Miles v. Martin, COA00-1332.

CourtCourt of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
Citation147 NC App. 255,555 S.E.2d 361
Docket NumberNo. COA00-1332.,COA00-1332.
PartiesMildred MILES and Betty Whitman v. Bobby Gray MARTIN, Charlene B. Martin and Salem Retirement Services, LLC.
Decision Date20 November 2001

Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, by Philip J. Mohr, Winston-Salem, for plaintiffs-appellees.

Randolph M. James, P.C., by Randolph M. James and David E. Shives, Winston-Salem, for defendant-appellant.

THOMAS, Judge.

Defendant Bobby Gray Martin appeals from an order granting plaintiffs' motion to compel production of client/investor documents as part of discovery. All four of his assignments of error have as a basis the claim of attorney-client privilege.

Plaintiffs' allegations are as follows: Mildred Miles and Betty Whitman, plaintiffs, are elderly sisters who are both widows. On 8 March 1995, they responded to an advertisement by defendant Salem Retirement Services, L.L.C. (Salem) for safe, secure investments designed especially for elderly individuals. Defendants Bobby Gray Martin (B.G.Martin) and Charlene Martin, husband and wife, had established Salem in 1994. B.G. Martin is also an attorney and licensed to practice law in North Carolina.

Plaintiffs met with B.G. Martin and explained that they were interested in investing their life savings. B.G. Martin advocated a particular investment which plaintiffs allege he described as low-risk, sound, safe, conservative and guaranteed. He advised plaintiffs they would receive a 12-14% annual return on their investment and that they could get the money back at any time. Plaintiffs made further inquiry and B.G. Martin continued to assure them the investment was safe and secure, with virtually no risk.

Based on B.G. Martin's recommendations, each of the plaintiffs gave him $35,000, which was then invested by Salem in high-risk mortgages on apartment buildings in New York City. For the next six to eight months, plaintiffs received monthly income payments matching the 12-14% return B.G. Martin had promised. Thereafter, however, the payments ceased.

Plaintiffs contacted B.G. Martin regarding the non-payment, but he assured them their money was coming soon. In May 1996, plaintiffs learned Martha Lawrence (Lawrence), the mortgagor, had defaulted on both mortgages and that she was offering them title to the property in lieu of a foreclosure sale. Plaintiffs asked B.G. Martin for advice. He advised them to decline Lawrence's offer.

In 1997, plaintiffs received notice that Lawrence had not paid the insurance on the property. Then, they learned they could be held responsible for maintenance, repairs, taxes and other expenses. B.G. Martin again reassured plaintiffs, however, and advised them not to pay any of the insurance, taxes or other expenses.

In 1998, plaintiffs were served with a summons and complaint for back taxes owed on the property. Again, B.G. Martin counseled plaintiffs not to respond to the complaint and that he had everything under control.

Plaintiffs never received any additional income or return of their initial investments and had to come out of retirement and begin new jobs. Miles, in fact, was forced to sell her home. Plaintiffs filed a complaint against defendants on 6 August 1999. They alleged: (1) fraud and/or negligent misrepresentation; (2) constructive fraud; (3) civil conspiracy; (4) breach of fiduciary duty; (5) unfair and deceptive trade practices; (6) breach of contract and aggravated breach of contract; and (7) negligence. They did not allege legal malpractice.

In defendants' answer, they moved for dismissal and alleged the following affirmative defenses: (a) contributory negligence; (b) motion for a more definite statement because the fraud claim was not pled with particularity; (c) intervening negligence; (d) assumption of risk; (e) violation of the statute of frauds; (f) absence of reliance; (g) integration clauses which bar plaintiffs' recovery; and (h) violation of the statute of limitations. They also denied any fault or wrongdoing.

During the discovery phase of the case, plaintiffs claimed that defendants refused to provide full and complete responses to their first set of interrogatories and first request for production of documents. The parties were eventually able to agree to a consent order which stated if defendants did not provide full and complete responses by 29 March 2000, defendants would be subject to Rule 37 sanctions. Defendants responded only in part and did not provide all of the requested documents by the deadline. Defendants failed to respond to a second set of interrogatories and production of documents. Plaintiffs then filed another motion to compel.

The trial court granted plaintiffs' motion to compel defendants' responses to plaintiffs' first and second set of interrogatories and first and second request for production of documents. Defendants' deadline was 5 June 2000 at 5 p.m. Plaintiffs' motion for sanctions was denied.

On 12 June 2000, plaintiffs filed new motions for sanctions and to compel defendants' responses to plaintiffs' second set of interrogatories and second request for documents. Defendants, in their response, stated they had submitted multiple volumes of documents by 23 June 2000. Defendants also motioned for a protective order prohibiting plaintiffs from violating Local Rule 4.8 by filing a motion to compel without prior consultation with opposing counsel.

