Plaintiff could not make tort claims, including breach of fiduciary duty claims, against a Bank for mismanagement of its investments. "As a general rule, parties to a contract ‘owe no special duty to one another beyond the terms of the contract.’ This general rule even applies to bank-customer relationships like the one at issue."

Plaintiff also could not pursue an unfair and deceptive practices claim, because the relationship involved the "raising of capital" and was therefore within the securities transaction exception.

Full Opinion

Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss

Brief In Opposition to Motion to Dismiss

Reply Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss

The Court dismissed the derivative claim of a minority shareholder who alleged that the majority shareholders of the corporation had breached their fiduciary duty to the minority shareholders by failing to make distributions, failing to investigate allegations on that subject, and terminating the minority shareholder’s employment. 

The Court held that this was not a proper derivative claim, because the shareholder had not alleged a cause of action belonging to the corporation or a remedy to which the corporation would be entitled.

The Court further found that even if the claim was derivative, that the minority shareholder did not fairly represent the corporation as required by North Carolina General Statute § 55-7-41(2).  The Court held:

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has applied the federal standard for determining when a shareholder “may fairly and adequately represent a corporation.” Robbins v. Tweetsie R.R., 126 N.C. App. 572, 579, 486 S.E.2d 453, 456, rev. denied, 347 N.C. 402, 494 S.E.2d 418 (1997). The federal standard uses a case by case analysis of whether a shareholder qualifies to represent the corporation. Id. (citations omitted). In Robbins, the court discussed the facts surrounding the plaintiff to conclude that plaintiff was not a suitable shareholder to bring a derivative suit. Id. at 579–80. Before the court addressed the facts of Robbins, it specifically set out that “a minority shareholder, who has uppermost a personal agenda rather than the best interests of the corporation, would [not] have standing to file and maintain a shareholder derivative action.” Id. at 578.

The Court held that the minority shareholder had a personal agenda that affected his ability to adequately represent the bests interests of the corporation. 

The Court also dismissed the shareholder’s unfair and deceptive practices claim because the shareholder was a physician and the Court found the learned profession exception to applied.

Full Opinion

Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss

Brief in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss

Reply Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss

 

A minority member (Kaplan) of a limited liability company, who was the LLC’s only source of funds and who controlled the LLC’s checkbook, did not have fiduciary duties to the LLC and its other members.

Judge Tennille held:

Being an investor in a company does not create a fiduciary relationship. . . . Kaplan, as a minority shareholder, had no fiduciary duty to the other shareholders even though he was the sole financial contributor to O.K.  Like an investor in a corporation, Kaplan’s position as the holder of the purse strings did not create a fiduciary duty.  At all pertinent times, Kaplan was a minority shareholder without dominance or control over either O.K. or any of the other shareholders and therefore without a fiduciary duty.

The LLC members also contended that Kaplan had not followed the procedures set forth in the LLC’s Operating Agreement in making his loans.  The Court ruled, however, that these claims were barred by ratification and estoppel.  It held "Defendants are estopped from objecting to the loans by their continued acceptance of reimbursement and salary made possible by the loans, as well as their inaction when O.K. creditors were paid with the loaned money."  (Op. at 8).

Summary judgment was granted on Defendant’s claim of negligent misrepresentation, because the Court found that Defendants, as majority shareholders of the LLC, could have investigated any questions of the validity of the representations made by Kaplan.  As members of the majority, the Defendants had "the opportunity to question and determine for themselves whether any documentation provided was inaccurate."  (Op. at 14).

Last, the Court granted summary judgment on Defendant’s unfair and deceptive practices claim.  The Court held that "the dispute here arises from an internal dispute over the direction of O.K. by its shareholders.  Commerce is not affected by the parties’ inability to work together as an LLC."  (Op. at 14).

Full Opinion

Plaintiff’s Brief In Support Of Motion For Summary Judgment

Defendants’ Brief In Opposition To Motion For Summary Judgment

Plaintiff’s Reply Brief In Support Of Motion For Summary Judgment

The Court allowed a motion to bifurcate in this shareholder dispute.  Shortly before trial, the Court agreed to try first Plaintiffs’ claims for reasonable expectations, mismanagement, and breach of fiduciary duty; and after determination of those issues to try, if necessary, the issues of valuation and dissolution.  The Order allowing bifurcation was entered with the consent of the parties.

Full Opinion

Motion to Bifurcate

Defendant claimed that the Plaintiff, who was the majority shareholder of a family corporation, couldn’t have had an expectation of a fiduciary duty from him because the Defendant had had an affair with Plaintiff’s wife.  The Court disagreed, and said that the existence of a fiduciary duty under these circumstances was a question of fact.

Full Opinion

A counterclaim by a member of a North Carolina LLC against the LLC’s lender for aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty was derivative, not direct.

The Court relied on “[t]he well-established general rule . . . that shareholders cannot pursue individual causes of action against third parties for wrongs or injuries to the corporation that result in the diminution or destruction of the value of their stock.”   That principle applies "equally to suits brought by members of a limited liability company."

The claim that the lender’s actions had resulted in an unlawful distribution to other members of the LLC was "just another way of saying that the Individual Members wrongfully diverted Company assets."  That was a derivative claim belonging to the Company, not to its members.  The Motion to Dismiss the Counterclaim was therefore granted.

The Court did not resolve a parallel ground for the Motion to Dismiss: whether North Carolina still recognizes a claim for aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty in light of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Central Bank of Denver, N.A. v. First Interstate Bank of Denver, N.A., 511 U.S. 164 (1994).  That question has come before the Business Court a number of times in recent years, but has not been resolved by North Carolina’s appellate courts.

