Archive for August, 2023

N.C. Business Court Opinions, August 16, 2023 – August 29, 2023

Atkinson v. Lexington Cmty. Ass’n, 2023 NCBC 58 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 16, 2023) (Conrad, J.)

Key Terms: Planned Community Act; motion for judgment on the pleadings; Rule 12(c); declaratory judgment; declaration; standing; third-party complaint; moot

After being sued in a dispute regarding recovery of earnest money, the Association filed a third-party complaint against its president, Rankin, alleging breach of fiduciary duties. Rankin counterclaimed seeking, inter alia, a declaratory judgment that the Association had no authority to institute the action against him because it did not receive member approval as required by its governing declaration. Rankin filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on his declaratory judgment claim.

The Court agreed with Rankin and found that the declaration required the Association to obtain membership approval before asserting third-party claims against Rankin. Because the Association failed to do so and the exemption for claims to enforce the declaration was inapplicable, its claims against Rankin were barred. The Court granted Rankin’s motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to all claims asserted against him but dismissed the claims without prejudice because the Association could obtain member approval to refile. The Court then concluded that Rankin’s claim for declaratory judgment was mooted by the dismissal of the claims against him.


Campbell Sales Grp., Inc. v. Niroflex by Jiufeng Furniture, LLC, 2023 NCBC Order 38 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 11, 2023) (Davis, J.)

Key Terms: motion in limine; evidence; lost profits damages; proximate cause; loss of reputation damages; admissibility; unfair or deceptive trade practices

Prior to the commencement of a jury trial set for August 21, 2023, Defendants filed two motions in limine relating to Plaintiff’s damages evidence on its UDTPA claim.

Defendants’ first motion in limine sought to prevent Plaintiff from presenting evidence of, or claiming entitlement to, lost profits damages because, Defendants argued, the damages Plaintiff suffered were not proximately caused by Defendants’ conduct and were too speculative. The Court agreed and granted the motion, concluding that Plaintiff’s lost profits damages were not proximately caused by Defendants’ conduct because it was Plaintiff who chose to discontinue its relationship with Genfine rather than Genfine refusing to sell its products through Plaintiff anymore. The Court hypothesized that a lost profits argument based on the profits Plaintiff lost by not being the exclusive retailer of Genfine furniture might have been viable, but that it was too late to now assert such a theory.

Defendants’ second motion in limine sought to prevent Plaintiff from presenting evidence of, or claiming entitlement to, damages from reputational harm. The Court granted this motion as well, noting first that Plaintiff had failed to cite any North Carolina case in which reputational damages were awarded in a business dispute, and concluding that even if such damages were potentially recoverable, Plaintiff’s apparent reputational damages were too speculative and its supporting evidence deficient.


Moose v. Allegacy Fed. Credit Union, 2023 NCBC Order 39 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 21, 2023) (Conrad, J.)

Key Terms: motion to approve settlement; pre-certification class action; class claims; putative class; due process; public interest; indicia of abuse; settlement agreement

Plaintiff Moose brought individual and class claims against Defendant for assessing overdraft fees for certain debit-card transactions. No class had yet been certified in the case despite its pendency for almost three years. Nevertheless, having reached a settlement, the parties jointly moved for an order approving dismissal of Moose’s individual claims with prejudice and the putative class claims without prejudice.

The Court began by explaining that to guard against potential abuse of the class-action mechanism, a trial court must not only approve class-wide settlements, but must also conduct a limited inquiry where a named plaintiff has reached an individual settlement and is seeking a voluntary dismissal of a pre-certification class-action complaint. Upon review of the proposed settlement here, the Court was not persuaded by the parties “practical considerations” for settlement and found numerous indicia of abuse. Among them, the Plaintiff and her counsel would receive a settlement payment “several hundred times” the amount of the Plaintiff’s individual alleged damages and significantly more than she could have reasonably expected to recover through ordinary litigation.

Additionally, Moose herself would receive less than five percent of the total settlement amount while her counsel would receive the remainder. The Court was also concerned that the settlement could prejudice the absent class members since it did not address tolling or the effect of the statute of limitations on the class members’ claims.

For these reasons, the Court declined to approve the parties’ settlement agreement in its proposed form and ordered that they (1) file their settlement agreement publicly, (2) provide supplemental information to the Court including class size, the potential cost to notify the class of the settlement, an estimate of damages, and counsel’s billing rates and hours, and (3) attend an in-person hearing for all counsel of record, including out-of-state counsel who had not moved to appear pro hac vice, to discuss certification of the class.


Rorie v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hosp. Auth., 2023 NCBC Order 40 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 21, 2023) (Conrad, J.)

Key Terms: motion to voluntarily dismiss; class action; precertification; prejudice; putative class

Plaintiff initiated a class action alleging that Defendant improperly disclosed the private health information of its patients through third-party tracking technology embedded in its website and asserted claims both individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated. Following Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s amended complaint, Plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary dismissal without prejudice.

