N.C. Business Court Opinions, November 9, 2022 – November 22, 2022
Kelly v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 2022 NCBC 70 (N.C. Super. Ct. Nov. 14, 2022) (Robinson, J.)
Key Terms: automatic stay; summary judgment; Ponzi scheme; securities; fraud by omission; concealment; independent contractor; duty to speak; reasonable reliance; respondeat superior
This case arose out of an alleged Ponzi scheme operated by Richard Siskey (deceased), who was, for a period of time, a MetLife employee. Plaintiff had engaged Siskey and his business partner Phillips, another former MetLife employee, as a securities broker, investment advisor, and/or insurance agent. Plaintiff brought 9 claims against Phillips and two MetLife entities, a number of which were previously dismissed pursuant to 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). In 2020, Phillips filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and the case was stayed as to him. The MetLife Defendants subsequently moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims for fraud by omission, negligent supervision, and negligent misrepresentation and professional negligence under a theory of respondeat superior.
As to the fraud by omission claim, the Court found that MetLife had no duty to speak as a fiduciary relationship did not exist between it and the Plaintiff. Moreover, the Plaintiff could not show reasonable reliance because he failed to investigate Siskey’s past disciplinary history, despite being on notice of it.
As to the negligent supervision claim, the Court found that Plaintiff had failed to put forth sufficient evidence to create a jury issue with respect to the nexus proof requirement that the injury was reasonably foreseeable by the MetLife Defendants.
As to the vicarious liability claims for negligent misrepresentation and professional negligence, the Court found that these claims failed because Siskey and Phillips were independent contractors of MetLife at the time of the complained of conduct and therefore respondeat superior did not apply. Furthermore, even if they had been employees, the claims would fail on other bases as well.
Accordingly, the Court granted the motion and dismissed all claims with prejudice.
N.C. Dep’t of Revenue v. Integon Nat’l Ins. Co., 2022 NCBC 71 (N.C. Super. Ct. Nov. 22, 2022) (Earp, J.)
Key Terms: motion to dismiss; subject matter jurisdiction; Rule (12(b)(1); standing; judicial review; final agency determination; N.C.G.S. § 150B-43; motion to strike; tax credit; admission; mootness
Immediately before a hearing on cross-summary judgment motions before the Office of Administrative Hearings, the Parties, the N.C. Department of Revenue (“Department”) and Integon (“Taxpayer”), submitted a consent order requesting dismissal with prejudice to the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) after the Department withdrew its final determination holding that the Taxpayer could not claim the tax credit at issue and agreed to issue a refund to the Taxpayer. Instead, the ALJ granted the Taxpayer’s summary judgment motion finding that the Department’s proposed order, which was not entered, contained an admission as to the correctness of the Taxpayer’s legal position. The Department sought judicial review.
The Court held that the withdrawal of the final determination by the Department did not deprive the ALJ of subject matter jurisdiction but instead raised the issue of mootness. The Court held that the Department did have standing as an aggrieved party to seek judicial review of the ALJ’s ruling and remanded the case to the ALJ to consider the issue of mootness or otherwise conduct a hearing on the Parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment.
Louis, Inc. v. Window World, Inc., 2022 NCBC Order 62 (N.C. Super. Ct. Nov. 11, 2022) (Bledsoe, C.J.)
Key Terms: motion to seal; attorney-client privilege; work-product doctrine; proprietary business information; mistake; billing records; crime-fraud exception; privilege logs
The Court denied Defendants’ motions to seal exhibits that consisted of emails between Defendants’ in-house counsel and Defendants’ executives, directors, and counsel involved in the litigation because the Court found that any potentially privileged information had been redacted. The Court also denied Defendants’ motions to seal various privilege logs it had compiled because the content of the quoted descriptions appeared unredacted elsewhere in the briefs and the Court found privilege logs do not qualify as attorney work-product. The Court granted Defendants’ motion to seal as to certain consulting contracts and executive severance agreements because Defendants had a strong interest in preserving the confidentiality of its proprietary and trade secret information, and Defendants’ proposed redactions were appropriately limited. The Court allowed Defendants to provide supplemental briefing as to sealing exhibits filed by mistake and granted the motion to seal portions of attorney billing records that described confidential settlement communications, governance matters, and personal matters related to individuals associated with Defendants.
McManus v. Dry, 2022 NCBC Order 65 (N.C. Super. Ct. Nov. 16, 2022) (Bledsoe, C.J.)
Key Terms: class action; class settlement agreement; cyberattack; personally identifiable information
Upon preliminary review, the Court found that the proposed Settlement Agreement was negotiated at arms-length and was fair, reasonable, adequate, and in the best interests of the Settlement Classes to warrant providing Notice of the Settlement to the Settlement Classes and accordingly preliminarily approved the unopposed motion for class settlement agreement which would settle the case and result in dismissal with prejudice.
Bucci v. Burns, 2022 NCBC Order 63 (N.C. Super. Ct. Nov. 17, 2022) (Conrad, J.)
Key Terms: attorneys’ fees; N.C.G.S. § 6-21.5; costs; N.C.G.S. § 7A-305(d)
Defendant moved to recover costs and attorneys’ fees against two remaining plaintiffs after partially prevailing at summary judgment and settling with five other plaintiffs. The Court awarded but offset costs because Defendant prevailed against some plaintiffs but benefited from settling with certain other plaintiffs and avoiding trial. The Court based award on number of plaintiffs who actively participated in litigation. The Court awarded attorneys’ fees in its discretion because of a complete lack of judiciable issue of law or fact and apportioned fees among the two plaintiffs based on estimated time spent related specifically to defending against their claims and the motions to recover attorneys’ fees.
Auto Club Grp. v. Frosch Int’l Travel LLC, 2022 NCBC Order 64 (N.C. Super. Ct. Nov. 21, 2022) (Bledsoe, C.J.)
Key Terms: notice of designation; N.C.G.S. § 7A-45.4(a)(8); opposition; trade secret dispute
Plaintiffs had initiated a prior action against Defendant Frosch which included a claim for violation of the N.C. Trade Secrets Protection Act. The action was properly designated a mandatory complex business case but was then dismissed without prejudice after mediation failed. Plaintiffs immediately filed the present action against Frosch and three individuals but did not reassert the trade secrets violation claim. Frosch nonetheless filed a notice of designation contending the case involved a trade secret dispute under N.C.G.S. § 7A-45.4(a)(8). Defendants argued that the current lawsuit was merely a maneuver to avoid Business Court designation since it involved essentially the same subject matter and allegations as the previous action. The Court rejected this argument noting that a plaintiff is master of its complaint and has freedom to choose what claims to bring. Accordingly, the Court found that designation was inappropriate because the complaint did not involve material issues involving trade secrets, made no claim for misappropriation of trade secrets, and did not allege that the confidential information purportedly taken by Defendant constituted trade secrets. The claims involved only misuse of confidential or proprietary information.
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.
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