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.

Sterling Title Co. v. Martin

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

August 6, 2019

STERLING TITLE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
LAURA LOUISE MARTIN and MAGNOLIA TITLE COMPANY, LLC, Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 11 April 2019.

          Appeal by plaintiff from order entered 3 July 2018 by Judge Vince Rozier, Jr. in Wake County Superior Court No. 17 CVS 13631.

          Vann Attorneys, PLLC, by Joseph A. Davies, James R. Vann, and J.D. Hensarling, for plaintiff-appellant.

          Forrest Firm, P.C., by John D. Burns, for defendants-appellees.

          ZACHARY, JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Sterling Title Company appeals from the trial court's order granting Defendants Laura Louise Martin and Magnolia Title Company, LLC's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for breach of the parties' non-compete agreement, breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, violation of the North Carolina Trade Secrets Protection Act, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and conversion. We affirm.

         Background

         Plaintiff is a title insurance company located in Raleigh, North Carolina. Defendant Martin began working for Plaintiff as an underwriter in October 2007. Defendant Martin's duties in that role included "underwriting title, developing and maintaining business relationships with [Plaintiff's] clients, serving in a management role, and developing and selling business and maintaining accounts for [Plaintiff's] clients throughout the State of North Carolina." In 2008, Defendant Martin was licensed to practice law in North Carolina.

         As part of her employment contract, Defendant Martin signed a Proprietary Information, Inventions, Non-Competition and Non-Solicitation Agreement ("Non- Compete Agreement" or "Agreement"). The Agreement included the following relevant provisions at issue on appeal:

3. No Conflicts or Solicitation.
. . . . I also agree that for the period of my employment by the Company and for one (1) year after the date of termination of my employment with the Company I will not, either directly or through others: . . . . (c) solicit or attempt to solicit any customer or partner of the Company with whom I had contact during my employment with the Company to purchase a product or service competitive with a product or service of the Company; . . . or (d) provide products or services competitive with a product or service of the Company to any customer or partner of the Company with whom I had contact during my employment with the Company.

         On 10 May 2017, while still employed by Plaintiff, Defendant Martin formed Magnolia Title Company, LLC, which, according to its website, "is an attorney-owned independent title agency providing real estate practitioners with extensive knowledge and exceptional service for 4 national title underwriters." Defendant Martin resigned from her employment with Plaintiff on 31 May 2017.

         According to Plaintiff, within one year of resigning from her employment, Defendant Martin, through Defendant Magnolia Title Company,

35.. . . is and/or has solicited received, and/or has written business for at least one Sterling Title client in New Hanover County, North Carolina. As part of her job duties, Defendant Martin would travel to New Hanover County purportedly to meet with clients, to maintain accounts, and to develop and further business for Sterling Title. . . .
36.Plaintiff has learned, upon information and belief, that Defendants Martin and/or Magnolia Title have contacted, marketed to, and/or solicited business from Sterling Title clients in furtherance of their business development and scheme. Upon information and belief, Defendants Martin and Magnolia Title did so in direct violation of the Non-Compete Agreement and in an effort to compete directly with Sterling Title and/or to take clients from Sterling Title.
37. Upon information and belief, Defendants have contacted and/or visited with several of Sterling Title customers with whom Defendant Martin worked while employed by Sterling Title in an effort to obtain additional accounts and business on behalf of Defendant Magnolia Title.

         After Defendant Martin's resignation, Plaintiff hired digital forensics examiner Derek Ellington to examine the company computer that Defendant Martin used while working for Plaintiff. Ellington's affidavit was filed contemporaneously with Plaintiff's complaint ("Ellington Affidavit"). According to the Ellington Affidavit, on 28 April 2017, "a folder called Magnolia was created within the Personal folder of the main Dropbox folder [that Defendant Martin had installed] on the Sterling Title Company Dell computer." The folder was found to contain "a list of 51 names and email addresses" in a spreadsheet entitled "Happy_Hour_with_Carolina_Bank_Sterling_-guest_list-03-22-13(1).xlsx," which, according to the Ellington Affidavit, "is consistent with being a contact list for Sterling Title Company."

         On 7 November 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant Martin asserting claims for breach of the Non-Compete Agreement and breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing. Plaintiff also asserted claims against both Defendants for violation of the North Carolina Trade Secrets Protection Act, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and conversion. On 10 January 2018, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure on the grounds that "the Restrictive Covenants at issue are unenforceable as a matter of law," and that the allegations in the complaint otherwise failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. By order entered 3 July 2018, the trial court dismissed Plaintiff's complaint with prejudice, concluding that the Non-Compete Agreement was "unenforceable against the Defendants under North Carolina law," and that the complaint otherwise failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. Plaintiff timely appealed.

         On appeal, Plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in granting Defendants' motion to dismiss because (1) the Non-Compete Agreement is a valid and enforceable contract, and (2) the complaint otherwise states cognizable claims for ...


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.