The Court has a duty to ensure putative class members will not be prejudiced by the voluntary dismissal of a class-action complaint and therefore has to approve such a dismissal.

After conducting its limited review, the Court here found that neither the Plaintiff nor her counsel would gain from the dismissal of her individual or class claims and that the decision to dismiss the claims was instead based on the Plaintiff’s belief of the unlikelihood of success of her claims following review of the Defendant’s motion to dismiss. The Court also found that the dismissal would not harm putative class members because it was without prejudice and would not prevent putative class members from filing their own individual or class claims in the future.

Therefore, the Court approved the dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims without prejudice.


Mary Annette, LLC v. Crider, 2023 NCBC Order 41 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 24, 2023) (Conrad, J.)

Key Terms: motion to compel; BCR 10.9; discovery dispute; Rule 34; requests for production of documents; attorneys’ fees; Rule 37; BCR 10.1; ESI protocol

Following compliance with Business Court Rule 10.9’s discovery dispute requirements, and with permission of the Court, Defendants filed a motion to compel regarding their requests for production. Defendants argued that Plaintiffs had failed to timely, completely, and competently respond to their requests.

Since Plaintiffs had not objected to any of the requests, the only issue was whether their production of documents was complete and properly formatted. Under Rule 34, which applied because the parties had not agreed to an ESI protocol, Plaintiffs were required to identify the form they intended to use for production, which they failed to do. Moreover, they then provided Defendants a cloud-based folder followed by a physical USB drive which “may or may not” contain the same files. The Court thus concluded that Plaintiffs production was incomplete and ordered Plaintiffs to produce all of the requested documents in a form agreeable to both sides. However, the Court denied Defendants’ related request that Plaintiffs produce an income and expense ledger that was not already in existence.

The Court also determined that Defendants, pursuant to Rule 37(a)(4), were entitled to their reasonable expenses, including attorneys’ fees, incurred in pursuing their motion to compel since Plaintiffs had failed to timely respond or comply with Rule 34 and had provided no justification for their noncompliance.


By: Rachel E. Brinson


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The information in this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Posted 08/30/23

Best Lawyers® Recognizes Rick Rayburn and Jack Miller in its Milestone 30th Edition


The Best Lawyers in America® recognized two Rayburn Cooper & Durham attorneys in its 2024 edition.


Rick Rayburn is listed by Best Lawyers® in the areas of:

  • Bankruptcy and Creditor Debtor Rights / Insolvency and Reorganization Law
  • Bet-the-Company Litigation
  • Commercial Litigation
  • Corporate Law

Rayburn has served as the managing shareholder of Rayburn Cooper & Durham for over 30 years.  He represents business enterprises and individuals in a wide variety of financial transactions and commercial disputes including corporate and commercial litigation, financial restructurings, business reorganizations, workouts, executive employment contracts and disputes, shareholder disputes, business formations, venture capital infusions, private and public securities offerings, mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures, divestitures, refinancings, and recapitalizations.


Jack Miller is listed by Best Lawyers® in the area of Bankruptcy and Creditor Debtor Rights/Insolvency and Reorganization Law.


Miller represents debtors in business workouts and financial reorganizations and trustees, debtors, creditors, and creditors’ committees in business bankruptcies under Chapter 7 or 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.  He also works with restructuring financing and/or operations outside a formal court proceeding for financially distressed business entities.


Since it was first published in 1983, Best Lawyers® has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence. Best Lawyers lists are compiled based on an exhaustive peer-review evaluation. Over 83,000 leading attorneys globally are eligible to vote, and Best Lawyers has received more than 13 million votes to date on the legal abilities of other lawyers based on their specific practice areas around the world. For the 2017 Edition of The Best Lawyers in America©, 7.3 million votes were analyzed, which resulted in almost 55,000 leading lawyers being included in the new edition. Lawyers are not required or allowed to pay a fee to be listed; therefore inclusion in Best Lawyers is considered a singular honor. Corporate Counsel magazine has called Best Lawyers “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”


About Rayburn Cooper & Durham, P.A. (RCD)

For more than 35 years, Rayburn Cooper & Durham has served both businesses and individuals with bankruptcy and financial restructuring, business litigation and general corporate matters. The attorneys within the firm have extensive experience and provide creative solutions to help clients establish their enterprises, grow and prosper and also protect their rights, assets, and interests. Recognizing the unique needs of their clients, RCD does not represent large banks or financial institutions. RCD – The way forward.


Posted 08/22/23

N.C. Business Court Opinions, August 2, 2023 – August 15, 2023

Murphy-Brown, LLC v. Ace Am. Ins. Co., 2023 NCBC 50 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 7, 2023) (Davis, J.)

