There Won't Be Any Unauthorized Practice Of Law In The Business Court

Burgess v. Vitola, 2008 NCBC 7 (N.C. Super. Ct. March 26, 2006)(Diaz)

Bueche v. Noel, March 25, 2008 (Diaz)(unpublished)

The Business Court decided two cases this week involving what it found to be the unauthorized practice of law.  In the first, Bueche v. Noel, the Court held that a pro se defendant could not file an Answer on behalf of a corporation, because "a corporation must be represented by counsel and cannot appear pro se."  The Court struck the Answer filed by the defendant.

In the second case, Burgess v. Vitola, the issue was whether an out-of-state attorney who had apparently ghost written an Answer for a defendant had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

The defendant involved was Dr. Entezam, a California dentist sued by the plaintiff for allegedly trespassing on his computer through an unwanted advertisement.  (Whether those advertisements subjected the defendants to jurisdiction in North Carolina was the subject of an earlier post).  Dr. Entezam filed an Answer under her own pro se signature which had clearly been drafted by a lawyer.   

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NY Lawsuit Trumps NC Lawsuit, Even Though NC Lawsuit Was First Filed

Wachovia Bank, N.A. v. Harbinger Capital Partners Master Fund I, Ltd., 2008 NCBC 6 (N.C. Super. Ct. March 13, 2008) (Diaz)

Wachovia was first to file its claims in North Carolina Superior Court, but the Business Court nevertheless stayed the action in favor of a later filed New York action.

The claims in both cases involved Wachovia's arranging of $285 million in credit for Le Nature, which collapsed in a massive accounting fraud. After the fraud was revealed, the Defendants purchased some of Le Nature's debt on the secondary market with the express intention of suing Wachovia for alleged complicity in the fraud.

Wachovia, in an effort to preempt the expected lawsuit by the Defendants in New York, filed a declaratory judgment in North Carolina and obtained an injunction prohibiting the Defendants from asserting any "personal tort claims." Wachovia asserted that Defendants had engaged in "illegal trafficking in litigation claims."

Undeterred, Defendants went ahead and filed a lawsuit against Wachovia Capital Markets in the Southern District of New York alleging a RICO violation. Defendants then moved to stay the North Carolina action pursuant to N.C.G.S. Sec. 1-75.12 in favor of their own later filed action.  The Court granted the motion after considering the ten factors enumerated in Lawyers Mut. Liab. Ins. Co. v. Nexsen Pruett Jacobs & Pollard, 435 S.E.2d 571, 573 (N.C. App. 1993).

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Plaintiff Entitled To Know Amount Of Coverage Remaining Under Defendant's Insurance Policy

Harco Nat'l Ins. Co. v. Grant Thornton LLP, 2008 NCBC 5 (N.C. Super. Ct. March 4, 2008)(Tennille)

Plaintiff sent discovery regarding the Defendant accounting firm's insurance coverage.  In addition to obtaining information on the face amount of the policy, plaintiff also sought information on the other claims made under the policy and the amount of coverage left under the policy.  The Court rejected the argument that plaintiff was entitled to discovery on the other claims, because it would "lead to unnecessary argument over the policy limits."

The Court ruled, however, that plaintiff was entitled to the information regarding the coverage remaining, because "when it comes time to negotiate, the amount of liability coverage available to a defendant should be disclosed to the plaintiff." A plaintiff is entitled to the "true facts" about the amount of coverage, which means the actual amount remaining to be paid under the policy.

The Court also observed that a refusal to provide accurate information about liability insurance coverage at the time of mediation would not be mediating in good faith.