Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Carolina Supreme Court
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The case revolves around a dispute over a tract of land in North Carolina. The defendants, Wade and Teresa Cornett, have lived on the property since 1983 and purchased it in 1995. The deed showed a thirty-foot access easement along the western edges of the property, which the Cornetts had used for access to a road. Over the years, the Cornetts made various improvements in the easement, under the belief that they owned the property in the easement. In 2019, the plaintiffs, Joanne and William Hinman, purchased the land from the Churches, who had inherited it from Bennie Church, the Cornetts' former neighbor. The Hinmans commissioned a survey, which confirmed the existence of the easement on their land. They demanded the Cornetts remove the improvements built inside the easement and asserted that the Cornetts could not use the portion of the paved driveway falling outside the easement boundary. The Cornetts refused, and the Hinmans brought suit for trespass and to quiet title.The trial court granted summary judgment for the Hinmans on all claims. The Cornetts appealed the trial court’s judgment to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court's decision and remanded for further proceedings. The Court of Appeals opined that the Cornetts’ evidence showed open, continuous, exclusive, actual, and notorious use of the disputed land for over twenty years. The dissenting judge disagreed, arguing that the Cornetts’ use was permissive and tolled the running of the twenty-year statute of limitations.The Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The court concluded that the Cornetts’ evidence was sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact concerning the hostility of their possession of the land. The court found that the Cornetts’ mistaken belief of ownership and their permanent improvements on the property constituted evidence rebutting the presumption of permissive use. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Hinman v. Cornett" on Justia Law

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A group of media organizations and reporters sought copies of law enforcement recordings of a march in Graham, North Carolina. The Superior Court granted their petition, but the Court of Appeals vacated the order, arguing that the trial court failed to determine the petitioners' eligibility to request copies of the recordings under the statute. The Court of Appeals also held that the trial court did not understand that it could place conditions or restrictions on the release of the recordings.The Supreme Court of North Carolina disagreed with the Court of Appeals' interpretation of the statute, stating that anyone may seek copies of law enforcement recordings under the provision invoked by the petitioners, so the trial court had no reason to question their eligibility. However, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the trial court erroneously believed that it could not condition or restrict the release of the recordings.The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not need to determine the petitioners' eligibility to request the recordings, but it did err in believing it could not place conditions or restrictions on the release of the recordings. View "In re The McClatchy Company, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves a defamation lawsuit filed by Louis M. Bouvier, Jr., Karen Andrea Niehans, Samuel R. Niehans, and Joseph D. Golden against William Clark Porter, IV, Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky PLLC, Steve Roberts, Erin Clark, Gabriela Fallon, Steven Saxe, and the Pat McCrory Committee Legal Defense Fund. The plaintiffs were accused of voting in two states in an election protest filed by the defendants. The plaintiffs claimed that these accusations, which were later proven to be false, defamed them and damaged their reputations.The case was initially heard in the Superior Court, Guilford County, where the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment was granted as to the defendants' affirmative defenses, and the defendants' motion for summary judgment was denied. The case was then appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed in part and reversed in part the lower court's decision. The Court of Appeals held that the absolute privilege, which protects individuals from defamation claims for statements made in the course of a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding, applied to the election protests. However, the court also introduced a "participation" requirement, stating that the privilege only applied to those who participated as a party, counsel, or witness in the proceeding.The case was then reviewed by the Supreme Court of North Carolina. The court held that the absolute privilege broadly protects all individuals involved in any aspect of election protests from defamation claims. The court rejected the "participation" requirement introduced by the Court of Appeals, stating that the privilege applies to the occasion, not the individual. The court concluded that the defendants were protected by the absolute privilege and were therefore entitled to summary judgment. The court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the lower court for dismissal with prejudice. View "Bouvier v. Porter" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of plaintiffs who claimed that the defendant, Bank of America, fraudulently denied them mortgage modifications under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and then foreclosed on their homes. The plaintiffs filed their complaint in May 2018 and their amended complaint in March 2019, alleging claims based on common law fraud, fraudulent concealment, intentional misrepresentation, promissory estoppel, conversion, unjust enrichment, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and, in the