Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Sullivan v. Pugh

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 3, 2018

DONALD SULLIVAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT WAYNE PUGH and KAREN LLOYD PUGH, his legal wife, Defendants. TOG PROPERTIES, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
KAREN PUGH, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 5 October 2017.

          Appeal by plaintiff TOG Properties, LLC from order entered 14 February 2017 by Judge Phyllis M. Gorham in Pender County Superior Court No. 14-CVS-124, 15-CVS-348.

          Donald Sullivan, pro se, plaintiff-appellant.

          The Law Offices of Oliver & Cheek, PLLC, by Ciara L. Rogers, for plaintiff-appellee TOG Properties, LLC.

          BERGER, JUDGE.

         Donald Sullivan ("Sullivan") appeals a February 14, 2017 order granting summary judgment to TOG Properties, LLC ("TOG Properties") on its cross-claim for declaratory judgment. This dispute arose over which party, Sullivan or TOG Properties, owned certain timbered property at the time it was damaged by a fire allegedly set by Karen Pugh ("Pugh") on April 14, 2012. Whichever party owned the property at the time of the fire would hold any legal claims against Pugh resulting from the damages to the property as a result of the fire. Sullivan appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in granting TOG Properties' summary judgment motion because this ruling denied him his right to a jury trial and because there was a genuine issue of material fact which should have precluded the trial court from granting the motion. We disagree.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On June 1, 2006, TOG Properties purchased approximately 1500 acres of timbered real property in Pender County, North Carolina from B&N Properties of Pender, LLC ("B&N"). B&N financed the sale to TOG Properties, secured by a deed of trust. At the time of the sale, Kenner Day ("Day") was a manager of TOG Properties as well as the designated registered agent of TOG Properties in North Carolina. On May 9, 2010, Day was terminated as TOG Properties' president and was removed from the company. On July 16, 2010, TOG Properties filed for bankruptcy, and B&N subsequently filed a proof of claim as senior creditor with a claim to the real property and assigned its interest to Sullivan, its sole shareholder and manager.

         On April 14, 2012, Pugh set a fire near her home on property adjacent to the property at issue in this appeal damaging approximately 500 acres of timber. At the time of the fire, TOG Properties still maintained ownership of the property. Sullivan subsequently foreclosed on the property, and on October 20, 2012, Sullivan purchased the property in a foreclosure sale at the Pender County Courthouse. In the following months, Day, the former president and manager of TOG Properties, sent letters and executed documents purporting to transfer TOG Properties' legal and equitable interests in any proceeds or claims related to the fire to Sullivan.

         Sullivan filed an amended complaint against Robert Wayne and Karen Pugh on February 3, 2015 alleging negligence and negligence per se seeking damages for the burning of the timber on the property now owned by Sullivan. On April 10, 2015, TOG Properties also filed a complaint against Pugh seeking to recover damages resulting from the fire. TOG Properties additionally filed a cross-claim against Sullivan seeking a declaratory judgment that it was the owner of the property at the time of the fire and was, therefore, the sole owner of any claims against Pugh.

         On November 16, 2016, TOG Properties filed a motion for summary judgment on its cross-claim for declaratory judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in TOG Properties' favor on February 14, 2017, and it is from this order that Sullivan timely appeals.

         Analysis

         Sullivan argues first that his constitutional right to a trial by jury was denied when the trial court granted TOG Properties' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. He asserts that, although Rule 56 is "a commendable attempt by the judiciary to extend its power in order to reduce its docket and render the courts more efficient, " it is nevertheless "blatantly unconstitutional, " treasonous, and should not be tolerated. In support of his argument, Sullivan cites our North Carolina Constitution, Article I, Section 25, which states that "[i]n all controversies at law respecting property, the ancient mode of trial by jury is one of the best securities of the rights of the people, and shall remain sacred and inviolable." N.C. Const. art. I, § 25.

         It is true that "[t]he right to a jury trial is a substantial right of great significance." Mathias v. Brumsey, 27 N.C.App. 558, 560, 219 S.E.2d 646, 647 (1975), disc. review denied, 289 N.C. 140, 220 S.E.2d 798 (1976). However, "[t]he constitutional right to trial by jury, N.C. Const. Art. I, § 25, is not absolute; rather, it is premised upon a preliminary determination by the trial judge that there indeed exist genuine issues of fact and credibility which require submission to the jury." Bank v. Burnette, 297 N.C. 524, 537, 256 S.E.2d 388, 396 (1979). As both the United States Supreme Court stated in Ex parte Wall and this Court adopted in In re Bonding Co., " 'it is a mistaken idea that due process of law requires a plenary suit and a trial by jury[] in all cases where property or personal rights are involved.' " Inre Bonding Co., ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.