Key Terms: primary insurance coverage; excess insurance coverage; nuisance lawsuit; hog farm; cause test

Beginning in 2013, Plaintiffs were named defendants in multiple nuisance lawsuits, in which neighboring property owners alleged physical property invasion and loss of use and enjoyment of their land due to Plaintiffs’ hog farming operations. After five “bellwether” trials in federal court resulted in verdicts for the property owners, Plaintiffs reached a global settlement with all of the property owners. Plaintiffs then sued their various primary and excess insurance providers, alleging that the insurers should be held liable for the amounts Plaintiffs paid to defend and settle the nuisance lawsuits.

As the policies require an “accident” to occur for coverage to apply, Defendants XL Insurance America, Inc. and XL Specialty Insurance Company moved for partial summary judgment seeking a ruling that, assuming a jury would find the nuisance lawsuits were caused by an “accident” under the terms of the policies, the nuisance lawsuits arose from multiple “accidents” as opposed to a single “accident.” The ruling on this issue would determine whether the XL Defendants, who were excess insurers, would be liable for any payment, as multiple “accidents” would require the primary coverage to be exhausted for each accident before the XL Defendants’ obligations arose.

The Court denied the XL Defendants’ motion, holding that the claims brought under the nuisance lawsuits resulted from a single “accident” under the “cause” test set forth in Gaston Cty. Dyeing Mach. Co. v. Northfield Ins. Co., which permits the utilization of proximate cause in cases where there is no single one-time event giving rise to injury. The Court held that the nuisance lawsuits’ claims arose from a single “accident,” since the claims “stemmed from central, uniform policies and procedures decided upon and implemented by Plaintiffs in operating their farms” and the injuries “did not materially vary based on differences in the various farms owned or operated by Plaintiffs.”


Murphy-Brown, LLC v. Ace Am. Ins. Co., 2023 NCBC 51 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 7, 2023) (Davis, J.)

Key Terms: nuisance lawsuit; hog farm; insurance; duty to defend; defense costs; allocation

This opinion, arising from the same case addressed above in Opinion No. 50, was issued in response to Defendant ACE American Insurance Company’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of defense costs allocation. In prior summary judgment rulings, the Court held that (1) ACE breached its duty to defend Plaintiffs in the nuisance lawsuits; and (2) as a result of that breach, ACE is estopped from asserting coverage defenses in its policy. However, the Court had not addressed the issue of how the award of the defense costs would be allocated.

ACE first argued that, despite the Court’s prior ruling that ACE is estopped from asserting coverage defenses, it is still entitled to challenge the reasonableness of the defense costs incurred by Plaintiffs. Noting that North Carolina’s present case law only states that an insurer is obligated to pay the insured for “reasonable” defense costs when the duty to defend has been breached and finding no persuasive authority to the contrary, the Court agreed with ACE and granted the motion on this issue.

ACE’s second argument related to the allocation of Plaintiffs’ defense costs. In its prior ruling, the Court held that both ACE and Old Republic Insurance Company breached their duty to defend Plaintiffs in the nuisance lawsuits. ORIC subsequently settled all claims Plaintiffs asserted against it. ACE argued that all defense costs should be allocated among all triggered policy years and further allocated between primary coverage for each triggered policy year. In response, Plaintiffs contended that ACE is liable for all of Plaintiffs’ defenses costs not reimbursed by ORIC up to ACE’s 50% share. The Court agreed and denied ACE’s motion as to the allocation method, holding that ACE is liable for a 50% share of Plaintiffs’ reasonable defense costs from the nuisance lawsuits, subject to any credit ACE may be entitled to based on ORIC’s contributions.


Murphy-Brown, LLC v. Ace Am. Ins. Co., 2023 NCBC 52 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 7, 2023) (Davis, J.)

Key Terms: hog farm; nuisance lawsuit; indemnity allocation; pro rata method; all sum method

This opinion, arising from the same case addressed above in Opinion Nos. 50 and 51, addresses Defendants ACE American Insurance Company, Ace Property & Casualty Insurance Company and Great American Insurance Company of New York’s (collectively, “Certain Insurers”) Amended Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the Issue of Indemnity Allocation, as well as Defendants XL Insurance America, Inc. (“XLIA”) and XL Specialty Insurance Company’s (“XL Specialty”) Amended Motion for Summary Judgment on Indemnity Allocation Issues. Both motions address the common issue of which method should be utilized to properly allocate indemnity liability for the injuries giving rise to the nuisance lawsuits, when such injuries span multiple policy periods.

