The Motion You Probably Shouldn't Bother To Make In The Business Court (Or In Any Other Court)

I think I might have made a Motion for a More Definite Statement.  If I did that, I did it only once, and I can't remember the result.  Asking for a more definite statement is a rarely used litigation maneuver, allowed by Rule 12(e) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure.

The Defendant in the NC Business Court case of Shaw v. Shaw made a Rule 12(e) Motion but it was rejected in an Order yesterday by Judge Bledsoe.  The Judge said:

Motions for a more definite statement are not favored by the courts and are 'sparingly granted because pleadings may be brief and lacking in factual detail, and because of the extensive discovery devices available to the movant.'  Ross v. Ross, 33 N.C.App. 447, 454, 235 S.E.2d 405, 410 (1977)(citations omitted).  As long as the pleading meets the standards of N.C.R.C.P.  Rule 8 and the opposing party is adequately notified of the nature of the claim, a motion for more definite statement will be denied.  Id.

Order 10 (emphasis added).

If you are curious about the allegations in the Complaint which were alleged to be too indefinite to allow a response, they were paragraphs 25(e) and (j), which concerned the Defendant's claimed making of unauthorized loans and payment of excessive compensation.

Judge Bledsoe ordered that the allegations fairly notified the Defendant of the claims against him, given the notice pleading requirements of Rule 8.

What about Complaints that go beyond the notice pleading requirements of Rule 8, that have too much detail?  That's a different kettle of fish. I've more often made a Rule 8(e) Motion, arguing that a Complaint violated Rule 8 because it was not "concise and direct."  But that's mainly because I like the word "prolix."  You don't get to use it very often.

Mark Your Calendar For October 1st For Changes To The Business Court

If you litigate cases in the NC Business Court, mark your calendar for October 1st.  That's when the General Assembly's "modernization" of the Business Court is due to become effective.  The bill containing these changes was signed into law by Governor McCrory last week

I wrote about the proposed bill back in May, and you can look back at that post as most of the changes proposed in the initial version of the bill have made it through to the approved version.

There were some changes to the bill before it was passed, and here are a few new wrinkles:

Broadened Scope Of Appeals To The NC Supreme Court

In the original bill, the General Assembly authorized a direct appeal to the NC Supreme Court from any final judgment of the Business Court.

The enacted law broadens the scope of Business Court rulings that can be appealed to the Supreme Court, allowing appeals from an interlocutory order from the Business Court that does one of the following:

a.     Affects a substantial right.
b.     In effect determines the action and prevents a judgment from which an appeal   might be taken.
c.      Discontinues the action.
d.     Grants or refuses a new trial.

Revised G.S. §7A-27.

I'm worried about the Supreme Court getting bogged down in deciding whether an interlocutory order really "affects a substantial right."  The language regarding interlocutory appeals is identical to the language governing interlocutory appeals to the NC Court of Appeals. It seems like half of the decisions from the Court of Appeals go on for pages on that issue before deciding that the appeal before it doesn't "affect a substantial right" and should therefore be remanded to the trial court.  The Supreme Court may face the same quicksand. 

But even so, this change will provoke more business-related decisions from the NC Supreme Court.  That's certainly a good thing.  I'm at a loss to remember the last one -- it might be Meiselman v. Meiselman, 307 S.E.2d 551, 309 N.C. 279 (1983), decided over thirty years ago.

More Written Opinions From The Business Court

Under the enacted law, the Business Court Judges will be required to issue a written opinion granting or denying a motion under North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure 12, 56, 59, or 60, "or any order finally disposing of a complex business case"  except for orders approving a settlement  or a jury verdict.  New G.S. §7A-45.3.

That's a significant expansion of the Court's opinion writing obligation.  Currently, its only obligation to issue a written opinion is "upon final disposition of the case" per Rule 2.1(b) of the North Carolina General Rules of Practice.

And the Court currently issues many one or two paragraph orders denying motions to dismiss (per Rule 12) or for summary judgment (per Rule 56).  Will those brief rulings constitute "written opinions" denying those motions, or will the Court need to engage in detailed discussion about why it is denying a motion?

Stay of Cases That Should Be, But Aren't Designated To The Business Court

The new law requires in G.S. §75A-4(b) that certain types of cases must be designated to the Business Court.  Briefly, these are contested tax cases on appeal from the Office of Administrative Hearings, many cases falling within the Court's jurisdiction in which the amount in controversy is at least $5 million, and cases involving regulation of pole attachments pursuant to G.S. §62-350.

On that $5 million threshold, the party drafting the pleading is obligated under an amendment to Rule 8 of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure contained in the passed bill to state whether relief is demanded in that amount.

If the party filing a case which the statute requires be designated to the Business Court doesn't do so, the Superior Court in the county where the case was filed must stay the case until the party who was required to designate it has done so.  The original  version of the bill allowed a dismissal without prejudice as an alternative.  New G.S. §7A-45.4(g).

