in the Court of Appeals 31 January 2017
by plaintiff from order entered 20 June 2016 by Judge Debra
S. Sasser in Wake County No. 15-CVD-9308 District Court.
& Hilton, P.A., by Nelson G. Harris, for
Williams Mullen, by Kelly Colquette Hanley, for
case presents the question of whether a categorical exception
to the applicability of Rule 3.7 of the North Carolina Rules
of Professional Conduct exists in fee collection cases.
Harris & Hilton, P.A. ("Harris & Hilton")
appeals from the trial court's order disqualifying Nelson
G. Harris ("Mr. Harris") and David N. Hilton
("Mr. Hilton") from appearing as trial counsel in
this action based on their status as necessary witnesses.
Because this Court lacks the authority to create a new
exception to Rule 3.7, we affirm the trial court's order.
and Procedural Background
June 2015, Harris & Hilton filed the present action in
Wake County District Court against James C. Rassette
("Defendant") to recover attorneys' fees for
legal services the firm had allegedly provided to Defendant
prior to that date. The complaint asserted that Harris &
Hilton was entitled to recover $16, 935.69 in unpaid legal
fees. On 13 November 2015, Defendant filed an answer in which
he asserted various defenses, including an assertion that no
contract had ever existed between the parties.
June 2016, a pre-trial conference was held before the
Honorable Debra S. Sasser. During the conference, Judge
Sasser expressed a concern about the fact that Harris &
Hilton's trial attorneys - Mr. Harris and Mr. Hilton -
were also listed as witnesses who would testify at trial on
behalf of Harris & Hilton. After determining that Mr.
Harris and Mr. Hilton were, in fact, necessary witnesses who
would be testifying regarding disputed issues such as whether
a contract had actually been formed, Judge Sasser entered an
order on 20 June 2016 disqualifying the two attorneys from
representing Harris & Hilton at trial pursuant to Rule
3.7. On 27 June 2016, Harris & Hilton filed a notice of
appeal to this Court.
initial matter, we must determine whether we possess
jurisdiction over this appeal. "[W]hether an appeal is
interlocutory presents a jurisdictional issue, and this Court
has an obligation to address the issue sua sponte."
Duval v. OM Hospitality, LLC, 186 N.C.App. 390,
392, 651 S.E.2d 261, 263 (2007) (citation, quotation marks,
and brackets omitted). "A final judgment is one which
disposes of the cause as to all the parties, leaving nothing
to be judicially determined between them in the trial
court." Id. (citation omitted). Conversely, an
order or judgment is interlocutory if it does not settle all
of the issues in the case but rather "directs some
further proceeding preliminary to the final decree."
Heavner v. Heavner, 73 N.C.App. 331, 332, 326 S.E.2d
78, 80, disc. review denied, 313 N.C. 601, 330
S.E.2d 610 (1985).
there is no right of immediate appeal from interlocutory
orders . . . ." Paradigm Consultants, Ltd. v.
Builders Mut. Ins. Co., 228 N.C.App. 314, 317, 745
S.E.2d 69, 72 (2013) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
The prohibition against interlocutory appeals "prevents
fragmentary, premature and unnecessary appeals by permitting
the trial court to bring the case to final judgment before it
is presented to the appellate courts." Russell v.
State Farm Ins. Co., 136 N.C.App. 798, 800, 526 S.E.2d
494, 496 (2000) (citation and brackets omitted).
However, there are two avenues by which a party may
immediately appeal an interlocutory order or judgment. First,
if the order or judgment is final as to some but not all of
the claims or parties, and the trial court certifies the case
for appeal pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule
54(b), an immediate appeal will li e. Second, an appeal is
permitted under N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 1-277(a) and
7A-27(d)(1) if the trial ...