In Certain Insurers’ Motion, the respective defendants argued for the application of the “pro rata method,” in which any indemnity amounts Plaintiffs may recover would be allocated among the applicable insurers pro rata based on the amount of time each insurer provided coverage to Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs, relying on a different provision in the policies, argued for an “all sum method,” in which the insurers would be liable for “any continuation, change, or resumption” of injuries occurring inside the policy period. Applying the methodology used by the Supreme Court in Radiator Specialty Co. v. Arrowood Indem. Co., the Court determined that the policies in question did not contain the requisite language to merit the application of the “all sum method.” The Court granted the Certain Insurer’s Motion, holding that the “pro rata” method was the appropriate method for calculating indemnification allocation.

In the XL Motion, XL Specialty argued that its policy provides no coverage, as Defendant American Guarantee & Liability Insurance Company would be exclusively liable for excess coverage indemnification as a result of its continuing coverage provision. Finding this argument inconsistent with the Court’s analysis of the Certain Insured’s Motion and subsequent application of the “pro rata method,” the Court rejected XL Specialty’s argument. XLIA proposed a similar argument to XL Specialty, in that the various insurance policies held by Plaintiffs “telescoped” in a manner that resulted in the higher-tiered policies absorbing any potential liability. The Court likewise rejected this argument and denied the XL Motion in full.


Langley v. Autocraft, Inc., 2023 NCBC 53 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 7, 2023) (Earp, J.)

Key Terms: motion for judgment on the pleadings; Rule 12(c); breach of fiduciary duty; constructive fraud; unfair or deceptive trade practices; employee/employer relationship

Plaintiff Langley, while employed by Defendant Autocraft, started a competing business, LBM. Autocraft terminated Langley’s employment upon discovery of his competing business activities. Langley sued Autocraft for breach of his employment agreement and Autocraft counterclaimed against Langley and LBM for breach of fiduciary duty, constructive fraud, and unfair or deceptive trade practices. Langley and LBM moved for judgment on the pleadings with respect to Autocraft’s counterclaims.

The Court dismissed the claim for breach of fiduciary duty because Autocraft’s allegations fell short of alleging the necessary domination and control by Langley, who was at most a high-lever manager, to establish a de facto fiduciary relationship. Further, since no fiduciary relationship existed, the Court also dismissed the constructive fraud claim.

Regarding unfair or deceptive trade practices, the Court found that Langley’s alleged misconduct was not in or affecting commerce because the wrongs only affected Autocraft and not external market participants. LBM’s involvement did not transform the misconduct into an unfair or deceptive trade practice that affected commerce since LBM was merely used as an instrument to facilitate harm within Autocraft. Thus, this claim was dismissed as well.


Lineage Logistics, LLC v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., 2023 NCBC 54 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 10, 2023) (Bledsoe, C.J.)

Key Terms: duty to defend; indemnification; additional insured; ripeness; mootness; Rule 12(b)(1); Rule 12(b)(6); N.C.G.S. § 22B-1

This case arose from an incident that occurred at Plaintiff Lineage’s food storage facility, which caused one death and significant loss of products, along with other damages, which resulted in Lineage and its contractor, Plaintiff Primus, being named in a number of underlying actions. Following the incident, Plaintiffs sought defense and indemnification from the applicable insurers. After some of the insurers refused to acknowledge their alleged duties, Plaintiffs brought suit. Defendants moved to dismiss under Rules 12(b)(1), (6), and (7).

Lineage’s Declaratory Judgment Claims against Travelers. Lineage sought a declaratory judgment that Travelers owes it duties of defense and indemnification, and that Lineage is an additional insured under the Travelers Policies. Because Travelers had already agreed to defend Lineage (albeit with a reservation of rights), the Court determined that the duty to defend claim was moot as to present claims and not ripe as to future claims. Similarly, the indemnification claim was not ripe because it depended on the outcome of the ongoing underlying actions. Lineage’s additional insured status claim was also moot because Travelers had already recognized Lineage as an additional insured and any attempt to prospectively bind Travelers to this recognition was not ripe. Accordingly, the Court dismissed these declaratory judgment claims without prejudice.

Lineage’s Breach of Contract Claim against Travelers. Lineage alleged that Travelers had breached its duties to defend and to indemnify under the Travelers Policies. However, since Travelers began defending Lineage after the lawsuit commenced, the Court dismissed this aspect of the claim. The Court also dismissed the claim as to indemnification because Lineage had not alleged a determination that the obligation arose because of acts or omissions of Primus or Republic (the subcontractor) which was necessary under the applicable policy language.

Primus’s Declaratory Judgment Claims against Travelers. Primus sought a declaratory judgment that Travelers owes it duties of defense and indemnification, and that Primus is an additional insured under the Travelers-Republic Policy. The Court dismissed these claims without prejudice for the same reasons it dismissed Lineage’s parallel claims.

