South Carolina Landowners’ Class Action Suit for Property Devaluation Should Not Have Been Dismissed – Chestnut v. AVX Corporation

In a class action lawsuit, the plaintiff attempts to seek justice against the defendant not only on his or her own behalf, but also on behalf of those similarly situated. Of course, it is up to the trial court to determine whether to certify the plaintiff’s suit as a class action and, if it does so, to decide exactly who is entitled to be part of the class.

Class action suits are important because they allow a large group of individuals to share litigation expenses in a suit that might not be viable if each plaintiff had to pay his or her own attorney fees, court costs, and other expenses.

In the case of Chestnut v. AVX Corporation, the plaintiffs were landowners who sued the defendant, an electronics manufacturer in the North Myrtle Beach area, on claims of nuisance, negligence, and strict liability arising from the manufacturer’s use of a degreasing chemical known as trichloroethylene (TCE). The manufacturer’s use of TCE began in 1980. In 1996, the manufacturer admitted to state authorities that it had violated certain state environmental laws and agreed to implement a clean-up plan.

In 2007, certain residents around the manufacturer’s facility brought a class action lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Horry County. There were two classes of residents in the suit:  those whose property had allegedly been contaminated by TCE and those whose property had not been contaminated but whose property values had purportedly been negatively affected by the manufacturer’s actions.

The trial court dismissed the complaint of the non-contaminated landowners on the grounds that there was no evidence that the defendant’s alleged contamination had physically affected their properties and that, for their claims to have survived, they would have had to allege that there had been an unreasonable interference with their use and enjoyment of their property. 

The Supreme Court’s Decision

The court affirmed in part and reversed in part. According to the court, the circuit court was correct in dismissing the plaintiffs’ nuisance and strict liability claims because the complaint alleged actual contamination in stating these claims. Since the appealing plaintiffs were not part of the class of plaintiffs who suffered direct contamination, their nuisance and strict liability claims were properly dismissed.

With respect to the plaintiffs’ allegations of negligence, however, the court found that the plaintiffs had properly pled all four elements of a negligence claim:  duty, breach, proximate cause, and damages.

Noting that the issue of whether South Carolina would recognize the “stigma damages” alleged by the plaintiffs was a novel question, the court found that dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claim under South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure  12(b)(6) was not proper. Only upon the development of a factual record concerning whether the plaintiffs’ property had, in fact, lost value due to its proximity to the property actually contaminated by the defendant would the court be allowed to decide whether to adopt a “no stigma damages rule, an all stigma damages rule, or a modified rule.”

To Speak to a South Carolina Injury Lawyer

If your family has been affected by another’s negligence, you need to speak to an attorney about your claim. Call the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices at 864-582-5118 to set up an appointment to discuss your accident case or potential class action lawsuit. We accept cases throughout South Carolina and have offices in both Spartanburg and Greenville. Please keep in mind that there are time limits for filing suit, and a delay in asserting your claim may undermine your right to recovery.

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