Wednesday, October 7, 2015
A woman named Lauren Proctor and an insurance company filed a suit to recover gambling losses in a case decided today by the South Carolina Supreme Court
Lauren Proctor and Trans-Union National Title Insurance Company ("Trans-Union") brought this action against Whitlark & Whitlark, Inc., d/b/a Rockaways Athletic Club ("Rockaways") and Pizza Man, Forrest Whitlark, Paul Whitlark, Charlie E. Bishop, and Brett Blanks (collectively "Defendants") seeking to recover money Proctor lost while gambling on video poker machines located at Rockaways and Pizza Man over the course of several years, including a time period following the South Carolina Legislature's ban of video poker in 2000. The circuit court granted Proctor's motion for partial summary judgment on her claim under the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act ("UTPA") as to the liability of Defendants...
We find our Legislature has enacted specific gambling loss statutes as the exclusive remedy for a gambler seeking recovery of losses sustained by illegal gambling. Accordingly, we now overrule our decisions that have implicitly authorized recovery beyond these statutes. As a result, we hold that one engaged in illegal gambling cannot recover under UTPA. However, based on the distinct facts of this case, we find that Proctor may pursue the portion of her UTPA claim for the losses she alleged that she sustained between 1999 and July 1, 2000, the day on which the ban on video poker became effective.
Beginning in 1995, Proctor started gambling on video gaming machines at various restaurants and bars in Columbia, South Carolina. From 1999 to 2005, Proctor frequently gambled on video poker machines located in Rockaways and Pizza Man, which are operated by Whitlark & Whitlark, Inc. ("Whitlark"). Forest Whitlark and Paul Whitlark are part owners of Whitlark. At the time, Charlie E. Bishop and Brett Blanks co-owned a limited liability company named Zodiac Distributing, LLC, which placed one coin-operated gaming machine at the Pizza Man restaurant.
According to Proctor, she lost between $1,000 and $5,000 per week while gambling at the restaurants. Proctor claimed the two restaurants provided her cash advances on her credit cards to enable her to fund her gambling, as well as free food, alcohol, and cocaine.
Proctor also funded her gambling with money illegally obtained from her employer State Title, which her mother owned. State Title provided real estate closing services to attorney Walter Smith. During the time period at issue, Proctor forged her mother's name on checks and stole money from Smith's trust account in order to play the video poker machines. As a result of Proctor's actions, Smith's trust account contained insufficient funds to satisfy the mortgages on several properties at closing. In turn, Trans-Union paid approximately $550,000 in claims stemming from the shortages in Smith's trust account.
The court held
Proctor is only entitled to seek recovery for those losses that were allegedly sustained prior to July 1, 2000, the effective date of the ban on video poker. In her pleadings, Proctor alleged that she sustained gambling losses "[b]eginning in 1999, and continuing until June 2005." Because it was legal for Proctor to engage in video poker prior to July 1, 2000, we find that she may pursue her UTPA claim for gambling losses allegedly sustained between 1999 and July 1, 2000. We emphasize that this case was presented in the posture of a summary judgment motion. Thus, Proctor still bears the burden of proving her alleged damages.
Chief Justice Toal concurred and dissented and would allow Proctor to pursue claims based on all her losses despite the view that she is "not a sympathetic figure..."
The attorney whose escrow account was invaded was suspended in 2006. (Mike Frisch)