Metanoia, a non-profit organization committed to addressing the pressing needs of the Chicora-Cherokee community in North Charleston, faced a formidable challenge when their plans to repurpose the Old Chicora School were halted by a devastating fire. What should have been handled as a simple insurance filing devolved into over three-year fight for compensation when the non-profit’s insurance company unexpectedly denied it’s claim. Undeterred, Mark Joye of Joye Law Firm leveraged his legal expertise to advocate for Metanoia. He proved their insurance company acted in bad faith and ensured they were compensated appropriately. Through perseverance and an unwavering commitment to justice, Joye successfully resolved the dispute, enabling Metanoia to continue their transformative work.
Metanoia’s Mission and Mark Joye’s Involvement
Like most people who live or work in North Charleston, Mark Joye was familiar with Metanoia and their involvement in the under-served Chicora-Cherokee community. In fact, several years prior, Mark and his wife, Becky Joye, began donating to the organization. So, he wasn’t surprised when he received a call from Rev. Bill Stanfield one cold, February morning. However, what Rev. Stanfield was about to say was going to completely change the trajectory of years of work and would set the stage for a legal battle bound for federal court.
Metanoia launched from a desire by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina to understand and address the greatest needs of North Charleston’s Chicora-Cherokee community, which has the highest concentration of childhood poverty in the state of South Carolina (2000 US Census). The organization hired Reverend Bill Stanfield to lead the operation with a mission to “amplify opportunities for a thriving community with families in Chicora and surrounding historically Black neighborhoods by honing the unique assets that exist here.” Since 2002, the organization has made an incredible impact in the community by building affordable housing, supporting local entrepreneurs, providing job skills training, and building leaders through their Metanoia Youth Leadership Academy. Many charities strive to make change, but their good intentions don’t always match the community’s needs.
The organization has inspired many philanthropists and businesses to get involved including Becky and Mark Joye, partner of Joye Law Firm. In 2019, the Joyes were looking to expand their charitable giving and decided that Metanoia was the best fit for their values. Their first donation of $100,000 has been followed with annual donations of $100,000 every year since. Their ongoing donations have provided a matching opportunity called the Spark Joye initiative, which enables the non-profit to magnify the annual gifts even further.
Adaptive Reuse of the Old Chicora School
In 2016, Metanoia embarked on an ambitious endeavor to repurpose the Old Chicora School, an iconic structure that had served as a beacon of hope for the North Charleston community since its initial construction in the 1930s.
Metanoia collaborated on the project with the City of North Charleston and Mayor Keith Summey. Summey has presided over North Charleston as Mayor since 1994 and this project was especially important to him. Together, they envisioned transforming the building into a thriving community center, housing an early childhood education facility and a vibrant arts space. Construction was slated to commence in early 2020, fueled by a combination of private donations and Tax Credits.
A Devastating Fire Halts Construction
In the cold, early morning hours of February 8th, 2020, a fire broke out in the Old Chicora School building. Allegedly ignited by an unhoused person seeking warmth, the flames swiftly spread throughout the auditorium, resulting in the roof’s collapse and substantial structural damage. The North Charleston Fire Department promptly responded. The fire was under control by 6 am, but battles with hot spots continued throughout the morning. Thankfully, no one was injured during the fire, however, the damage was extensive and put the Old Chicora School project in a state of uncertainty.
Later that evening, Rev. Stanfield contacted Attorney Mark Joye seeking guidance on how to proceed. Joye advised him to go forward with the insurance claim, at that time neither could foresee how many roadblocks would stand in their way of receiving compensation for the damages from the fire.
Battling with Insurance for Coverage of Damages
Upon purchasing the property, Metanoia made the prudent decision to secure a $21,400,000 insurance policy, safeguarding against potential incidents such as fires. Trusting in the insurer’s commitment to act responsibly and provide adequate compensation in times of need, Metanoia promptly filed an insurance claim following the fire. However, instead of paying, the insurance company unilaterally canceled the policy and mailed a portion of the $100,000 premium check back.
Reverend Bill Stanfield was devastated. Would they have to take a loss on all the work that had been done? And what about the future work that was planned? He reached out to Mark.
Bad Faith Insurance Claims
Through Mark Joye’s history as a litigation attorney, he knew the charity was getting a raw deal. Joye believed this case was worth fighting, and decided to take on the case pro bono. By agreeing to take on the case, Joye knew there was substantial pressure to deliver a favorable settlement. Not only to avoid disappointing the donors who had poured so much into this project, but also because of how important this project was to the most vulnerable in this community. “I knew what was being done to the charity was wrong, but in the beginning, I didn’t know exactly how we were going to go about righting this wrong,” says Joye.
For the next few months, they went back and forth over whether the insurance company would pay out the claim. It became clear that the insurance company was going to try anything they could to shirk their duty. Joye decided it was time to file a lawsuit in federal court alleging the insurance company was in breach of their contract and acting in bad faith by not agreeing to pay for the construction project
During the subsequent three and a half years, the conflict persisted, involving more than fifteen depositions and three mediations. At a certain point, the insurance company argued that they would not pay because Metanoia did not own the property, insisting that the city of North Charleston owned it. To confront that, Mark wisely advised the city of North Charleston to join the lawsuit. This added city attorneys Brady Hair and Derk Van Raalte to Mark’s team, which also included Atty. Jamie Khan, a contractual litigation attorney, who worked tirelessly on the case until it was successfully resolved.
After the fire, the funding for the project began to fall apart. Because of this, the insurance company argued that they were obligated to pay only the amount that had already been invested in the construction, rather than the entire cost of the project. However, during the conclusive hearing, the judge refuted the insurer’s claim and ruled in favor of the charity on certain key issues. The insurance company must have sensed they were running out of options, and they were finally compelled to provide Metanoia with adequate compensation for the incurred loss right before trial. “We were prepared to go to trial as there was no way we were backing down after all the shady tactics this insurance company tried to pull. In the end, they knew if we took them to trial the optics would have been horrible for them and so they agreed to pay the settlement,” said Joye.
Victory After a Difficult Case
After a long and arduous process, Joye and Khan were able to quantify Metanoia’s damages in the range of $18,799,597.97 to $40,121,072.97 based on the project’s failure due to the insurance company refusing to pay when it should have, the ensuing delay and rising construction costs. Facing the prospect of a significant bad faith refusal to pay insurance benefits verdict, the insurance company agreed to pay out a suitable confidential settlement amount to Metanoia. Despite the many difficulties and taking on the case pro bono, Joye reflects on the outcome, “this was the most satisfying settlement I’ve had in my entire practice.”
While this was a unique case for Joye Law Firm, the unfortunate reality of insurance companies attempting to evade their responsibility is not uncommon. Sadly, South Carolinians face this struggle with bad faith insurance claims on a daily basis. That’s why seeking legal representation is crucial following a severe accident.
With the legal battle now behind them, Metanoia can forge ahead, steadfast in its mission to effect positive change within communities. To learn more about Metanoia and the Old Chicora School project visit their website.
Disclaimer: Past Results do not guarantee future outcomes.