N.C. Business Court Opinions, October 18, 2023 – October 31, 2023
Woodcock v. Cumberland Cnty. Hosp. Sys., Inc., 2023 NCBC 72 (N.C. Super. Ct. Oct. 18, 2023) (Davis, J.)
Key Terms: summary judgment; limited partnership; general partner; breach of limited partnership agreement; implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; breach of fiduciary duty
This action involves a limited partnership dispute relating to Fayetteville Ambulatory Surgery Center Limited Partnership (“Fayetteville ASC”), which had Cape Fear Valley ASC as its General Partner and twelve Limited Partners, including Cape Fear Valley ASC, Cumberland County Hospital System, Village ASA, and Michael Woodcock. In April 2019, Cumberland County Hospital System conveyed, pursuant to a Contribution Agreement, its Limited Partner Units to Cape Fear Valley ASC and, pursuant to an Equity Purchase Agreement, purchased 100% of the equity of Cape Fear Valley ASC (the “April Transactions”). Thus, upon the completion of these transactions, Cumberland County Hospital System purported to own 100% of the equity of Cape Fear Valley ASC and to indirectly own 100% of the General Partner Units and approximately 44% of the Limited Partner Units of Fayetteville ASC. Woodcock filed suit alleging, inter alia, that the transactions violated Fayetteville ASC’s limited partnership agreement (the “LPA”). Defendants moved for summary judgment on all remaining claims and Woodcock moved for summary judgment on his breach of contract claim.
Woodcock contended that the April Transactions violated Sections 15.9 and 14.5 of the LPA. Section 15.9 prohibited any transaction which would result in any Limited Partner or any successor of a Limited Partner owning more than 20% of the stock of the General Partner or its affiliates. Woodcock argued that Section 15.9 prevented Cumberland County Hospital System, as a Limited Partner or as a successor to a Limited Partner, from acquiring more than 20% of the equity interest of Cape Fear Valley ASC. The Court rejected this argument. First, Cumberland County Hospital System was not a Limited Partner at the time it acquired the equity of Cape Fear Valley ASC since it had divested itself of its LP Units prior to the transaction. Second, it was not a successor to a Limited Partner because, even if it could exercise authority over the LP Units owned by Cape Fear Valley ASC, it was not the direct owner of the LP Units and thus it could not be said to have “stepped into the shoes” of Cape Fear Valley ASC. Accordingly, the Court determined that the April Transactions did not violate Section 15.9 of the LPA.
Section 14.5 of the LPA prohibited Cape Fear Valley ASC or its affiliates from engaging or investing in the business of a surgical center or related medical facility (a “Competitive Facility”) in areas from which Fayetteville ASC derived its business. Woodcock argued that Cumberland County Hospital System became an affiliate of Cape Fear Valley ASC through the April Transactions and thus could not compete against Fayetteville ASC by engaging in the business of a Competitive Facility. In response, Defendants argued that their hospitals do not compete with ambulatory surgical centers and thus there was no violation and, even if a violation did occur, the General Partner and the necessary two-thirds in interest of the Limited Partners had retroactively ratified the April Transactions. The Court was skeptical that the hospitals could not qualify as Competitive Facilities since they performed outpatient surgeries; however, it agreed with Defendants that the April Transactions had been properly ratified through a subsequent amendment and consent agreement. Accordingly, the Court granted summary judgment to Defendants on Woodcock’s breach of contract claim.
The Court also dismissed Woodcock’s claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing since it was based on the same acts as his claim for breach of contract. Similarly, in light of the Court’s entry of summary judgment on Woodcock’s breach of contract claim, the Court granted Defendants summary judgment on Woodcock’s breach of fiduciary duty and declaratory judgment claims since they were based on the alleged invalidity of the April Transactions.
Davis v. Davis Funeral Serv., Inc., 2023 NCBC 73 (N.C. Super. Ct. Oct. 25, 2023) (Conrad, J.)
Key Terms: breach of contract; unpaid wages; statute of limitations; unjust enrichment; quantum meruit; summary judgment
Plaintiff sued his former employer, Davis Funeral Service, and its officers, the Morgans and Tillman, asserting claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment, all based on the company’s alleged failure to pay him his full wages beginning in 2018. Plaintiff also asserted a claim for defamation based on statements Tillman allegedly made after Plaintiff’s departure. Defendants moved for summary judgment on these claims.
The Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Morgans because the Morgans did not have any personal involvement in any alleged misconduct and officers are not liable for a corporation’s acts merely by virtue of their office.
The Court also granted summary judgment in Davis Funeral Service’s favor on the breach of contract claim to the extent it was based on failure to pay wages that became due beyond the three-year statute of limitations since each unpaid installment is its own breach subject to the statute of limitations.
The Court denied summary judgment on the unjust enrichment and quantum meruit claims as an express contract, or its terms, had yet to be established. The Court also denied summary judgment on the defamation claim as Davis Funeral Service had abandoned its arguments on this claim at the hearing.
Cumberland Cnty. Hosp. Sys., Inc. v. Woodcock, 2023 NCBC Order 51 (N.C. Super. Ct. Oct. 24, 2023) (Davis, J.)