Lineage’s Indemnification and Breach of Contract Claims against Republic. Republic argued that Lineage’s claims for breach of its indemnification clause and for a declaratory judgment regarding the same should be dismissed as not ripe because its indemnity obligations were contingent on a yet-to-be-made factual determination that Republic was responsible for the claims and losses for which Lineage sought indemnification. However, the Court rejected this argument because the indemnity clause expressly stated that Republic’s indemnity obligations activated in response to an alleged act or omission and Lineage had adequately alleged that Republic was responsible for the losses. Republic also argued that the indemnity clause was contrary to public policy as expressed by N.C.G.S. § 22B-1, which prohibits a party to a construction contract from indemnifying a second party for damages caused by the second party’s own negligence. The Court acknowledged that two portions of the indemnity clause could potentially violate § 22B-1 but determined that the troublesome phrases could be severed. Thus, the motion to dismiss was denied as to these claims.

Lineage’s Tortious Interference with Contract Claim against Republic. Lineage alleged that it had negotiated a settlement with an insurer under which the insurer would pay out its policy limits to Lineage, but that Republic had caused the insurer to withdraw from the settlement and instead pay its limits to Republic. Republic argued, and the Court agreed, that the claim failed because Republic was a party to the contract at issue, and a party generally cannot interfere with its own contract. Moreover, the claim did not qualify for the malice exception to this general rule, since Lineage had not alleged that Republic acted without an economic motive or through the commission of an independent wrongful act. Accordingly, the Court dismissed this claim.


Wijewickrama v. Christian, 2023 NCBC 55 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 11, 2023) (Bledsoe, C.J.)

Key Terms: co-counsel agreement; attorney’s fees; breach of contract; breach of fiduciary duty; motion to dismiss; declaratory judgment; pleading standards; motion to strike; economic loss rule; specific performance

This case arises from a contentious fee dispute between four attorneys over fees obtained from a series of lawsuits against the Cherokee County Department of Social Services (as relevant here, the Hogan, Cordell, and Simonds cases). In 2017, Wijewickrama, Jackson, Moore, and Christian entered into a written Co-Counsel Agreement to govern the division of the fees and workload associated with the CCDSS lawsuits. Pursuant to the Agreement, each attorney would contribute to the representation, and any fees collected would be split equally amongst the four. The Agreement contained an “opt-out” provision, which permitted each attorney to “opt out at any time during the course of the litigation, appeal or other proceeding.” Following an attorney’s decision to opt-out, the attorney would be entitled to a billable rate of $300 per hour for each hour spent on the case.

After a $4.6 million jury verdict against CCDSS in the Hogan case in May 2021, the Cordell cases were settled for substantial sums and settlement negotiations began in the Simonds case. Around that time, Christian began experiencing personal, health, and financial difficulties, which eventually led to Wijewickrama and Moore confronting Christian and informing him that he would not receive compensation regarding the Simonds case. Christian withdrew from the Simonds case which later settled for $42 million. After receiving a letter from Christian demanding a ¼ share of the fees from the Simonds case, Wijewickrama, Jackson, and Moore instituted this suit alleging claims for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract and seeking a declaratory judgment and specific performance. Christian moved to strike and to dismiss and filed counterclaims, which Plaintiff also moved to dismiss.

Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. The Court first rejected Defendant’s argument that Plaintiffs had failed to allege breach of contract with adequate specificity since Rule 8(a)(1) does not require heightened pleading and the complaint adequately pleaded breach by non-performance and repudiation. The Court also concluded that Plaintiffs had adequately pleaded their alternative claim for specific performance.

Regarding Plaintiffs’ claim for breach of fiduciary duty, the Court found that not only had Plaintiffs alleged that the Co-Counsel Agreement was a joint venture or partnership agreement, which would create a fiduciary relationship as a matter of law, but also that Defendant had admitted the same in his answer and therefore the existence of a fiduciary relationship was deemed admitted. However, the Court nonetheless dismissed the claim because any damages suffered by Plaintiffs arose from a breach of the Agreement, and not from any fiduciary relationship, and therefore the claim was barred by the economic loss rule.

Plaintiffs’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiffs moved to dismiss Defendant’s counterclaims for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty relating to the loss of prospective fees in the Hogan case. The Court granted the motion, determining as a matter of first impression in North Carolina that co-counsel have neither “a fiduciary duty to protect one another’s prospective interests in a fee” nor a “cause of action against one another for prospective fees lost.”

Defendant’s Motion to Strike. Defendant moved to strike those allegations that discussed his demand letter, bankruptcy proceeding, and personal behavior. The Court denied the motion as to the demand letter and bankruptcy proceeding, which could possibly have a bearing on the case, but granted it as to his personal behavior because the specific language used was immaterial and inflammatory. The Court directed that this language be replaced with “scandalous personal conduct.”


Kearey Builders, Inc. v. Galleries@NoDa, LLC, 2023 NCBC 56 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 14, 2023) (Robinson, J.)

