June 3, 2014

Bill would send more cases to NC Business Court

A bill recently introduced in the NC legislature would expand the work of the court that handles complex business matters and expedite the time it takes a business case to navigate the legal system.

A bill recently introduced in the state Senate would expand the work of the court that handles complex business matters and expedite the time it takes a business case to navigate the legal system.

The bill, SB 853, would funnel more cases to the N.C. Business Court. It also calls for appeals of Business Court decisions to go directly to the state Supreme Court. Currently, appeals must be heard by the N.C. Court of Appeals before they are eligible to go to the state’s highest court.

“We have a very, very good business court now,” said Sen. Tamara Barringer, R-Wake. “We just want to enhance it and make it better.” Barringer and Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, are the bill’s co-sponsors.

Rucho said the legislation is part of the Republican-led legislature’s “master plan” to make the state more attractive to businesses, including out-of-state companies looking to relocate.

The thinking is that by directing more cases to a court that specializes in complex litigation, over time the court will develop a body of case law that will provide greater certainty to businesses about what is required of them under state law.

“Businesses absolutely stay away from uncertainty,” Rucho said.

The state’s largest business organization, the N.C. Chamber, supports the bill.

“In North Carolina, the business courts are a distinct positive for our business climate here,” said Gary Salamido, a lobbyist for the Chamber.

The N.C. Bar Association hasn’t taken a position on the legislation, spokesman Russell Rawlings said in an e-mail.

The N.C. Advocates for Justice, a trial lawyers’ group whose members represent individuals who sue businesses, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Business Court was created in 1996 to hear complex business cases from across the state. It originally had a single judge based in Greensboro but in 2005 it was expanded to include judges in Raleigh and Charlotte. The bill does not call for any additional judges.

The Business Court closed 147 cases in 2013 and had an additional 233 cases pending at the end of the year, according to the court’s annual report.

Attorney Larry Robbins of Raleigh’s Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton said having appeals of Business Court cases go directly to the Supreme Court would be a sound move.

“One of the biggest complaints you will hear from businesses is the amount of time it takes a controversy to go through the court system,” he said.

Given the knowledge and sophistication of the Business Court judges, Robbins said, it’s “duplicative” to send appeals to the Court of Appeals.

The bill also would make it mandatory for the Business Court to handle many business tax law cases and many business disputes, such as those involving corporate law and partnership law, where more than $5 million is at stake.

Currently, such cases may be designated Business Court cases if one of the parties requests it. That process can take 30 to 90 days, Robbins said.

Barringer, who also is a law professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s business school, said she is open to suggestions for improving the bill from the business community and defense and plaintiff’s lawyers.

“I want this bill well-vetted,” she said.

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