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J. S. & Associates, Inc. v. Stevenson

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

May 7, 2019

J. S. & ASSOCIATES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
MARIA STEVENSON, Defendant/Counterclaim Plaintiff,
v.
J. S. & ASSOCIATES, INC., Counterclaim Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 27 March 2019.

          Appeal by Defendant from order entered 30 April 2018 by Judge Rebecca Thorne Tin in Mecklenburg County District Court No. 17-CVD-23246.

          Dixon Law Firm, PLLC, by Malik Dixon, for the Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant-Appellee.

          Moore & Van Allen PLLC, by Nathan A. White, for the Defendant/Counterclaim Plaintiff-Appellant.

          DILLON, JUDGE.

         This case presents a novel circumstance in which the prevailing party appealed from a small claims court decision in her favor in order to assert related counterclaims in the district court above. Maria Stevenson, Defendant and Counterclaim Plaintiff, appeals from the district court's order dismissing her appeal and its accompanying counterclaims, which were brought for the first time on appeal. Stevenson contends that her appeal rests in a gap between jurisdictional amount in controversy thresholds and the pleading requirements of compulsory counterclaims. After careful review, we find that Stevenson's circumstance is governed by existing law and, therefore, affirm.

         I. Background

         Beginning in February 2015, Stevenson was a tenant in a home owned by J.S. & Associates, Inc. (hereafter, "JSA"), in Charlotte. The parties' relationship decayed over time due to issues concerning the maintenance of the property.

         In November 2017, JSA filed a summary ejectment motion against Stevenson in small claims court.

         In December 2017, the trial court entered judgment in Stevenson's favor, denying JSA's request for summary ejectment. Nevertheless, Stevenson appealed the small claims court's judgment to the district court in order to assert counterclaims against JSA, arising from JSA's alleged failure to maintain the rental property. JSA moved to dismiss Stevenson's appeal.

         In April 2018, the district court granted JSA's motion to dismiss Stevenson's appeal, holding that Stevenson was not an aggrieved party and, therefore, had no right to appeal the small claims court judgment. Stevenson timely appealed.

         II. Analysis

         This case presents our Court with a specific issue which we have not been asked to decide before: Where a defendant prevails in an action in small claims court, may she nonetheless bring compulsory counterclaims that exceed the jurisdictional limit of small claims court in an appeal to district court? We hold that this particular circumstance need not be directly provided for, as a proper avenue for redress presently exists.

         In North Carolina, small claims courts have jurisdiction over claims for summary ejectment of a tenant, in addition to claims for monetary damages. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-210(2) (2017). The amount in controversy in an action in small claims court may not exceed ten thousand dollars ($10, 000). N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-210(1). This amount in controversy "ceiling" is a jurisdictional limitation, Fickley v. Greystone Enterprises, Inc., 140 N.C.App. 258, 261, 536 S.E.2d 331, 333 (2000), which extends to all counterclaims, cross claims, and third-party claims brought in small claims court, see N.C. Gen. Stat. ยง 7A-219 (2017). That is, a defendant in a small claims action is not allowed to bring forth any counterclaim against the ...


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