CAROL D. MOORE, Plaintiff
WILLIAM W. JORDAN and HILL EVANS JORDAN & BEATTY, A Professiona Limited Liability Company, Defendants
in the Court of Appeals 29 November 2017.
by plaintiff from order entered 7 February 2017 by Judge
James K. Roberson in Orange County No. 15 CVS 668 Superior
Randolph M. James, P.C., by Randolph M. James, for
Sharpless & Stavola, P.A., by Frederick K. Sharpless, for
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.