alternative, negligence.However, the Supreme Court of North Carolina found that the plaintiffs' claims were time-barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. The court held that the statutes of limitations for all of plaintiffs’ claims, except for their unfair and deceptive trade practices claim, started to run at the latest by the date that each plaintiff lost his or her home. Each plaintiff lost his or her home sometime between April 2011 and January 2014. Thus, the latest point in time any plaintiff could have filed a complaint was January 2017, or in the case of an unfair and deceptive trade practices claim, January 2018. Plaintiffs did not file their original complaint until May 2018. Therefore, their claims are time-barred.The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the discovery rule tolled the statute of limitations for their fraud claims beyond the dates of their foreclosures. The court found that the plaintiffs were on notice of the defendant's alleged fraud by the time they lost their homes, and they should have investigated further. The court therefore reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' complaint. View "Taylor v. Bank of America, N.A" on Justia Law

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In this case, Officer Ashton Lambert struck and killed Gregory Graham with his police cruiser while responding to a call. Graham's estate sued Lambert, the City of Fayetteville, and the Fayetteville Police Department, alleging negligence, gross negligence, and wrongful death.The trial court denied the City and Lambert's motions for summary judgment, arguing that governmental and public officer immunity barred the estate's claims. The Court of Appeals reversed this decision, leading to an appeal to the Supreme Court of North Carolina.The Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals had improperly analyzed the summary judgment order. The Court of Appeals had focused on the sufficiency of the estate's complaint, rather than the presence of a genuine factual dispute. This was incorrect, as the court should have asked whether the evidence raised a genuine factual dispute on the existence and extent of the City’s waiver of immunity.The Supreme Court also found that the estate's claim that section 20-145 waived the city's governmental immunity failed as a matter of law. The statute, which exempts police officers from speed limits when chasing or apprehending criminal absconders, does not shield officers for their gross negligence. However, the statute does not contain clear language withdrawing immunity from a discrete government body.The court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to analyze whether there was a genuine issue of material fact on whether the City waived governmental immunity by purchasing liability insurance. The court also clarified that section 20-145 does not waive the City’s governmental immunity for its officers’ grossly negligent driving. The Estate’s claim against the City remains intact unless otherwise waived by the purchase of liability insurance. View "Est. of Graham v. Lambert" on Justia Law

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The case before the Supreme Court of North Carolina involved a dispute between The Society for the Historical Preservation of the Twentysixth North Carolina Troops, Inc. (plaintiff) and the City of Asheville (defendant). The controversy centered around a monument dedicated to Zebulon Vance, a former North Carolina Governor and Confederate Colonel. The plaintiff, a nonprofit historical preservation organization, raised funds to restore the monument and entered into a donation agreement with the City, whereby the monument was restored and then donated to the City. However, the City later decided to remove the monument, citing it as a public safety threat due to vandalism and threats of toppling.In response, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the City, alleging that the City breached the 2015 donation agreement and seeking a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and a declaratory judgment. The plaintiff argued that both parties had entered into a contract with the intent to preserve the monument in perpetuity. The City filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint for lack of standing and failure to state a claim. The trial court granted the City's motion, and this decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.When the case reached the Supreme Court of North Carolina, the court reversed the Court of Appeals’ determination that the plaintiff's breach of contract claim should be dismissed for lack of standing. However, the court noted that the plaintiff had abandoned the merits of its breach of contract claim in its appeal. As such, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff's claims for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and declaratory judgment for lack of standing. The court concluded that the plaintiff failed to assert any ground for which it has standing to contest the removal of the monument. View "Soc'y for the Hist. Pres. of the Twenty-sixth N.C. Troops, Inc. v. City of Asheville" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of North Carolina dealt with the issue of whether a statute of limitations barred a defendant's counterclaim for negligence because it was filed one day after the three-year limitations period had expired. The court ruled that the counterclaim should be considered as having been filed on the same date that the plaintiff commenced his lawsuit, thus making it timely.The case originated from a two-automobile accident that occurred on 19 December 2015. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant over injuries he allegedly sustained in the accident on 19 December 2018. The defendant filed a counterclaim against the plaintiff for his own injuries on 20 December 2018, arguing that the plaintiff's own negligence caused the accident. The plaintiff moved for summary judgment, asserting that the counterclaim should be dismissed under N.C.G.S. § 1-52(16) because it was filed outside the statute’s three-year limit for personal injury claims.The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant appealed, arguing that his counterclaim filed on 20 December 2018 should be deemed to relate back to the filing of the original complaint by the plaintiff on 19 December 2018, and thus should be considered timely filed within the three-year statute of limitations. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment order dismissing the defendant’s counterclaim.The Supreme Court of North Carolina reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, reasoning that for purposes of the statute of limitations in N.C.G.S. § 1-52(16), the filing of a compulsory counterclaim relates back to the filing of the complaint. Therefore, the court held that N.C.G.S. § 1-52(16) did not bar the defendant’s compulsory counterclaim against the plaintiff. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Upchurch v. Harp Builders, Inc" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Frankie Delano Washington, was convicted of various serious felony offenses. During his trial, he asserted that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated. His argument was initially rejected, but later won on appeal and his convictions were set aside. Subsequently, Washington and his son filed a suit against the State and various state and local officials, alleging that the State knowingly charged him for crimes he did not commit. Among the numerous claims brought forth, Washington argued for a common law claim against the State for damages caused by the deprivation of his state constitutional right to a speedy trial.However, the Supreme Court of North Carolina held that Washington had an adequate state law remedy and therefore, a separate Corum claim was not available. The court reasoned that the plaintiff had already received a meaningful remedy for the State's violation of his rights, as his criminal convictions had been permanently set aside. The court further clarified that an "adequate remedy" is one that meaningfully addresses the constitutional violation, even if the plaintiff might prefer a different form of relief. This decision upholds the foundational principle that a Corum claim is applicable when one's rights are violated, and the law offers either no remedy or a remedy that is meaningless. The court ultimately affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, which had upheld the trial court's entry of summary judgment. View "Washington v. Cline" on Justia Law

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This case was brought before the Supreme Court of North Carolina to determine whether a person who files a motion to claim exempt property after a judgment is entered makes a general appearance in the action and thereby waives objections to the sufficiency of service of process and personal jurisdiction.The plaintiff, John Slattery, alleged that he was induced to invest $500,000 in a sham technology company, Appy City, by defendants Timothy Fields and Melissa Crete. Later, he named additional defendants, including Daisy Mae Barber, alleging they conspired to hide the invested funds by converting them into cryptocurrency. The Business Court entered default judgment against all defendants, including Barber, when they failed to respond to the complaint. Barber first appeared in the case when she filed a motion to claim exempt property. Later, she moved to set aside the entries of default and summary judgment, arguing the Business Court’s judgment was void for lack of personal jurisdiction as she had not been served with process nor appeared in the action before the entry of summary judgment.The Supreme Court of North Carolina held that when a defendant makes a general appearance in an action after the entry of a judgment, she waives any objections to the lack of personal jurisdiction or the sufficiency of service of process if she does not raise those objections at that time. Therefore, Barber, by filing a motion to claim exempt property, made a general appearance in the underlying action and did not raise her objections to personal jurisdiction or the sufficiency of service of process until over three months later. As a result, she waived these objections, and the Business Court’s judgment may be enforced. The decision of the Business Court was affirmed. View "Slattery v. Appy City, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of North Carolina reversed a decision by the Court of Appeals regarding the interpretation of a clause in the Financial Responsibility Act (FRA) about underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. The defendant, Mr. Hebert, was in a vehicle accident where multiple parties were injured, and he sought to claim UIM coverage under his policy and his parents' policy. The Court of Appeals had allowed him to "stack" or add together the UIM limits from both policies to qualify his vehicle as underinsured. However, the Supreme Court disagreed with this interpretation.The court held that the FRA's plain language only permits the claimant’s UIM coverages that pertain to the vehicle involved in the accident, not all UIM policies for which the UIM claimant is personally eligible. Therefore, the defendant could not stack his policy’s UIM limits with his parents’ policy’s UIM limits to qualify his vehicle as underinsured. The court concluded that the defendant's vehicle did not qualify as an underinsured highway vehicle under the FRA, and he could not activate his policy’s UIM coverage. Consequently, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision and remanded the case to the trial court for entry of judgment on the pleadings in favor of the plaintiff, North Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company. View "N.C. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Hebert" on Justia Law