North Carolina Business Litigation Report

North Carolina Court Of Appeals Rulings, Plus One

There weren't any earthshaking decisions yesterday from the North Carolina Court of Appeals, but there are a couple of cases worth a quick mention, one on arbitration and one on discoverability in a medical malpractice case of a letter to a "medical review committee."  There was also a copyright case yesterday from the Fourth Circuit resolving an issue of first impression involving computer software.

Arbitration

In Griessel v. Temas Eye Center, P.C., the Court held that it was not error for the trial court to deny a motion to compel arbitration without making findings of fact.  Findings of fact were required under the North Carolina Uniform Arbitration Act, but the 2-1 majority found in a case of first impression that they are not required under the Revised Uniform Arbitration Act. 

The majority reasoned that since there is only one ground under the RUAA which allows the denial of a motion to compel arbitration (that there is no valid agreement to arbitrate), the court must have made that determination in denying the motion. Judge Steelman disagreed, and said "[i[f one takes the position that the trial court must have logically made the correct decision, then there is little need to have appellate courts."

Discovery And Medical Review Committees

In Woods v. Moses Cone Health System, the issue was whether a plaintiff in a medical malpractice action was entitled to discovery of a letter from the decedent's surgeon to a hospital's peer review committee.  The  Court determined that committee to be a "medical review committee" within the meaning of G.S. §131E-95 of the General Statutes, which provides that the records and materials of such a committee "shall not be subject to discovery or introduction into evidence in any civil action against a hospital."  This protection exists "because of the fear that external access to peer investigations conducted by staff committees stifles candor and inhibits objectivity."

Plaintiff said that since the surgeon had sent the letter to persons who weren't on the committee, the privilege had been waived.  The Court of Appeals said the privilege couldn't be waived by the dissemination of the letter, because the letter was absolutely privileged under the statute. The Court didn't reach an interesting question whether the letter was discoverable because it had been provided to Defendant's expert witnesses.

Copyright 

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Quantum Systems Integrators, Inc. v. Sprint Nextel Corp. that software stored in a computer's random access memory can be sufficiently fixed to support a claim for copyright infringement, following what it described as the leading case on the issue, MAI Systems  Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., 991 F.2d 511 (9th Cir. 1993). That was a question of first impression in the Fourth Circuit, but the Quantum opinion is unfortunately unpublished.

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Mack Sperling
Brooks Pierce, LLP
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