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The North Carolina Appeals Process

In North Carolina, parties who believe that a trial court’s judgment was based on a factual mistake or legal error could have standing to file an appeal, in which they can ask a higher court to reverse the lower court’s decision. Filing an appeal tends to be a complicated and time-consuming process, so if you believe that a court made an error when issuing a legal judgment in your case, it is important to contact an experienced New Bern, NC civil litigation lawyer who can advise you.

When Should I File an Appeal?

Just because a plaintiff or defendant is unhappy with a court’s ruling, does not mean that he or she is guaranteed the right to appeal. Instead, a higher court will only be willing to overturn a lower court’s ruling if there is evidence that the trial judge or jury made an error of law or a mistake in legal procedure. Essentially, the appeals court will need to determine whether the trial court correctly applied the law or if there was a prejudicial error made during the trial. For help determining whether you have legal grounds to file your own appeal, please contact our legal team today.

How to File an Appeal in North Carolina

To begin the process of appealing a legal judgment, a petitioner must file a notice of appeal with the lower court and serve a copy of that notice on the other party involved in the case. At this point, the case will be transferred to the Court of Appeals, which is the state’s intermediate appellate court. A panel of three judges will then be tasked with reviewing the testimony from the trial, all exhibits admitted into evidence, and both parties’ appellate briefs.

The appellate briefs submitted by both parties play a particularly important role in the judge’s decision making, as they usually contain a summary of the case’s facts, arguments about the errors made at the trial level, and references to any case law or statutes that support the parties’ claims. There are also strict rules in place when it comes to formatting and writing appellate briefs, making it especially important for petitioners to retain an attorney before moving forward with their appeal.

How Long do I Have to File an Appeal?

Generally, petitioners only have a certain amount of time to appeal a court’s decision, a deadline that is usually dictated by the laws of the state in question. In North Carolina, for example, parties only have 30 days from the date of a lower court’s final judgment to file an appeal. Missing this deadline can have significant repercussions for appellants, as courts will almost always refuse to hear an appeal that is filed after the statute of limitations has passed.

What Actions Can the Court of Appeals Take?

The Court of Appeals can take a couple of different actions upon completing the review of an appeal, including:

  • Ordering a new trial, which occurs when the court finds an error in a trial judge’s ruling; or
  • Reversing the decision of the lower court.

In the event that a case is sent back to a lower court, the appellant will need to begin preparing for a new trial. If, on the other hand, an appellant’s petition was successful and the appellate court did find that errors occurred during the trial, it could officially reverse or set aside the lower court’s decision entirely. Finally, if an appellant is unsuccessful, he or she has the option of filing an appeal with the state supreme court. In fact, an appellant also has this option if a Court of Appeals decision isn’t unanimous.

Contact Our New Bern, NC Civil Litigation Legal Team for Help

To speak with an experienced civil litigation lawyer about your case, please call Howard, Stallings, From, Atkins, Angell & Davis, P.A. at 919-821-7700 today.

Holding an Individual Liable for Corporate Debts Under the Instrumentality Rule

In North Carolina, like all other states, shareholders and business owners are not usually held personally liable for the debts of their businesses. Similarly, even if two businesses are associated entities, one cannot generally be held liable for the debt of the other. However, there are limits on extended liability for corporate debts, so it is possible to hold someone personally liable for a company’s debts in certain cases. For help ensuring that you and your own business are protected from liability, please contact an experienced Raleigh, NC business law and transactions attorney who can help protect your legal interests.

What is the Instrumentality Rule?

Generally, North Carolina courts are reluctant to find a person or entity liable for a related corporation’s debts, as doing so is considered to violate the principle that such entities are protected from liability by a corporate veil. In fact, one of the only ways to pierce this corporate veil and open a person or company up to liability is to apply the instrumentality rule.

The instrumentality rule states that a person can be held liable for a corporation’s debts if it is determined that the individual exercises control over the company to such a degree that the latter can actually be said to be operating as a mere instrumentality of the former. This is true even if the owner didn’t engage in any wrongdoing individually. However, this is only possible if a plaintiff can provide proof of specific elements.

Establishing a Prima Facie Case of Instrumentality

A court will only rule that a business owner’s protection from liability for company debts can be disregarded if a plaintiff can prove that:

  • The individual controlled the other company in the form of ownership stock or domination of finances, business practices, or policy, such that the company didn’t have a separate existence of its own;
  • The business owner used that control to commit fraud or other wrongful act, to violate a legal duty or law, or to commit an unjust or dishonest act; and
  • The fraud committed by the owner caused someone else to suffer an injury.

In determining whether these elements have been fulfilled, North Carolina courts look to a number of factors, including whether:

  • The company was properly capitalized;
  • The business failed to observe corporate formalities;
  • The business had an independent identity;
    The defendant’s business was actually a single enterprise that was fragmented into separate companies;
  • The company paid dividends;
  • The company was insolvent;
  • The defendant had siphoned funds from the company or otherwise commingled personal assets with company property;
  • The company was a sole shareholder corporation;
  • The defendant failed to issue stock; and
  • The company properly maintained ordinary and necessary company records.

If these factors, when applied to a person’s specific case, reveal that a company is just an altar ego of an individual and that that individual engaged in a wrongful act, he or she could be subjected to liability for company debts by the wronged party.

Speak with an Experienced Raleigh, NC Business Law Attorney

Limited liability is one of the most important advantages of choosing to incorporate a business, so preserving those protections is critical. If you have questions about a civil dispute with a corporation or are a business owner attempting to evaluate your own potential to be held liable for a company’s debts, please gives us a call at 919-821-7700 to schedule a consultation with one of the experienced business law and transactions attorneys at Howard, Stallings, From, Atkins, Angell & Davis, P.A. today. You can also reach a member of our legal team by completing one of our brief online contact forms.

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