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Author Archives: Paul Tharp

LegalZoom says Bar’s delays, not new law, is reason for lawsuit  (access required)

LegalZoom sued the N.C. State Bar one day before a new law went into effect that allows a new cause of action against unauthorized practitioners. But the company says that was coincidence – not the impetus for the suit. LegalZoom general counsel Chas Rampenthal (pictured) said the new cause of action doesn’t apply to LegalZoom because the company is not engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The company sued the Bar, he said, because the agency refused to withdraw a public cease-and-desist letter it sent LegalZoom three years ago and because it refuses to register the company’s prepaid legal service plans. In its suit, LegalZoom alleged that the impression that it engages in the unauthorized practice of law was fostered, at least in part, by the Bar’s May 5, 2008 cease-and-desist letter. That letter, LegalZoom alleged, has disparaged its name and caused it “incalculable” economic harm.

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Failure to provide title to plane leads to $8.7 million verdict  (access required)

A jury in Buncombe County, N.C. awarded Venezuelan native Wilson Aponte and his company $8.7 million after finding that Dove Air Inc. and its president breached a contract with Aponte for the purchase of a Cessna jet. The jury awarded Aponte $2,922,353. The damages were trebled because the jury found that Aponte was damaged by the fraud of Dove Air and Joseph W. Duncan, the company’s owner and president. The 2009 deal, negotiated by an intermediary, was for Aponte to pay Dove Air $2.2 million in exchange for a Cessna Citation III. Aponte paid in full, but Dove Air hedged on giving over the plane. When it finally did, the plane came with an unexpected hitch: a $2.3 million lien in favor of Cessna Finance Corporation. That wasn’t part of the deal. The contract provided that the plane would be transferred free of any liens or charges.

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Mother’s attempt at a deed do-over rejected by appeals court (access required)

A family battle over a Beaufort, N.C. “home place” (pictured) may have ground to a halt after the N.C. Court of Appeals found that a mother was not mistaken when she signed a deed granting her son an interest in her property. The mother, Janice Willis, sought to reform the deed when her son, Edward Willis, died and the interest in the property passed to his two children. Janice Willis argued unsuccessfully that she never intended that result.

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Simple lease dispute requires high court’s attention (access required)

A simple commercial lease involving a simple mistake led to a simple disagreement. That led all the way to the S.C. Supreme Court in Atlantic Coast Builders and Contractors v. Lewis, where the high court’s justices disagreed over simple appellate procedural rules that ended the case, for now. In a Sept. 26 opinion, the high court majority, applying the “two issue” and “law of the case” rules, upheld Beaufort County Circuit Court Judge Curtis L. Coltrane’s ruling in favor of Atlantic Coast Builders and Contractors in its dispute with landlord Laura Lewis. The issue in Atlantic came down to who – landlord or tenant – was responsible for checking applicable zoning regulations before entering into a lease agreement. Atlantic sued Lewis after a zoning officer told the company it needed zoning permits to use the property for a building and construction office. Columbia attorney Hemphill Pride II (pictured) represented Lewis.

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Columbia economist the go-to guy when money comes up at trial (access required)

If you’re a lawyer in South Carolina and you’ve had a case involving economic issues, chances are you’ve already made the acquaintance of Dr. Oliver Wood. It was a good day or bad day, depending on whether he was working with or against you. Wood, who taught banking and finance courses at the University of South Carolina for 29 years, is now the economist-in-residence at the Charleston School of Law. He has spent his entire professional life working in academia after earning a doctoral degree in economics from the University of Florida in 1965, with one exception: Since 1969, he’s been the go-to guy for economic testimony in legal cases. “He’s the authority on economic issues in cases,” Kingstree lawyer Billy Jenkinson said of Wood. “He’s unmatched in the depth and breadth of his knowledge, and he has the respect of the bench and the bar.”

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Developer’s counterclaim against SunTrust nets $2.1 million (access required)

A Winston-Salem, N.C. developer has been awarded $2.1 million by a Forsyth County jury after asserting counterclaims against SunTrust Bank in a lawsuit brought by the bank on a promissory note. Donald H. Sutphin wasn’t any stranger to the construction business and he wasn’t any stranger to SunTrust Bank. Sutphin had been involved in residential construction and development for 30 years and had a 15-year relationship with SunTrust. He was surprised, then, when he received a call in October 2009 from a SunTrust banker notifying him that a hold was being placed on $365,000 Sutphin had in deposit accounts at the bank. Sutphin had taken out numerous loans from SunTrust to finance development of properties in the Winston-Salem area. But SunTrust had decided to exit the residential construction loan business as problems in the real estate market multiplied, according to J. Scott Hale, who represented Sutphin.

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Spouses must separate before filing for support, high court holds (access required)

The S.C. Supreme Court has ruled that spouses must separate and live apart before one can bring a claim for “separate maintenance and support.” In a Sept. 19 opinion, the high court upheld Greenville County Family Court Judge Robert N. Jenkins’ order dismissing Eileen Theisen’s claim for support from Clifford Theisen. Eileen Theisen should have alleged that she was living separate and apart from her husband, the high court held. She didn’t, so the court upheld Judge Jenkins’ dismissal of her claim in Theisen v. Theisen. Greenville attorney Joe Ramseur (pictured), represented Clifford Theisen in the case.

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Alcohol monitoring devices poised to spread in wake of new law  (access required)

Bill Powers is a tech geek. That may set him apart from other lawyers, but he thinks his Bar comrades need more than a passing interest in the evolving technology of alcohol detection to adequately defend their clients in court. Not that continuous alcohol monitoring, or CAM, is anything new. It’s been used sporadically in North Carolina since 2005. What’s new is a recent legislative push that figures to expand use of the technology across the state. Investment banker Bruce Roberts of Brevard, N.C.-based Rehabilitation Support Services was a part of that legislative push. Rehabilitation Support Services’ authorized service partner is Alcohol Monitoring Systems, the maker of SCRAMx, an alcohol detection device (pictured).

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Attorney’s defamation victory against newspaper upheld  (access required)

The S.C. Court of Appeals has upheld a Richland County jury’s verdict against the Columbia City Paper and two of its reporters in a defamation case brought by an attorney who was called “two-bit” and “corruptible” in an article. The jury awarded Lexington attorney Rebecca West (pictured) $10,000 in actual damages and $30,000 in punitive damages in the case. The Court of Appeals in a Sept. 7 opinion reversed the punitive damages award, saying West had not proven by clear and convincing evidence that the paper and the reporters had acted with actual malice.

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Company fails in bid to have default judgment set aside (access required)

The S.C. Supreme Court has upheld the rejection of a company’s effort to set aside a judgment because the company failed to present what the court called “a meritorious defense” when it intervened in a case in 2005. The company, New Prime, Inc., intervened in a lawsuit brought by Ann and Steve McClurg against New Prime employee Harrell Wayne Deaton. Deaton was driving New Prime’s truck when he allegedly caused an accident in 2002 that injured Ann McClurg. Deaton never responded to the McClurgs’ lawsuit. Faced with possibly having to pay an $800,000 default judgment the McClurgs won in the suit, New Prime moved to set aside the judgment. The company argued that it was never informed of the lawsuit by the McClurgs’ lawyer, Don Moorhead (pictured) of Greenville, and didn’t find out about it until after the judgment had been entered against Deaton. Greenville County Circuit Court Judge Edward W. Miller allowed New Prime to intervene in the case, but he denied New Prime’s motion to set aside the default judgment because it failed to raise a meritorious defense.

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