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Moore v. Jordan

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

May 15, 2018

CAROL D. MOORE, Plaintiff
v.
WILLIAM W. JORDAN and HILL EVANS JORDAN & BEATTY, A Professiona Limited Liability Company, Defendants

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 29 November 2017.

         Appeal by plaintiff from order entered 7 February 2017 by Judge James K. Roberson in Orange County No. 15 CVS 668 Superior Court.

          Randolph M. James, P.C., by Randolph M. James, for plaintiff-appellant.

          Sharpless & Stavola, P.A., by Frederick K. Sharpless, for defendant-appellees.

          CALABRIA, JUDGE.

         Carol D. Moore ("plaintiff") appeals from the trial court's order granting defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claim for legal malpractice. After careful review, we conclude that plaintiff failed to forecast any evidence to prove that, but for defendants' alleged negligence, plaintiff would have received a more favorable judgment in her prior equitable distribution action. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's order.

         I. Background

          Plaintiff and James B. Moore, III ("Dr. Moore") were married on 22 September 1984 and separated on 29 March 2009. On 23 July 2009, plaintiff filed Moore v. Moore, 09 CVD 1183, in Orange County District Court seeking, inter alia, spousal support and an equitable distribution of marital property. On 21 June 2010, plaintiff retained William W. Jordan ("Jordan") and Hill Evans Jordan & Beatty, PLLC, (collectively, "defendants") to represent her in the pending action. Plaintiff hired defendants due to their experience tracing marital assets in complex equitable distribution proceedings. Defendants were aware that plaintiff believed that Dr. Moore had hidden assets in anticipation of the parties' divorce. In addition to defendants, plaintiff also retained certified public accountant Heather Linton and certified fraud examiner Carl Allen ("Allen") to help locate the alleged missing assets.

         During discovery, defendants conducted depositions; subpoenaed financial institutions; and reviewed tax returns and other documents for evidence of undisclosed earnings or accounts, including potential off-shore transactions. However, neither defendants nor plaintiff's experts ever located any undisclosed assets. Jordan ultimately concluded that the Moores' once-substantial marital estate had been depleted as a result of market factors and the parties' extravagant lifestyle choices. Although Allen had "theories" that Dr. Moore might have mismanaged marital funds, Jordan determined that the evidence was speculative, unsubstantiated, and likely inadmissible. Therefore, when the trial commenced on 3 January 2011, Jordan notified Allen that he would not call him to testify. At trial, defendants did not present any expert witness evidence to support plaintiff's theory that Dr. Moore hid marital assets prior to the parties' divorce.

         On 20 June 2012, the trial court entered an Equitable Distribution Judgment and Alimony Order awarding plaintiff alimony and an unequal distribution of the parties' net, non-retirement marital and divisible estate. The trial court found, in relevant part, that:

26. Plaintiff believed that [Dr. Moore] was moving and hiding the parties' money. The Court finds Plaintiff's belief to be unfounded.
. . .
40. The parties lived well above their means during their marriage. The parties frequently incurred charges on their credit cards of $12, 000 - $15, 000 per month. They hired private tennis coaches for the children. Their children attended private and/or out-of-state schools. The parties used savings and investment accounts during the latter part of their marriage to meet their lifestyle expenses; in so doing and with the help of negative market forces, the parties dwindled their non-retirement cash and investment accounts from approximately $3, 000, 000 to under $200, 000 by the time the parties separated.
. . .
83. Plaintiff's claim for attorney's fees should be denied. . . . The parties' respective estates, after the entry of this Judgment, shall be substantially similar. Many fees were incurred by the parties due to Plaintiff's unfounded suspicion that [Dr. Moore] was hiding money, and the Court cannot find any statutory basis and justification to support an award of attorney's fees from [Dr. Moore] to Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff did not appeal the Equitable Distribution Judgment and Alimony Order. However, on 18 June 2015, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants in Orange County Superior Court, alleging legal malpractice in their representation of plaintiff's equitable distribution action. Following some discovery, on 14 October 2016, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. On 7 February 2017, the trial court entered an order granting defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff appeals.

         II. ...


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