructed as an appurtenance to [the] Common Area containing .725 acres."

In 2001, a number of new property owners began discussing the possibility of constructing a boarding dock at the boat ramp.  In 2005, Appellant sought and received a permit from DHEC authorizing the construction of ninety-foot long fixed pier, ramp, and floating dock.  That same year the respondents brought the present action seeking to permanently enjoin the construction of the dock.  The trial court found the deed restriction enforceable and enjoined construction of the dock.  This appeal followed.  

ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Did the trial court err in making mention of the Conservation Easement Case in its order?

2. Did the trial court err in enforcing the deed restriction?

STANDARD OF REVIEW

An action for an injunction is equitable.  Doe v. S.C. Med. Malpractice Liab. Joint Underwriting Ass'n, 347 S.C. 642, 645, 557 S.E.2d 670, 672 (2001).  An action to enforce a restrictive covenant is one in equity.  S.C. Dep't of Natural Res. v. Town of McClellanville, 345 S.C. 617, 622, 550 S.E.2d 299, 302 (2001).  In actions at equity, this court may find facts based on its own view of the evidence.  Ex parte Gregory, 378 S.C. 430, 436-37, 663 S.E.2d 46, 50 (2008).  However, while this is a broad standard, this court will not disregard the findings of the trial court.  Tiger, Inc. v. Fisher Agro, Inc., 301 S.C. 229, 237, 391 S.E.2d 538, 543 (1989). 

LAW/ANALYSIS

1. Appellant argues the trial court erred in mentioning the conservation easement case, specifically, in failing to vacate its findings of facts.  We disagree.  Generally, "[w]here an action has been dismissed with prejudice, the judgment operates in subsequent litigation to the same extent as if the action had been tried to a final adjudication."  Jones v. City of Folly Beach, 326 S.C. 360, 366, 483 S.E.2d 770, 773 (Ct. App. 1997).  In this case the trial court vacated its conclusions of law concerning the conservation easement case, and although not explicitly vacating its findings of facts for that case, we find the trial court did not rely on those facts in making its decision on the deed restriction case.  Accordingly, Appellant was not prejudiced.

2. Although Appellant concedes the deed in question contains an express prohibition against the construction of a dock, Appellant argues the trial court erred in enforcing the deed restriction.  In this regard, Appellant maintains that neither the LP nor David has standing to enforce the restriction, and further, that the restriction is unenforceable because there is no substantial benefit served by its enforcement.  Appellant also argues the circumstances have so changed since the conveyance that enforcement of the restriction is unreasonable and oppressive.  Generally, a grantor may enforce a restriction against a grantee when the grantor owns land that stands to benefit from the restriction's enforcement.  McLeod v. Baptiste, 315 S.C. 246, 247, 433 S.E.2d 834, 835 (1993).  Here, in limiting the number of docks and the flow of boat, passenger, and automobile traffic on the waterfront site, the LP's interest of minimizing environmental impact is served; therefore, the LP has standing to enforce the restriction.[1]  Likewise, because the restriction serves the stated purpose of the LP's development strategy, the clear restriction is not unenforceable for lack of serving a substantial purpose.  See generally Vickery v. Powell, 267 S.C. 23, 28, 225 S.E.2d 856, 859 (1976) (indicating that a deed restriction against mobile homes served no substantial purpose when only a few lots within a larger subdivision – where mobile homes were common – were encumbered, and nothing restricted permanent homes which resembled mobile homes).  Finally, although a number of private docks have been constructed since the 1991 deed conveying the common lot, it was never contemplated that such docks would not be permitted in Martins Point; thus, conditions have not changed to a degree significant enough to warrant ignoring the express deed restriction. See Menne v. Keowee Key Prop. Owner's Ass'n Inc., 368 S.C. 557, 564, 629 S.E.2d 690, 694 (Ct. App. 2007) (stating that a party seeking such nullification "must show the change of conditions represented so radical a change that the original purpose of the restrictive covenant can no longer be realized"). Accordingly, we affirm. 

CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated above, the ruling of the trial court is

AFFIRMED.

SHORT, THOMAS, and LOCKEMY, JJ., concur.


[1]  Because the LP has standing to enforce the restriction, we need not address whether David personally has the same, nor need we address whether a negative reciprocal covenant arose by implication.  Furthermore, contrary to Appellant's position, we are aware of no authority which mandates that the benefit of the deed restriction to the party seeking to enforce it be measured exclusively in economic terms.