When the North Carolina Legislature "modernized" the Business Court last year, it added a provision to the General Statutes mandating that the Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts prepare a report, twice a year, showing
the total number of civil cases pending in each business court site over three years after being designated as a mandatory complex business case, motions pending over six months after being filed, and civil cases in which bench trials have been concluded for over six months without entry of judgment, including any accompanying explanation provided by the Business Court.
N.C. Gen. Stat. §7A-343(8a).
The First Semi-Annual Report
The AOC has now prepared that first semi-annual report. On the question of how many cases have been pending in the Business Court for more than three years, the answer is 56. Seventeen of those case are on appeal, and twelve had concluded an appeal and had been returned to the Business Court for further proceedings. Nine of those cases were stayed for other reasons, like a bankruptcy filing by a defendant, or to allow the parties to pursue settlement discussions, or to allow a court-appointed receiver to conduct an investigation.
The more interesting question to me was the number of cases where motions had been pending for more than six months after being filed. The answer here was 48 motions in which a ruling had not been made, in just twenty cases.
The Report doesn’t break down by individual Judge the number of cases in which rulings took longer than six months, which was possibly contemplated by the statute, but the analysis performed by me shows that the majority of the slow moving cases are in Judge McGuire’s Court in Raleigh.
Don’t interpret that as any indication that Judge McGuire is slow to make rulings. He has written seventeen published opinions since he was appointed by Governor McCrory to the Court in October of last year. Plus, that count of cases where it was taking longer than six months for a decision was a snapshot of the Court as of December 2014, only a few weeks after Judge McGuire took his seat on the Court.
And where did the General Assembly come up with the idea that six months to issue an opinion was a good benchmark for judging the timeliness of the Business Court? By the time briefing on a motion is concluded under the Business Court Rules, about two months will already have passed (20 days to respond to a brief, per Business Court Rule 15.6 and ten days to respond with a reply brief per BCR 15.7). Then, if the Court schedules a hearing on the Motion, as it often does, even more time will pass.
The Report explains the time it takes for a ruling to be issued in pretty much this way:
[i]t is not unusual, particularly in complex, multiparty litigation, for a motion to be pending for several months before briefing is complete in accordance with the Court’s rules and the motion is ripe for consideration. Motions rarely remain pending for more than six months after being briefed and heard, although written opinions are sometimes extensive, requiring time-intensive writing and editing.
Report at 3.
I know that the Business Court aleady is producing more opinions than I can (or want to) write about, so I have no criticism at all about the time it takes the Court to reach a ruling. When the Court’s new fourth Judge — Winston-Salem attorney Mike Robinson, nominated to the Court by Governor McCrory last month — starts delivering opinions I may start hibernating.
The 2015 Annual Report
By the way, the AOC also issued its annual report on the Business Court: the 2015 Report on North Carolina Business Court. Some numbers from that Court are that there were 231 cases pending in the Court as of December 31, 2014. One hundred and eight-nine of those cases were "active," 23 were on appeal, and 19 were stayed or designated as "inactive." 2015 Report 1.
The average age of all pending cases was 756 days. The average age of the cases in Wake County was the oldest, at 796 days. Mecklenburg County cases seemed to have the lowest average age, at 718 days. Guilford County? 748 days. 2015 Report 2-3.
Appendix A to the 2015 Report shows the distribution of cases in the Court by the County in which they were filed. This part of the Report dispels the conventional wisdom that cases filed in Mecklenburg County remain in the Charlotte division of the Court, and that Wake County cases stay in Raleigh.
The Mecklenburg County numbers show 39 cases pending from that County during 2014, of which 25 were assigned to the Charlotte Judge, 13 to Greensboro, and one to Raleigh.
Wake County was the leading County with pending cases during 2014, with 56. Forty-one of those cases are assigned to Raleigh, 12 to Greensboro, and 3 to Charlotte.
Guilford County, the original home of the Business Court, still keeps in Greensboro most of the cases filed there. Of 18 cases pending during 2014, 16 are assigned to Judge Gale in Greensboro.
Appendix C to the 2015 Report contains a color coded map showing the cases designated to the Business Court by County in 2014. (That’s the map in the picture above) One of the striking things about that map is the number of Counties that did not designate a single case to the Court during that year.