Key Terms: breach of contract; motion to stay; arbitration; motion to dismiss; tortious interference with contract

This dispute arose out of an agreement Plaintiff Keary Builders, a general contractor, entered into with Defendant Galleries@NoDa, LLC, the developer, to construct a mixed-use building containing condominiums and retail space. Defendant Studio Fusion served as the architect and interior designer on the project. Studio Fusion’s duties included administrating the Agreement and issuing certificates for payment and substantial completion. After a dispute over payment under the Agreement, Plaintifff brought eight claims against Galleries and a ninth claim for tortious interference with contract against Defendant Studio Fusion, alleging that Studio Fusion induced Galleries to breach the Agreement by refusing to issue the requisite certificate of substantial completion. In response, Studio Fusion moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s ninth claim. Plaintiff then sought to stay the proceedings in favor of arbitration.

The Court granted Plaintiff’s motion to stay on the grounds that the Agreement contained an arbitration provision that specifically referenced and incorporated the AAA Construction Industry Arbitration Rules. The Court noted that the AAA Rules establish that the arbitrator “shall have the power to rule on his or her own jurisdiction.” Finding that the parties to the Agreement chose to delegate questions of substantive arbitrability to the arbitrator, the Court ordered Plaintiff’s first eight claims to arbitration and stayed the case pending the arbitrator’s decision.

As Studio Fusion was not a party to the Agreement, and therefore not subject to the Agreement’s arbitration provision, the Court ruled on Studio Fusion’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s ninth claim. The Court granted Studio Fusion’s motion to dismiss, on the basis that the complaint did not sufficiently plead factual allegations that Studio Fusion intentionally induced Galleries to breach the relevant agreements.


Vill. at Motts Landing Homeowners’ Assoc. v. Aftew Props. LLC, 2023 NCBC 57 (N.C. Super. Ct. Aug. 14, 2023) (Conrad, J.)

Key Terms: pickleball; motion to dismiss; planned community; declaration; homeowners’ association; breach of fiduciary duty; business judgment rule; breach of contract; implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; negligent construction; breach of implied warranty of workmanlike construction; easement

The homeowners’ association of a planned community sued, among other defendants, the Sobols (three former board members) and Aftew Properties (the community’s developer) related to alleged defects in the construction of the community’s common areas and mismanagement by the board members. The Sobols are the two principals of Aftew, and their daughter. The Sobols and Aftew each moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims.

The Sobols’ Motion to Dismiss—Breach of Fiduciary Duty. The Association alleged that the Sobols, as officers and directors, owed it fiduciary duties, which they breached by favoring Aftew’s interests over the Association’s by failing to maintain records and collect reserve funds, and by accepting defective common elements conveyed by Aftew. The Sobols argued that neither the declaration nor the governing statutes imposed express duties upon them to collect reserve funds or supervise the construction of common elements. The Court, however, found that the officers and directors of homeowners’ associations and other nonprofit corporations owe duties of care and loyalty and that construed liberally the complaint sufficiently alleged that the Sobols engaged in self-dealing and “intentionally took actions to benefit Aftew—and, thus, themselves—at the Association’s expense.” Moreover, the Sobols were not shielded by the business judgment rule because their actions were self-interested. Accordingly, the Court denied the Sobols’ motion to dismiss.

Aftew’s Motion to Dismiss—Breach of Fiduciary Duty. The Complaint alleged that Aftew breached fiduciary duties arising from the special confidence that Association placed in it during its period of developer control. Guided by common-law principles, the Court agreed, finding that the Association sufficiently alleged that the authority granted to Aftew by the declaration placed it “in a position of dominance over the Association” so that “members of the Association had no choice but to rely on Aftew to protect their interests” thereby supporting the existence of a fiduciary relationship. Thus, the Court denied Aftew’s motion to dismiss the claim for breach of fiduciary duty.

Aftew’s Motion to Dismiss—Breach of Contract. Aftew argued, and the Court agreed, that the alleged misconduct by Aftew was not governed by, and therefore could not be breaches of, the declaration. Further, because the claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing was premised on the same conduct as the claim for breach of contract, that claim fell with the breach of contract claim.

Aftew’s Motion to Dismiss—Negligent Construction and Implied Warranty of Workmanlike Construction. The Association claimed that Aftew negligently constructed various common elements of the community and that Aftew breached the implied warranty of workmanlike construction regarding the community’s pickleball courts. Aftew argued that these claims should be dismissed because it did not perform the construction of the common areas itself but rather hired contractors to perform the work. The Court noted that “any person responsible for supervising a construction project is subject to being held liable on a negligent construction theory” and that similar rules apply to implied warranties to extend liability to other who are actively involved in the construction. Since the Complaint sufficiently alleged that Aftew participated in the construction of certain common elements and retained the right to supervise its contractors, the Court denied the motion to dismiss.

