North Carolina is one of a handful of states with a dedicated Business Court, where businesses, both small and large, can resolve their disputes before one of five specialized judges with extensive experience and backgrounds in handling business-related cases.
The newest location for the North Carolina Business Court—the fourth Business Court in the state—is right here in Winston-Salem. In January of 2017, with the combined and significant support of the North Carolina legislature and Wake Forest University, a fourth Business Court was opened at the School of Law at Wake Forest University and is presided over by the Honorable Michael L. Robinson, of Forsyth County.
Locating the Business Court at the law school provides Wake Forest law students with a unique and invaluable opportunity to observe a working court in action because a majority of the hearings are open to the public.
Businesses in Winston-Salem and the Triad should be aware of the Business Court’s accessibility to provide swift and consistent answers to complex business issues.
What Types of Cases Can Be Designated to the Business Court?
Cases that involve a material issue in at least one of the following categories may be designated to the Business Court, according to the Business Court Modernization Act enacted in 2014:
* Governance and other matters of corporate, partnership, or limited liability company law;
* Disputes involving the ownership, use, licensing, lease, installation, or performance of intellectual property, including computer software, software applications, information technology and systems, data and data security, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology products, and bioscience technologies;
* Trademark law;
* Trade secrets;
* Securities law;
* Antitrust law; or
* Contract disputes where at least one party on each side is a business, the amount in dispute is a minimum of $1 million, and all parties consent to the Business Court.
Additionally, if a case involves any of the following issues, it is required to be heard before the Business Court:
* Constitutional challenges to a tax statute or contested tax lawsuits; and
* Lawsuits in one of the permissive categories described above (except the $1 million contract dispute category) in which the amount in dispute is a minimum of $5 million.
Advantages of the Business Court
The benefits of turning to the Business Court for business-related issues include:
One Dedicated and Knowledgeable Judge
North Carolina’s Constitution requires its superior court judges to rotate and hold court in different counties, which can result in the parties having to frequently reeducate a new judge at different stages of the litigation. However, once a case is designated to the Business Court, it is assigned to one, dedicated judge who handles all pre-trial motions and matters in the case through trial. Having a dedicated judge throughout the pendency of a case is designed to be more efficient and less costly for the litigants.
Even more importantly, because all Business Court judges have extensive backgrounds in business law and litigation, they are well suited to preside over matters involving complex business and commercial issues.
Speed and Efficiency
In many complex business cases, decisions need to be rendered quickly. Having a dedicated judge, who is assisted by one or more law clerks, available to decide urgent issues is a significant benefit to the parties.
Use of Technology
The legislature invested significant resources to ensure that the Wake Forest Business Court has the latest, cutting-edge technology, including flat screen monitors to display documents and state-of-the-art video conferencing, to improve the efficiency of the court.
Unlike other state court matters, parties can file documents in a Business Court case through an electronic filing system, which further improves the speed and efficiency of the case and also means that the filings for all Business Court cases are readily available to the public through the Business Court’s website.
Not only do the Business Court judges come to the bench with a wealth of knowledge in business law and business litigation, but they further develop expertise with the substantive law and the case management issues that arise in complex business cases because they are focused on and handle only those types of cases. This contributes to the efficiency and consistency of the Business Court.
Consistency and Predictability
Because of the types of cases that are required or permitted to be designated to the Business Court, and the specialization of the Business Court judges, the Business Court is often presented with matters that have not yet been addressed by any North Carolina court. Business Court judges are required by statute to explain their rulings on most of the important decisions in a case through a written opinion. Most of the Business Court opinions include a detailed and thorough examination of the facts and legal issues. Collectively, the Business Court’s written opinions form an instructive body of law on important complex business and commercial issues. Businesses can look to this publicly available body of law to inform and guide their decisions before a dispute arises and when they are considering litigation.
At some point, most businesses will be involved in a dispute. Knowing that the Business Court exists and how it operates should: (1) allow business owners and their counsel to better assess the risks associated with potential litigation and (2) provide some comfort that, if a lawsuit became necessary, it will be resolved in an efficient and consistent manner.
About the Authors:
Colleen Byers is a director and attorney at the Winston-Salem law firm of Bell, Davis & Pitt, P.A. She concentrates her practice in the areas of business litigation, professional malpractice defense, guardianship and employment law. Colleen regularly represents financial institutions, corporations, limited liability companies and individuals in contract, employment, corporate, shareholder, Uniform Commercial Code, and fiduciary disputes. Colleen recently served on the advisory board of the Chamber of Commerce’s Winston < 40 and is the Chair of the Young Lawyers Division of the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys. Colleen can be reached at [email protected].
Kevin Williams is the president and a practicing attorney at the Winston-Salem law firm of Bell, Davis & Pitt, P.A. Williams practices civil litigation, in which he represents corporate entities and individuals in a variety of disputes, including contract issues, business torts, shareholder and corporate governance, financial services, intellectual property, insurance, and professional negligence. Williams has practiced law at Bell, Davis & Pitt since 1998, having joined the firm after receiving his J.D. degree from the Wake Forest University School of Law. Williams serves as a State Bar Councilor to the North Carolina State Bar and is an active member of the legal profession and the community. Kevin can be contacted at [email protected].