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.

Musselwhite v. Cheshire

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

July 2, 2019

MICHAEL MUSSELWHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
L. BRIAN CHESHIRE, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 10 April 2019.

          Appeal by Plaintiff from order entered 14 February 2018 by Judge R. Kent Harrell in New Hanover County Superior Court No. 16-CVS-301.

          The Lea/Schultz Law Firm, P.C., by James W. Lea, III, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Shipman & Wright, LLP, by James T. Moore, for Defendant-Appellee.

          COLLINS, JUDGE.

         Plaintiff appeals from an order dismissing his claims with prejudice pursuant to North Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b). Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred by making unsupported findings of fact and erroneous conclusions of law in determining that Plaintiff had not shown a right to relief on his various causes of action. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff worked in the foodservice industry from the 1970s until 2015, when the transaction at issue in this case took place. From 1994 to 2015, Plaintiff worked at and managed a number of restaurants affiliated with Smithfield's Chicken 'N Bar-B-Q ("Smithfield's"), a restaurant chain owned by Mid-Atlantic Restaurant Corporation ("MARC") and managed by Smithfield Management Corporation ("SMC") and, later, Cary Keisler, Inc.

         Plaintiff and Defendant have had a personal and professional relationship that began when they met while working together in the mid-1970s. In the late 1990s, Plaintiff approached Defendant about partnering to purchase and thereafter operate a Smithfield's franchise in Ogden. Defendant agreed, and the parties created two entities to own (Flamingo Properties, LLC) and operate (Whiteshire Foods, Inc.) the restaurant. Flamingo Properties purchased the real property, and Whiteshire Foods acquired the franchise and rented the property from Flamingo Properties.

         Each of the parties owned a 50% interest in each entity. As with the other restaurants subsequently purchased as described below, Plaintiff was responsible for managing the Ogden restaurant and liaising with Smithfield's corporate management at SMC/Cary Keisler, and Defendant provided the collateral necessary to secure financing to purchase the property (which was also secured by personal guarantees from both Plaintiff and Defendant) but otherwise had a largely passive role in the joint ventures.

         Several years later, through Flamingo Properties, the parties purchased another property in Wilmington, and Whiteshire Foods began to operate a Smithfield's franchise thereupon pursuant to a franchise agreement with Smithfield's. In 2007, the parties created Flamingo South, LLC (together with Flamingo Properties, the "LLCs"), for the purpose of acquiring and operating another Smithfield's restaurant in Leland. As with Flamingo Properties, each of the parties owned a 50% interest in Flamingo South. Flamingo South purchased the Leland property, and the parties began operating a Smithfield's franchise thereupon in 2008 through a separate operating entity they created and pursuant to a franchise agreement with Smithfield's. Flamingo South purchased another property in Shallotte in 2013, and the parties began operating another Smithfield's franchise thereupon in 2014 through another operating entity they created and pursuant to a franchise agreement with Smithfield's.

         In 2010, Smithfield's sent a notice to the parties that their franchises were not being operated in compliance with the applicable franchise agreements as required. Plaintiff responded to Smithfield's that he would address the deficiencies.

         In early February 2015, the parties met with David Harris, a Cary Keisler executive, who told them that their franchises were not being operated in compliance with the applicable franchise agreements. Rather than invoke Smithfield's rights to terminate the franchises, Harris proposed (1) purchasing the Leland and Shallotte franchises from the operating entities, and renting those properties from the LLCs, and (2) allowing the parties (through the relevant operating entities) to continue to operate the Ogden and Wilmington franchises, contingent upon Plaintiff's increased attention to the operational deficiencies in those locations. The parties agreed to Harris' proposed deal.

         In late May 2015, Harris visited the Ogden and Wilmington franchises, and found them in unacceptably-poor condition. On 23 May 2015, Harris met with Plaintiff at the Ogden franchise, and physically barred Plaintiff from the premises, telling Plaintiff that (1) the Ogden franchise was terminated effective immediately, (2)Plaintiff was to have no further contact with Smithfield's or its employees, and further communication with Smithfield's would have to be through Defendant, and (3)Plaintiff would get no "golden parachute" from the company. Plaintiff contacted Defendant the same day and told him about the incident. On 26 May 2015, Smithfield's formally notified the parties by letter that the parties' remaining franchises were being terminated.