Key Terms: motion to amend complaint; Rule 15; uncontested
As summarized here, this case involves a dispute between the owners of Woodcock Custom Vision regarding the company’s management. Here, Plaintiff moved to file an amended complaint that adds a new defendant and asserts new claims, including various derivative claims. Defendants did not file any response to the motion and thus did not meet their burden of showing any basis for denial. Accordingly, the Court granted the motion to amend.
Caliber Packaging & Equip., LLC v. Swaringen, 2023 NCBC Order 52 (N.C. Super. Ct. Oct. 25, 2023) (Earp, J.)
Key Terms: motion to amend; Rule 15; futility; summary judgment standard; Rule 12(b)(6) standard; North Carolina’s Electronic Surveillance Act, N.C.G.S. § 15A-287 et seq.
As summarized here, this case involves a dispute between Plaintiffs and their former employee who allegedly misappropriated trade secrets and other confidential information. During discovery, Plaintiffs produced two audio recordings of conversations between Defendant and third-parties which were recorded while Defendant was an employee. Defendant then moved to amend her answer to add a counterclaim for violation of North Carolina’s Electronic Surveillance Act, N.C.G.S. § 15A-287 et seq, which prohibits the willful interception of communications without the consent of at least one party to the conversation. Plaintiffs opposed the amendment on the grounds of futility and filed a supporting affidavit which contradicted Defendant’s proposed allegations. Although the Court acknowledged that a motion to amend could be denied on futility grounds due to the proposed claim being subject to summary judgment, the Court found that Plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that were no genuine issues of material fact regarding the claim. In addition, the Court determined that Defendant had successfully pleaded a claim under the more commonly used Rule 12(b)(6) analysis. First, Defendant had alleged sufficient facts to show a reasonable expectation of privacy in her office where the conversations were recorded. Second, the Court disagreed with Plaintiffs’ contention that the recordings were justified and therefore not willful. Case law in which otherwise illegal interceptions were found to be justified turned on whether public safety was implicated, which was not at issue here. Accordingly, the Court granted the motion to amend.
Davis v. Davis Funeral Serv., Inc., 2023 NCBC Order 53 (N.C. Super. Ct. Oct. 25, 2023) (Conrad, J.)
Key Terms: motion to amend complaint; motion for reconsideration; undue delay; prejudice
Plaintiff sought partial reconsideration of the Court’s previous order denying his motion to amend his complaint due to undue delay and futility. The Court denied the motion for reconsideration. Even though Plaintiff had “slimmed down” its proposed amendments and eliminated the futile claim, the amendments were still untimely (being submitted sixteen months after the original complaint had been filed, over two months after the close of discovery, and over one month since Defendant moved for summary judgment) and would cause Defendant substantial prejudice since they would double the size of the complaint, introduce a new theory of liability, and change the measure of damages.
Howard v. IOMAXIS, LLC, 2023 NCBC Order 54 (N.C. Super. Ct. Oct. 30, 2023) (Earp, J.)
Key Terms: motion to seal; BCR 5; competitive advantage; confidential; public interest; relevance
This order addresses two motions to seal. Regarding the first, Defendant IOMAXIS filed (provisionally under seal) a transcript of a July 2020 telephone conference and a motion to seal the transcript in its entirety, arguing that information in the transcript would harm its competitive advantage, was confidential commercial information, and was irrelevant to the case. The Court denied the motion because 1) IOMAXIS did not specifically explain how disclosure would harm its competitive advantage or identify which portions, if disclosed, would result in harm, and 2) the public’s interest in disclosure was strong because the transcript contained discussion of various operating agreements and financial matters which were at issue in the case.
In the second, Plaintiffs sought leave to file under seal portions of their amended motion to appoint receiver and supporting materials, based on IOMAXIS’s designation of certain of the materials as confidential. IOMAXIS argued that the materials should remain sealed because they were not relevant to the motion or underlying claims. The Court disagreed, concluding that the materials were directly relevant to Plaintiffs’ fraud-based claims. Accordingly, the Court denied the motion, with the exception of one document which contained the financial terms of a sale.
McKnight v. Wakefield Missionary Baptist Church, Inc., 2023 N.C. LEXIS 783, 2023 WL 6933326 (N.C. 2023) (per curiam)
Key Terms: appeal; affirmed; trade name infringement; permanent injunction; costs; N.C.G.S. §§ 6-1, 6-20; N.C.G.S. § 7A-305(d)
This suit involved, in part, a dispute between Wakefield Missionary Baptist Church, Inc. (“WMBC, Inc.”) and a number of estranged church members over the use of the name “Wakefield Missionary Baptist Church.” In February 2022, the Business Court entered an order granting summary judgment to WMBC, Inc. on its counterclaim for trade name infringement. It subsequently entered a permanent injunction and final order enjoining the estranged members from using the name Wake Missionary Baptist Church and an order awarding costs to WMBC, Inc., pursuant to N.C.G.S. §§ 6-1, 6-20, and 7A-305(d). The estranged members appealed from all three orders; however, the N.C. Supreme Court previously dismissed all issues arising from the summary judgment order. Here, the Court affirmed, per curiam, the permanent injunction and final order and the order awarding costs.
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