Designation Fee Now Recoverable As A Cost

It's expensive to designate a case to the Business Court.  The Legislature raised the fee to $1,000 in September 2009, and the new law raises the fee by $100, to $1100.  New G.S. §7A-305(a)(2)

But the good news now for parties who designate a case, and then prevail, is that the designation fee will now be a recoverable element of costs.  That's in new G.S. §7A-305(d)(12).  This change was lacking in the original version of the bill.

 

Can You Get A Ruling From A Superior Court Judge After Your Case Is Designated To The Business Court?

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that once a case is in the Business Court, it is in there forever, even if the issues that justified it being there in the first place are subsequently resolved. 

But when does the Court's jurisdiction begin?  You might think it is when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court signs an Order designating the case to the Court, especially if you look at G.S §75A-45.4(f), which says that:

Once a designation is filed under subsection (d) of this section, and after
preliminary approval by the Chief Justice, a case shall be designated and administered a complex business case. All proceedings in the action shall be before the Business Court Judge to whom it has been assigned.  . .

The decision by Judge Bledsoe last week in 130 of Chatham, LLC v. Rutherford Electric Membership Corp., 2014 NCBC 35, got me thinking about this issue, though on the surface the case has nothing at all to do with when the jurisdiction of the Business Court attaches.

The issue in the case was whether Judge Bledsoe should stay an order entered in the case while the decision was being appealed. 

The stay requested by Defendant REMC was of an Order entered in Rutherford County Superior Court.  It required REMC to provide the Plaintiff with the list of its members, the minutes of its Board of Directors, records of its member actions, and its financial statements.

The chronology of events is important here.  The case was designated to the Business Court by the Chief Justice on July 15th.  The Order being appealed from was entered in Rutherford County after that, on July 28th, following a hearing on July 21st.  Business Court Chief Judge Jolly assigned the case to Judge Bledsoe after the hearing, but before the Rutherford County Judge's ruling, on July 23rd. 

Judge Bledsoe refused to enter a stay, ruling that entering a stay would "effectively put the Court in the position of overruling [the Rutherford County Judge's] Order in violation of North Carolina law."  Op. ¶24.

What the Opinion doesn't mention is why a Superior Court Judge had entered an Order after the case had been designated to the Business Court.  Business Court Rule 15.1, titled "All Motions to be Filed in Business Court," says that "[a]fter a case has been assigned or designated to the Business Court . . . parties shall seek rulings on all motions in the case from this Court, and not from Superior Court Judges or Clerks in the counties where cases originate." (emphasis added).

So why had a Rutherford County Superior Court Judge entered a ruling in a case that had been designated to the Business Court?  I found the answer to this riddle in some of the filings by the Plaintiff, which included emails to and from the Business Court about what was then the pending motion to obtain the documents.   It turned out that the determining factor was that although the case had been designated to the Business Court, it had not yet been assigned to a particular judge.

Given that the motion had some urgency to it, the Plaintiff went ahead to have it heard in Rutherford County notwithstanding the designation to the Business Court.  But it kept the Business Court informed of its intentions and got a go-ahead to proceed.

Judge Jolly's law clerk stated in an email that "[b]ecause the Business Court is not a court of jurisdiction, a hearing may go forward on the pending motions in the county court of origin if the hearing is needed before the case is able to be assigned to a Business Court judge."

Judge Bledsoe's law clerk then stated in an email "[b]ecause the pending matters before [the Rutherford County Superior Court Judge] . . . were heard and calendared for further hearing prior to the designation of the case to the Business Court, it is the policy of the Business Court that [the Rutherford County Superior Court Judge] can decide whether to go forward with the hearing and rule on the matters pending before him at the time of designation."

Then, Judge Jolly's Trial Court Coordinator weighed in.  She handles the assignment of designated cases to Business Court Judges. but she said that she had been out on vacation and that the case had not yet been assigned due to her absence.  She added "[p]lease keep in mind that Business Court designation is not jurisdictional.  Your hearing may still go forward in Rutherford County."

You can read those e-mails here.

So, that's the long answer to why a Superior Court Judge was entitled to proceed to make a ruling in a case which had already been designated to the Business Court.  But don't read this post and think that you can get away with proceeding in the Court for the county where the case originated after it has been designated to the Business Court.  Ordinarily, a Judge is assigned immediately, removing the gray area into which this case fell. 

And I wouldn't take emails from Court personnel as the gospel.  Judge Bledsoe didn't discuss at all the propriety of the Superior Court's ruling in what had become a Business Court case.

Given 130 Chatham, you  can kinda sorta still obtain an Order from the Superior Court from which you designated the case even after it has been designated to the Business Court by the Chief Justice.  At least until your case is assigned to a Business Court Judge.

I don't recommend trying to pull off this trick.