Aftew’s Motion to Dismiss—Demand for Easement Proceeds. The Court granted Aftew’s motion to dismiss the Association’s demand for proceeds from an easement on a recreation area in the community because, as the Association admitted, Aftew owns the recreation area and had not conveyed it to the Association.

By: Natalie Kutcher

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The information in this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

Posted 08/16/23

N.C. Business Court Opinions, July 19, 2023 – August 1, 2023

Chi v. N. Riverfront Marina & Hotel LLLP; Feng v. N. Riverfront Marina & Hotel, LLLP, 2023 NCBC 47 (N.C. Super. Ct. July 27, 2023) (Earp, J.)

Key Terms: partnership; fraud; negligent misrepresentation; N.C.G.S. § 78A-8; statute of limitations; equitable tolling; Rule 9(b); conversion; breach of fiduciary duty; gross mismanagement; breach of contract; unjust enrichment; inspection demand; N.C.G.S. § 59-305; N.C.G.S. § 59-106(b)

After their investments in Defendant NRMH failed to provide the allegedly promised return, Plaintiffs brought suit asserting various claims related to purported misrepresentations. Defendants moved to dismiss all claims.

Fraud, Negligent Misrepresentation, and Violation of N.C.G.S. § 78A-8. The Court determined that, even taking into account the discovery rule, these claims were barred against certain Defendants by a three-year statute of limitation. However, as to other Defendants, the Court found that the statute of limitations had been tolled by equitable estoppel due to these Defendants’ representations which delayed Plaintiffs from filing suit. Nonetheless, the Court dismissed the claims because Plaintiffs failed to specify the misrepresentations made by each Defendant separately and therefore did not satisfy Rule 9(b)’s heightened pleading requirements. The Court also elected to dismiss these claims with prejudice because Plaintiffs had repeatedly failed to cure the deficiencies despite the Court’s directions.

Conversion. The Court determined that a three-year statute of limitations, running from the date the unauthorized exercise of ownership occurred, applied and therefore barred the claims, except as to those Defendants which Plaintiffs had sufficiently pleaded that the statute should be tolled.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty and Gross Mismanagement. The Court held that while NRHM’s general partner owed a de jure fiduciary duty to Plaintiffs, they did not have standing to bring a direct claim against the general partner under either of the Barger exceptions. As for the remaining Defendants, Plaintiffs’ allegations did not sufficiently allege the requisite domination and control to establish a de facto fiduciary duty and thus the claim failed. The Court also dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims of gross mismanagement as Plaintiffs did not have standing.

Breach of Contract. The Court dismissed Plaintiff’s breach of contract claims against those Defendants who were not a party to the contracts. The Court also dismissed the claims to the extent they were contradicted by the complaint’s allegations and exhibits. However, the Court upheld some of Plaintiff’s breach of contract claims and agreed that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled as to those claims.

Unjust Enrichment. The Court dismissed this claim because the allegations did not fit the claim—Plaintiffs alleged that they provided investment capital to NRMH that was then used by multiple other companies. Since Plaintiffs did not allege that they agreed to the transfers with the expectation of receiving a benefit, the claim failed.

Records Demand. The Court determined that the nine Plaintiffs who had previously sent a demand letter requesting inspection of partnership records had adequately stated a claim for violation of their rights under N.C.G.S. § 59-305 and § 59-106(b).


Harris v. Ten Oaks Mgmt., LLC, 2023 NCBC 48 (N.C. Super. Ct. July 31, 2023) (Conrad, J.)

Key Terms: summary judgment; contract interpretation; plain meaning; genuine issue of material fact

Under his employment agreement with Defendant Ten Oaks, Plaintiff Harris was entitled to different incentive compensation depending on whether he “sourced” a deal or just assisted with project management. After his employment ended, a dispute arose regarding what compensation Harris was entitled to regarding a particular deal. Plaintiff brought suit for breach of his employment contract and both sides subsequently moved for summary judgment.

The Court denied Harris’s motion as it presented a new theory of the case that had not been pleaded. Moreover, the Court denied Harris’s request to amend the complaint to fit his new theory as a summary judgment brief was not the appropriate means to make such a request and, in any event, the request was untimely.

The Court also denied Ten Oaks’ motion. Although the Court agreed with Ten Oaks regarding the plain meaning of the term “source” in the employment contract at issue (and rejected Harris’s request to inject his subjective understanding into the meaning), the Court determined that there were genuine issues of material fact as to who sourced the deal.


Weaver, Bennett & Bland, P.A. v. Villmer, 2023 NCBC 49 (N.C. Super. Ct. July 31, 2023) (Robinson, J.)

Key Terms: law firm; fraud; duty of disclosure; breach of contract; consideration; tortious interference with contract; facilitation of fraud; attorney fraudulent practices; N.C.G.S. § 84-13; constructive trust; disgorgement; punitive damages

Defendants are two former partners and officers of Plaintiff Weaver Bennet & Bland, who left WBB and started a competing law firm, taking several of WBB’s attorneys and clients with them. After a dispute arose regarding how the parties would split fees for contingent fee cases worked on by both firms, WBB filed suit. Defendants moved to dismiss several of the claims.