Plaintiffs' motions came on for hearing on 24 July 2000. The parties stipulated that the only remaining unsettled issue was whether an attorney-client privilege attached to B.G. Martin's client/investor files pertaining to individuals other than plaintiffs. In an order filed 8 August 2000, the trial court allowed plaintiffs' motion to compel, finding that "no attorney-client relationship existed between B.G. Martin and his clients/investors; and therefore ... B.G. Martin [is ordered] to produce all of B.G. Martin's clients'/investors' files situated similarly to the plaintiffs[.]" The trial court further denied the request for sanctions and attorney fees due to the circumstances of the dispute, including B.G. Martin's concern for the privacy and rights of his other clients/investors. B.G. Martin appeals the order granting the motion to compel.

Before we consider B.G. Martin's arguments, we note the trial court's order would not normally be immediately appealable because it would be considered interlocutory. State ex rel. Employment Security Commission v. IATSE Local 574, 114 N.C.App. 662, 663, 442 S.E.2d 339, 340 (1994). A ruling is interlocutory if it does not determine the issues but directs some further proceeding preliminary to a final decree. Blackwelder v. Dept. of Human Resources, 60 N.C.App. 331, 299 S.E.2d 777 (1983). However, an interlocutory order may be heard in appellate courts if it affects a substantial right. See N.C. Gen.Stat. § 1-277(a) (1999).

In Lockwood v. McCaskill, 261 N.C. 754, 136 S.E.2d 67 (1964), our Supreme Court held that a discovery order affected a substantial right and was immediately appealable where the physician-patient privilege was asserted. In the case at bar, B.G. Martin asserts an attorney-client privilege. We find no distinction between the privileges as related to substantial rights and accordingly hold that this interlocutory order affects a substantial right and is appropriately before us.

For our purposes, we combine B.G. Martin's four assignments of error. He argues the trial court committed reversible error on the grounds that the order compels him to produce potentially attorney-client privileged documents: (1) without the opportunity for clients/investors to be heard, in violation of the federal and state constitutions; (2) without the opportunity for B.G. Martin to be heard, in violation of the federal and state constitutions; (3) in violation of the attorney-client privilege; and (4) without a record sufficient to determine whether the attorney-client privilege applied. As all of his arguments are based on the privilege, we first consider whether such a privilege existed.

The attorney-client privilege exists if:

(1) the relation of attorney and client existed at the time the communication was made, (2) the communication was made in confidence, (3) the communication relates to a matter about which the attorney was professionally consulted, (4) the communication was made in the course of giving or seeking legal advice for a proper purpose although litigation need not be contemplated, and (5) the client has not waived the privilege.

State v. Murvin, 304 N.C. 523, 531, 284 S.E.2d 289, 291 (1981). It is plaintiffs' contention that the attorney-client relationship never existed between B.G. Martin and his investors.

B.G. Martin has a license to practice law in the state of North Carolina and is a member of the North Carolina State Bar. However, simply having a license to practice law does not allow the attorney-client privilege to automatically attach. In Multimedia Publ'g. of North Carolina, Inc., v. Henderson County, 136 N.C.App. 567, 525...

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7 cases
  • In re Miller, 303PA02.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • 22 Agosto 2003
    ...("The burden is on the proponent of the attorney-client privilege to demonstrate its applicability."); Miles v. Martin, 147 N.C.App. 255, 259-60, 555 S.E.2d 361, 364 (2001); Multimedia Publ'g of N.C., Inc. v. Henderson Cty., 136 N.C.App. 567, 576, 525 S.E.2d 786, 792, disc. rev. denied, 351......
  • James v. Bledsoe, COA08-1386.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • 21 Julio 2009
    ...Services Automobile Ass'n, 142 N.C.App. 18, 541 S.E.2d 782, cert. denied, 353 N.C. 371, 547 S.E.2d 810 (2001); and Miles v. Martin, 147 N.C.App. 255, 555 S.E.2d 361 (2001) (citing Lockwood v. McCaskill, 261 N.C. 754, 136 S.E.2d 67 Plaintiffs first cite Sharpe's oft-repeated rule that, when ......
  • Blue Ridge Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, Inc. v. First Colony Healthcare, LLC
    • United States
    • Superior Courts of Law and Equity of North Carolina
    • 9 Agosto 2012
    ...providing some objective indicia that [the privilege] is applicable under the circumstances." Miles v. Martin, 147 N.C.App. 255, 259–60, 555 S.E.2d 361, 364 (2001) (internal quotations {46} When assessing whether a particular communication is protected by attorney-client privilege: [A] tria......
  • State v. Hearst, 684PA01.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • 16 Agosto 2002
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