Full Opinion

Brief In Support Of Motion To Dismiss

Brief In Opposition To Motion To Dismiss

Supplemental Brief In Support Of Motion To Dismiss

Supplemental Brief In Opposition To Motion To Dismiss

The plaintiff corporation claimed that the defendant, one of its former directors, had made false statements which interfered with its initial public offering.  The director claimed that he was entitled to defend claims made against him for breach of fiduciary duty based on the business judgment rule.  The Court held that "such conduct, even if well-motivated, does not constitute the type of ‘business decision’ the business judgment rule is meant to insulate."

In determining choice of law, the Court looked to the place of the corporation’s incorporation, per the internal affairs doctrine. 

The Court allowed fiduciary duty claims to proceed against a former employer.  The Court noted that "an employer-employee relationship is not generally a fiduciary relationship," but held that this determination involved a fact-intensive inquiry, and denied a Motion to Dismiss. 

The Court dismissed unfair and deceptive practices claims against the defendants.  It held that all of plaintiff’s claimed injuries related to the failed IPO, and that "the IPO, which is clearly a securities transaction, is beyond the scope of Chapter 75."

The Court let stand claims for aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty.

Full Opinion

Bowen’s Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss

Atwood’s Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss

Voyager’s Brief in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss

Paintiffs, who had suffered signficant losses on variable annuity policies sold to them by the defendant agents and insurance companies, asserted claims on multiple theories: breach of fiduciary duty, constructive fraud, unfair and deceptive practices, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment. 

The Court dismissed some claims and ordered the Plaintiffs to replead others with more particularity. 

It held that Plaintiffs could proceed on their claims against some of the agents for breach of fiduciary duty, given the Plaintiffs alleged lack of financial sophistication and their allegations of reliance upon the expertise of the agents.  There was no claim for such breach against the insurance companies, since they had not obtained any benefit from the sale of the policies other than the commissions received. 

The causes of action for breach of fiduciary duty arose when the Plaintiffs knew or should have known of the facts giving rise to their claims.  The Court found the facts insufficient to determine whether the statute of limitations had run, and ordered Plaintiffs to replead their claims with more particularity.  The Court made a similar order with respect to the constructive fraud claim, and ordered Plaintiffs to provide more detail in their pleading as to when they were charged the commissions and surrender charges that formed the basis of their claims.  Those charges would have put Plaintiffs on notice of their claims and begun the running of the statute of limitations. 

The Court also demanded more particularity on the negligent misrepresentation claim.  It disagreed with Plaintiffs contention that their only burden was to allege the misrepresentations made, and that they had been made negligently.  Instead, Plaintiffs had to alleged "(1) there was a duty owed by defendants to plaintiffs, (2) the defendants did not use reasonable care in supplying information leading to (3) misrepresentations made to the plaintiffs which (4) the plaintiffs justifiably relied on (5) and that reliance caused pecuniary injury to the plaintiffs."

The Court dismissed the unfair and deceptive practices claim.  It found that variable annuity policies are subject to pervasive and intricate regulation, and that such policies involve securities transactions not within the scope of the statute.  It made no difference that the Plaintiffs did not understand that they were investing in securities.

The punitive damages claims against the insurance companies were also dismissed, because there is no vicarious liability for punitive damages. 

The unjust enrichment claims were also dismissed because there was an express contract between the parties. 

Full Opinion

The Court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s unfair and deceptive practices claim.  It rejected the argument that the matter before the Court was simply a private dispute which did not implicate the consuming public or the general marketplace, and was therefore not "in commerce."

The Court held that the statute reaches "derivative claims arising out of fraudulent activities relating to the manner in which a business conducts its “regular, day-to-day activities, or affairs . . . .” It further held that plaintiff, in its derivative action, had alleged fraud and various breaches of the duties of good faith, loyalty, and due care, stating "North Carolina courts have consistently held that allegations of fraud or a breach of fiduciary duty will support a separate claim for unfair or deceptive trade practices."

Full Opinion

Claims against the lender which had financed an acquisition gone awry were barred by the exculpatory provisions of a subordination agreement.  Georgia law applied, and Georgia law permits one contracting party to waive all recourse in the event of breach by the other.  The exculpatory provision was valid and an absolute defense to plaintiffs’ claims, and the Court granted the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.

Plaintiffs did not have a claims for the breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, because the assertion of valid rights under an enforceable agreement does not give rise to such a claim just because the assertion of those rights adversely impacts the parties against whom the rights are asserted. 

The tortious interference with contract claim made the the Plaintiffs was also dismissed.  Although Plaintiffs had plead all of the elements of that claim, the face of the complaint demonstrated that there was a valid business justification for the Defendant’s actions.  A lender exercising its rights to collateral under a standard commercial financing arrangement ordinarily has justification for its actions, and the plaintiff make something more than conclusory allegations about justification. 

The Court also rejected a facilitation of fraud claim, holding "[t]o the extent Plaintiffs’ theory is that a commercial lender would agree to defraud a seller of a business by making a loan to the purchaser which the lender agreed in advance would be put in default and that the purchasers of the business would pledge their own assets and provide personal guarantees of the loan knowing it was going into default, such a theory is simply not sustainable."

Plaintiff were also not entitled to proceed on their claim for marshalling of assets, because such a claim is inapplicable where a superior creditor has a right to certain assets.

There was no fiduciary duty under the loan agreement.  The lender had not stepped into the shoes of the majority shareholders by exercising its rights under the loan agreement. 

The Court granted leave to the Plaintiffs, however to make derivative claims against the lender.  It permitted Plaintiffs to assert these claims because a receiver had been appointed for the corporation and he had stated that he would not pursue claims for economic reasons.

Full Opinion

Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss

Brief in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss

Reply Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss