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Robertson v. Steris Corp.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

November 18, 2014

STERIS CORPORATION, a Delaware Corporation; GE MEDICAL SYSTEMS INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES, INC., a Wisconsin corporation; BRUNSWICK COMMUNITY HOSPITAL, INC., aka COLUMBIA BRUNSWICK HOSPITAL, a North Carolina corporation; NOVANT HEALTH, INC., a North Carolina corporation; HCA, INC. A Delaware corporation; SEALMASTER CORPORATION aka SEALMASTER, INC., a Minnesota corporation; MICHAEL WILBUR, an Individual; K. BROWN, an Individual; W. GREEN, an Individual; R. MARTIN, an Individual; and JOHN DOE Defendants A,B,C,D, and E, Defendants

Heard in the Court of Appeals September 9, 2014

Page 826

Appeal by Plaintiffs from orders entered 3 May 2013 and 25 July 2013 by Judge D. Jack Hooks, Jr. in Superior Court, Brunswick County, No. 07 CVS 106. Pursuant to Rule 40 of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure, these cases were consolidated for hearing as the issues presented to this Court by the appeals of Plaintiffs involve common questions of law.

The Lorant Law Firm, by D. Bree Lorant; and Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, LLP, by Burley B. Mitchell, Jr. and Robert T. Numbers, II, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Young Moore and Henderson P.A., by Walter E. Brock, Jr. and Andrew P. Flynt, for Appellees G. Henry Temple, Jr. and Temple Law Firm.

Page 827

McGEE, Chief Judge. Judges BRYANT and STROUD concur.


Page 828

McGEE, Chief Judge.

Terri Lynn Robertson and Mary Dianne Godwin Daniel (" Plaintiffs" ) were injured in a work-related accident in 2004. Plaintiffs initially hired G. Henry Temple, Jr. (" Temple" ) of Temple Law Firm, PLLC to represent them, and Plaintiffs filed their complaint on 18 January 2007. For reasons unclear from the record, Plaintiffs never entered into a written fee agreement with Temple, and the record does not reflect whether Temple discussed his standard fee agreement with Plaintiffs.

Several named defendants were dismissed during the course of the litigation. The case was declared exceptional in July 2009, and " a protracted discovery period with numerous lengthy hearings regarding discoverable materials and sanctions" followed. An initial mediation was conducted, and the remaining defendants Sealmaster, Inc. and Steris Corporation (" Defendants" ) offered settlement amounts. In an order dated 5 February 2013, the trial court found: " Temple determined more intensive discovery and trial preparation would be necessary for either an improved settlement position, or for the inevitable trial if the matter would not settle."

Defendant Sealmaster, in March 2011, agreed to settle for an amount slightly higher than its original offer. Following a second mediation in March 2011, Defendant Steris also agreed to settle with Plaintiffs. The settlement agreement Temple obtained from Defendant Steris was more than twice the initial settlement offer. However, Plaintiffs did not follow through on the settlement agreement and Defendant Steris filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement in June 2011.

Plaintiffs decided to hire a new attorney, and discharged Temple. A letter to this effect was mailed to Temple on 8 September 2011. Temple filed a motion to intervene and a motion in the cause on 5 October 2011, seeking to recover in quantum meruit for more than four and one-half years of costs and fees incurred working on Plaintiffs' case.

The trial court conducted a conference call on 13 October 2011 that included Plaintiffs, their new attorney, the remaining Defendants, and Temple. " After discussion as to the positions of the respective parties and counsel, an agreement in principle was reached to provide for final dismissal of this matter between the Plaintiffs and Defendants Seal Master and Steris and for payment of the previously negotiated Worker's Compensation liens for both Plaintiffs." These agreements included confidentiality agreements concerning the amount of damages Plaintiffs were awarded.

Temple's 5 October 2011 motions were heard on 9 October 2012. In a 7 February 2013 order, the trial court concluded that Temple was " entitled to recover in quantum meruit for legal services rendered and expenses reasonably incurred during representation of [P]laintiffs" because Temple's legal representation " had value to [P]laintiffs" and Temple had represented Plaintiffs with an expectation of payment. The trial court concluded that " [t]o deny the motion by [Temple] would result in a windfall to [P]laintiffs[.]" The trial court then ruled that Temple should receive a certain sum in quantum meruit " representing the attorney fees and costs" the trial court had addressed in its findings of fact, which included expenses and one third of the recovery " after common costs."

Plaintiffs appealed on 4 March 2013.[1] Temple filed a " Motion to Correct Judgment" on 25 March 2013, requesting that the trial court correct the 7 February 2013 order by including " interest on the quantum meruit award, which pre- and post-judgment interest would accrue pursuant to G.S. 24-5(a)." This matter was heard on 17 April 2013. Judge D. Jack Hooks, Jr. signed a written order, dated 19 April 2013, ruling that Temple was entitled to interest on the quantum meruit award pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 24-5(b), and awarded interest at the legal

Page 829

rate from 5 October 2011, the date Temple filed motions in the cause and to intervene. Temple served Plaintiffs with the order on 26 April 2013. Judge Hooks resigned from office, which was effective 30 April 2013. The order was filed with the Brunswick County Clerk of Superior Court on 3 May 2013.

Plaintiffs filed a " Motion to Amend Order and Alternative Motion for Relief From Order" on 10 May 2013, seeking to have the trial court reverse its ruling granting Temple interest on the " quantum meruit award." Judge Hooks was sworn in as an Emergency Judge of the Superior Court on 31 May 2013, and was assigned to hear Plaintiffs' motions. The trial court denied Plaintiffs 10 May 2013 motions by order filed 25 July 2013. Plaintiffs then filed notices of appeal from the 3 May 2013 and 25 July 2013 orders on 23 August 2013. Plaintiffs docketed separate appeals from the two orders. Appeal from the 3 May 2013 order is before us in COA14-253, and appeal from the 25 July 2013 order is before us in COA14-254.[2] We address both appeals in this opinion. Additional facts may be found in Robertson I.

Appeal COA14-254

Plaintiffs appeal from the trial court's 25 July 2013 order, which, in relevant part, denied Plaintiffs' motion to set aside the 3 May 2013 order on the basis of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiffs argue that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter the 3 ...

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