Fraud. The Court found that WBB had adequately alleged claims for fraudulent misrepresentation and fraudulent omission based on the individual Defendants’ failure to disclose their plans to leave the firm. However, the Court dismissed the claim as against the new firm since the complaint did not allege that it had a duty of disclosure to WBB.

Breach of Contract. Defendants argued that WBB’s claim for breach of a contract to split attorneys’ fees should be dismissed because WBB failed to allege valid consideration. The Court, however, determined that the complaint’s allegations did not call into question the issue of consideration and therefore, the Court found it unnecessary to consider it at the 12(b)(6) stage.

Tortious Interference with Contract. The Court denied dismissal of WBB’s claim that Defendants had tortiously interfered with the employment contracts of WBB’s associate attorneys. WBB’s allegations that Defendants met with the associates to convince them to leave WBB was sufficient to allege inducement. Further, the complaint did not reveal any legitimate business purpose for their conduct since Defendants were not outsiders to the employment contracts and were acting for their own benefit.

Facilitation of Fraud. The Court dismissed this claim as it was duplicative of WBB’s civil conspiracy claim.

Attorney Fraudulent Practices under N.C.G.S. § 84-13. WBB sought, under N.C.G.S. § 84-13, to subject Defendants to double damages for its fraud-based claims. The Court, however, determined that the statute governed the relationship between attorneys and clients and was thus inapplicable here.

Remedies. The Court denied dismissal of WBB’s requests for a constructive trust, disgorgement, and punitive damages as those had been properly re-framed as remedies in the amended complaint.


United Therapeutics Corp. v. Liquidia Techs., Inc., 2023 NCBC Order 36 (N.C. Super. Ct. July 20, 2023) (Earp, J.)

Key Terms: motion to amend; undue prejudice; delay

Over nineteenth months after filing suit, Plaintiff United Therapeutics Corporation moved to amend its complaint to add parties, claims, and factual allegations. Defendants opposed the amendments.

The Court permitted the addition of UTC’s subsidiary as a plaintiff since its addition was not a surprise and would not delay the case. However, the Court rejected the addition of new defendants because UTC did not provide a satisfactory reason for its delay in adding parties it was long aware of and their addition would extend the litigation and unduly prejudice Defendants. For similar reasons, the Court also denied the motion to add claims against Defendant Roscigno, expand the existing UDTPA claim, and add a declaratory judgment claim. However, the Court granted UTC’s motion to add allegations based on recently produced discovery because UTC moved promptly to amend, and the proposed amendments did not fundamentally change the nature of the claims against Defendants.


Harris v. Ten Oaks Mgmt., LLC, 2023 NCBC Order 37 (N.C. Super. Ct. July 31, 2023) (Conrad, J.)

Key Terms: motion to seal; BCR 5; BCR 7; noncompliance

This order addresses five motions to seal filed in connection with the parties’ motions for summary judgment.

The Court began by addressing the parties’ failures to comply with BCR Rules 5 and 7 regarding motions to seal. First, the parties repeatedly filed the same exhibits despite BCR 7.5’s direction to cite to the docket location of previously filed materials. Second, the parties also filed many of their supporting materials as omnibus electronic files containing groups of documents making it difficult for the Court to review and to seal or unseal filed materials in a targeted way. The Court’s preference is for supporting exhibits to be filed as separate documents attached to a “lead document.” Third, the parties failed to comply with the consultation requirements of BCR 5.2(b)(6) and 7.3 or failed to provide opposing counsel with sufficient time to review. Fourth, the parties did not comply with BCR 5.2’s requirements that adequate non-confidential descriptions of the documents at issue be provided in the motion and that a public version of the provisionally sealed documents with appropriate redactions also be filed.

Turning to the merits of the motions, the Court first determined that Plaintiff’s 2020 bank statements did not warrant sealing in their entirety because the unredacted portions did not reveal sensitive or personal information. Next, the Court considered Defendant’s request to seal documents that it contended contained sensitive business and personal information (including personal email addresses) or that discussed the terms of Plaintiff’s departure from Defendant. The Court concluded that Defendant had failed to meet its burden to show that any of the materials were confidential or that their disclosure would result in harm. As to the email addresses, the Court noted that email addresses are not considered personal identifying information under N.C.G.S. § 132-1.10(d) and Defendant had not provided any authority to the contrary. The Court then determined that several exhibits containing information about a third-party should be sealed for the time-being since they had limited public interest and included information that the third-party may consider confidential.


By: Ashley Oldfield and Grace Kinley


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The information in this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.


Posted 08/02/23