In a case that has languished for about six years, nearly 4,300 Sun City Hilton Head residents still await the start of their class-action lawsuit alleging stucco damage.
Ongoing legal maneuvering prevents the case from advancing and keeps residents from meeting with lawyers who initiated the class-action, according to Michael Seekings, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.
Stucco applicator S.C. State Plastering Co., which is being sued, has fought to prohibit the team of four lawyers representing the residents from speaking with their clients. A judge dismissed the company's request to block such communication in June 2012, but that decision was appealed.
A ruling is pending before the S.C. Court of Appeals, where both sides argued their cases Nov. 6.
Seekings said the case also is being delayed by action taken in November 2012, when the plastering company and third-party defendant Del Webb Communities, the developer of Sun City, argued to the S.C. Supreme Court that a judge was wrong to approve the class-action status and allow a notice announcing the class-action to be sent to residents.
In 2012, Judge J. Michael Baxley agreed to classify the lawsuit of Sun City couple Anthony and Barbara Grazia as a class-action case after about 140 residents also sued the defendants individually. Some of those cases have since been resolved.
Hoping to reach a resolution quickly for the rest of the defendants, the residents' attorneys asked the state Supreme Court's chief justice on July 23 to allow the notice to be sent. The plastering company's appeal "serves only one purpose, delay," the motion states.
About four months later, though, there has been no ruling on the motion.
Chief Justice Jean Toal has recused herself from the case. Her clerk said Toal has a connection to the case but declined to explain further.
Now, the entire court -- minus the chief justice -- must rule on the motion. It's not clear when that will happen, but a ruling in the plaintiffs' favor would mean residents could receive notices of the class-action suit within 30 days, Seekings said.
Each homeowner would then have at least two months to opt out of the lawsuit. When that period ends, there would be an opportunity for the plastering company and three third-party defendants -- Del Webb, Pulte Homes and Kephart Architects -- to inspect each home's damage.
While the degree of stucco deterioration varies from house to house, Seekings said, the delays are exacerbating the damage.
"Each day that goes by, they're just getting worse," he said.
Very few people have paid for repairs in the hopes of receiving compensation later on, according to Seekings. However, Pulte Homes carried out patch jobs for a handful of residents and allegedly asked those homeowners not to sue, he said.
"We think that's inappropriate," Seekings said.
It's not yet clear whether Pulte's repairs would disqualify residents from participating in the class-action, he said.
Attempts this week to reach the defendants' attorneys and the Grazias for comment were unsuccessful.
"We are trying desperately to get them to rule," Seekings said of the courts. "Then the game will be back on."
Document: Grazia Et Al v SC State Plastering LLC Motion to Lift Stay
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.