Imagine this scenario: Judge A had a busy civil calendar before leaving for vacation. Although all the hearings are complete, the judge did not make rulings on some issues. As to a couple of other matters, the judge announced her intended rulings in court but did not enter orders, some of which will require written findings of fact. Sadly the Judge fell very ill during vacation, will not be able to resume her duties on the bench, and will soon retire due to disability. Will another judge be able to complete the work Judge A started?Continue Reading
In a prior post, I discussed whether North Carolina’s Rule of Civil Procedure 59—the “new trial” rule—could be used to seek relief from final judgments not resulting from a jury or non-jury trial. That post focused on other types of final, appealable judgments, such as summary judgment orders and default judgments. I concluded that North Carolina case law is not crystal clear on the question, but that the recent case of Bodie Island Beach Club Ass’n, Inc. v. Wray, 215 N.C. App. 283 (2011), indicates that filing Rule 59 motions for relief from these types of judgments could imperil an appeal. Proper Rule 59 motions toll the appeal period for the underlying judgment pending disposition of the motion. See N.C. R. App. P. 3(c)(3). If the basis for the Rule 59 motion is not proper, the appeal period will not have been tolled.
Yesterday the Court of Appeals again addressed Rule 59’s applicability to orders other than trial judgments, but this time analyzed a pretrial, interlocutory order. In Tetra Tech Tesoro, Inc. v. JAAAT Tech. Services, LLC, a construction dispute, a subcontractor sued a contractor for unpaid work. The trial judge granted the subcontractor a preliminary injunction requiring the contractor Continue Reading
North Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 59 permits a trial judge to order a “new trial” for a number of reasons, including prejudicial irregularity, jury misconduct, newly-discovered evidence, insufficient evidence to justify the verdict, prejudicial error of law, and several other bases. Rule 59 relief is designed to follow fast on the heels of a trial judgment: a new trial motion must be served within 10 days of entry of judgment, and the court cannot extend this deadline. By its plain language, Rule 59 clearly is intended to provide relief after a “trial.” Several of the listed grounds indeed explicitly relate to juries and verdicts or are otherwise relevant only in a post-trial context. And, of course, the stated remedy is itself a new “trial.” To what extent are parties nevertheless allowed to use Rule 59 to seek relief from judgments not resulting from a jury or non-jury trial? And why might it matter? As discussed below, it appears that invoking Rule 59 for appealable orders other than trial judgments could put the movant’s appeal rights at risk.Continue Reading
In Lacey v. Kirk, (COA14-688; Dec. 31, 2014), the Court of Appeals considered whether a judge’s statements in the jury’s presence entitled defendant to a new trial. Defendant took issue with several things the judge said while defendant testified, including instructing her to “tell the truth” when she was evasive; that she had “a problem” if she couldn’t prove a point without hearsay; and to “answer the question first” before explaining. The court held that—considered cumulatively and in context—these comments were an attempt to aid the flow of evidence and were not prejudicial. Also, the judge’s instructions to counsel to move faster and avoid repetition “exhibited a certain degree of impatience” but were “meted out” to both sides and were appropriate to preserve court time. Lacey is a fresh example our courts’ basic analysis of judge statements in front of a jury: Neutrality is paramount, but context and cumulative impact determine whether questionable remarks taint a party’s case.