         Defendant decided to end his business relationship with Plaintiff. Defendant consulted Jeffrey Keeter, the attorney to the parties' joint ventures, and Keeter advised Defendant to try to buy Plaintiff out of his interests in the LLCs. Defendant and Plaintiff met multiple times and negotiated the terms of Plaintiff's buyout, by which Plaintiff agreed to assign his interests in the LLCs back to the LLCs in exchange for a promissory note signed by the LLCs entitling Plaintiff to (1) $375, 000 paid in monthly payments over five years, (2) car and car insurance payments for two years, (3) health insurance payments for two years, and (4) cellular telephone payments for two years. Defendant had Keeter draft a Membership Redemption Agreement providing for the assignment of the LLC interests in exchange for the consideration described above, including a promissory note entitling Plaintiff to $375, 000 in payments from the LLCs over a period of 60 months (collectively, the "Redemption Agreement"). Keeter reviewed the Redemption Agreement with

         Plaintiff, explained the legal effect of the Redemption Agreement to Plaintiff, and asked Plaintiff whether he had any questions about the Redemption Agreement; Plaintiff told Keeter that he had none. The parties executed the Redemption Agreement on 29 May 2015, which contained a merger clause stating that it comprised the entire agreement between the parties.

         At no time prior to executing the Redemption Agreement did Plaintiff contact Harris or anyone else at Smithfield's to inquire as to what Smithfield's might do if Plaintiff retained an interest in the LLCs. Plaintiff has received all benefits contemplated by the Redemption Agreement.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant and the LLCs on 26 January 2016 bringing causes of action for breach of contract, fraud and misrepresentation, constructive fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, unfair and deceptive trade acts, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in connection with the Redemption Agreement transaction. Plaintiff also purported to bring causes of action for specific performance and constructive trust, and filed a notice of lis pendens against the land held by the LLCs. Distilled to its essence, the complaint alleged that Plaintiff was tricked by Defendant into believing that Smithfield's had told Defendant that Plaintiff was required to divest himself of his interests in the LLCs, and that in inducing Plaintiff to execute the Redemption Agreement, Defendant had represented to him that the Redemption Agreement was a meaningless transaction necessary to appease Smithfield's that Plaintiff was no longer involved with what had been the parties' joint venture.

         On 2 May 2016, Defendant and the LLCs moved to dismiss under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 12(b)(6) (2016). On 6 July 2016, Defendant withdrew the Rule 12 motion in his individual capacity, and on 12 July 2016 the trial court granted the LLCs' Rule 12 motion, leaving only Plaintiff's causes of action as alleged against Defendant personally. The 12 July 2016 order also struck the notices of lis pendens filed by Plaintiff.

         On 29 July 2016, Defendant answered, asserted a number of affirmative defenses, and filed counterclaims against Plaintiff for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Plaintiff replied to Defendant's counterclaims on 2 and 9 September 2016.

         On 27 February 2017, following discovery, Defendant moved the trial court under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 56 (2017), for summary judgment. Plaintiff then moved the trial court pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 15 (2017), for leave to amend his complaint and reply to Defendant's counterclaims on 22 May 2017.

         On 15 August 2017, the trial court ruled on Defendant's Rule 56 motion, granting Defendant summary judgment as to Plaintiff's cause of action for unfair and deceptive trade acts, but denying Defendant's motion as to Plaintiff's other causes of action. On 18 December 2017, based on agreement of the parties, the trial court granted Plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint, and set the matter for bench trial. Plaintiff's amended complaint added causes of action for fraud in the inducement, mutual mistake, unilateral mistake, and unconscionability.

         On 22 December 2017, Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rules 9(b) and 12(b)(6) (2017), and again moved the trial court for summary judgment under Rule 56. The trial court denied Defendant's motions on 7 February 2018.

         A trial on the issues was held on 12 February 2018, and on 14 February 2018 the trial court entered an order dismissing all of Plaintiff's causes of action with prejudice pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 41(b) (2018). The trial court concluded that Plaintiff had not shown a right to relief under any of his causes of action, and that Plaintiff had ratified the Redemption Agreement by accepting the benefits thereof after learning that Smithfield's had not required Plaintiff to divest himself of his interests in the LLCs. Defendant voluntarily dismissed his counterclaims pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 41(a) and (c) (2018), the following day. Plaintiff timely appealed.

         II. Discussion

         On appeal, Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred by (1) making findings of fact unsupported by competent evidence in the record and (2) making erroneous conclusions of law in dismissing Plaintiff's causes of action sounding in fraud, mistake, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, constructive ...


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.