Connor v. Monarch Hosiery Mills, Inc., 2006 WL 4453451 (November 20, 2006)(Tennille)(unpublished)

This case involved a troubled company, whose board of directors had hired turnaround consultants to assist with management. When the composition of the board of directors changed, the new board sued the consultants, and others, for fraud and unjust enrichment, alleging that the consultants had withheld information from the board and that they had been unjustly enriched (i.e. overpaid). The Court denied a motion to dismiss on the fraud claim, although it said that plaintiffs' claim was tenuous.

The Court granted the motion to dismiss as to the unjust enrichment claim, finding that plaintiffs had failed to plead with specificity why the amounts paid were unjust. There were several other claims.

The Court expressed serious doubt as to the viability of a claim for aiding and abetting fiduciary duty under North Carolina law. It dismissed that claim on a different ground, however, finding that the consultant stood in a direct fiduciary relationship to the company, and that it would be redundant and confusing to allow both a direct claim for breach of fiduciary duty as well as an aiding and abetting claim.

The Court let stand a claim for punitive damages, after determining that there is no requirement that the party seeking damages specifically allege the circumstances underlying the aggravating factors required by N.C.G.S. §1D-15(a).

The Court refused to exclude an expert witness identified by the defendants, ruling based on North Carolina Supreme Court precedent that trial courts "should be hesitant when making outcome-determinative rulings on expert testimony" because so doing may "unnecessarily encroach upon the constitutionally-mandated function of the jury to decide issues of fact and to assess the weight of the evidence."

The Court then turned to issues of attorney-client privilege. A law firm for the corporation had retained another law firm to advise it with regard to an asset sale. The corporation's law firm then discussed the advice it had received with the corporation's board of directors and the turnaround consultant. The consultant sought to obtain these materials by subpoena, but the law firm had objected. The Court held that there was no privilege, because "a communication intended to be disclosed to a third party is not confidential," and it ordered production. The result was different with regard to the communications between corporate counsel and a third law firm, which had been retained to advise on other issues. These communications had not been transmitted to third parties, and the Court held there had been no waiver of the privilege.

Full Opinion

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