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Helm Builders, LLC v. United Bank & Trust Co.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

May 14, 2014



N. CARLTON TILLEY, Jr., Senior District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on (1) Plaintiff's Motion for a New Trial (Doc. #140); and (2) Plaintiff's Motion to Alter/Amend the Judgment (Doc. #142). For the reasons that follow, the instant Motions will be DENIED.


This action arises from a dispute over non-payment of funds owed to Plaintiff after construction of a hotel in Durham, North Carolina. Specifically, Plaintiff entered into a contract in the amount of $13, 050, 000.00 with non-party Shrijee, LLC ("Shrijee") to construct the Hotel Indigo. Shrijee received financing for that project through Defendant in the amount of $13, 600, 000.00. Although Plaintiff completed construction, due to various cost-overruns, it did not receive the final amounts owing to it under its contract with Shrijee. By way of the instant action, Plaintiff contends that Defendant, through affirmative misrepresentations and/or fraudulent concealment, induced Plaintiff to continue work on the project despite Defendant's own knowledge of the insufficiency of available funds.

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint presented the following seven claims for relief: (1) Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices ("UDTPA"); (2) Fraud; (3) Fraud in the Inducement; (4) Unjust Enrichment (5) Rescission - Fraud (as an alternative to Plaintiff's unjust enrichment claim); (6) Negligence (as an alternative claim); and (7) Negligent Misrepresentation. See generally Doc. #38. At the close of discovery, the Parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. See Docs. #66, 69. The Honorable Catherine C. Eagles, United States District Judge, held a hearing on those Motions on April 30, 2013; (see Docket Entry dated April 30, 2013), and, by way of Order dated May 2, 2013, denied both (see Doc. #81 at 1). This matter was then set for trial in July 2013. See Docket Entry dated June 10, 2013.

A three-day final pretrial conference was held between July 3 and July 9, 2013. See Docket Entries dated July 3, 2013, July 8, 2013, July 9, 2013. At that time, the Parties extensively argued the evidence and case law underlying Plaintiff's claims. After the Parties' showings, Plaintiff was foreclosed from pursuing claims based on the theory that Defendant failed to disclose certain information regarding the insufficiency of available funds. In addition, it was found that, on the facts of this case, Plaintiff's UDTPA claim was necessarily dependent on the success of Plaintiff's claims for negligent and intentional misrepresentation. After a four day trial, the jury was ultimately charged with finding only whether Plaintiff satisfied elements of negligent or intentional misrepresentation as to each of four separate alleged representations (see Doc. #138). However, through discussions with the Parties, it was made clear that, should the jury find that any of those four alleged misrepresentations supported Plaintiff's negligent and/or intentional misrepresentation claim, Defendant would be liable for Plaintiff's UDTPA claim as well on those same facts. Regardless, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendant. See id. Of note, in so doing, the jury found not only that none of the four asserted misreoresentations were false (see id. at 1-3), but also that Plaintiff did not rely on those representations (see id. at 4-6).

Plaintiff has now filed the instant Motions seeking a new trial or that the judgment be altered or amended. Plaintiff specifically assigns fault to (1) the failure to submit instructions and issues of non-disclosure to the jury and the foreclosure of evidence regarding the same;[1] (2) the failure to submit instructions and issues to the jury regarding Plaintiff's UDTPA claim; (3) the exclusion of certain FDIC documents from evidence; (4) the form of the verdict sheet; and (5) interruptions of Plaintiff's counsel by the Court. In addition, Plaintiff contends that the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence. See Doc. #141 at 7. Defendant responded (see Docs. #148, 149) and Plaintiff Replied (see Docs. #151, 152).


Plaintiff brings its Motions under subsections (a) and (e) of Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On a Rule 59(a) motion, District Courts are to "set aside the verdict and grant a new trial if (1) the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, or (2) is based upon evidence which is false, or (3) will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict.'" Knussman v. Maryland , 272 F.3d 625, 639 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Atlas Food Sys. & Servs., Inc. v. Crane Nat'l Vendors, Inc. , 99 F.3d 587, 594 (4th Cir.1996)). A new trial may be granted "on all or some of the issues... to any party... for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action in federal court." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). Under Rule 59(e), a court may "alter or amend the judgment if the movant shows either (1) an intervening change in the controlling law, (2) new evidence that was not available at trial, or (3) that there has been a clear error of law or a manifest injustice." Robinson v. Wix Filtration Corp. , 599 F.3d 403, 407 (4th Cir. 2010). "[T]he rule permits a district court to correct its own errors, sparing the parties and the appellate courts the burden of unnecessary appellate proceedings." Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co. , 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998) (quotation marks and citation omitted).



Initially, Plaintiff finds fault with the decision to foreclose it from pursuing, and to exclude evidence regarding, any claims based on the theory that Defendant failed to disclose certain information to Plaintiff, whether presented as part of a fraudulent concealment theory or as grounds for a UDTPA claim.[2] In fact, as an initial matter, Plaintiff generally appears to take issue with any conclusion, made during the final pre-trial conference, of the sufficiency of the evidence supporting, or of the state of the law underlying, its claims given the previous denial of Defendant's summary judgment motion. See Doc. #140, ΒΆ 9. In this regard, under Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "a district court retains the power to reconsider and modify its interlocutory judgments, including partial summary judgments, at any time prior to final judgment when such is warranted." American Canoe Ass'n v. Murphy Farms, Inc. , 326 F.3d 505, 514-515 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Fayetteville Investors v. Commercial Builders, Inc. , 936 F.2d 1462, 1469 (4th Cir. 1991)). Moreover, "[i]t is the affirmative obligation of the trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial.'" Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc. , 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt , 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)). Accordingly, any consideration of the sufficiency of Plaintiff's claims was not improper regardless of the previous denial of Defendant's summary judgment motion.

With respect to this issue specifically, the arguments that Plaintiff now presents were adequately addressed prior to and during trial, and Plaintiff offers nothing that would suggest a different outcome on their instant consideration. Indeed, Plaintiff's Memorandum in support of its instant Motion cites a number of cases either representing factual scenarios in which a duty to speak does exist (see Doc. #141 at 10-11), or stating that whether a duty does exist is a question for the jury (see id. at 10), that Plaintiff has previously presented and which have been duly considered. As was the case then, the authority that Plaintiff cites, including previously unaddressed authority, represent factual scenarios in which the contacts between the parties are more significant than those presented here. See, e.g., Dallaire v. Bank of Am., N.A., N.C.App.

___, ___, 738 S.E.2d 731, 735 (2012); Whisnant v. Carolina Farm Credit , 204 N.C.App. 84, 92-93, 693 S.E.2d 149, 155-56 (2010). Plaintiff, however, has presented no persuasive authority for its position that, under circumstances similar to this case, a bank owes a duty to disclose a borrower's ability to pay its contractual obligations to the borrower's contracting party. Accordingly, having presented insufficient evidence for a reasonable finder of fact to conclude that such a duty existed between the Parties in this case, or authority suggesting that such a ...

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