JURY AWARDS $300,000 IN PUNITIVE DAMAGES TO NEIGHBOR FOR BLOCKED EASEMENT
September 12, 2023—A jury on Tuesday hit a Wilmington property owner with $300,000 in punitive damages for blocking his neighbor’s access easement and demanding property rights in exchange for opening his gate.
The complaint filed in New Hanover County Superior Court alleged that Karl W. Miller refused to give Jacqueline Amato the code to a gate he had placed across a driveway that had been dedicated as an easement years ago. Miller owned three adjacent lots, two of them waterfront, but lost one in foreclosure in 2021. Amato bought that lot on Beech Street near Landfall out of foreclosure.
Miller demanded that Amato deed him part of her property, grant him easement rights, and make other concessions before he would give her access through the easement that served Amato’s property.
Represented by the Wilmington firm Reiss & Nutt, PLLC, Amato sued and obtained an injunction requiring Miller to open the gate, but Miller continued to oppose her claims and her right to use the easement for access.
In June 2023, a Superior Court judge ruled that Miller had created a private nuisance by interfering with Amato’s property rights, leaving the issue of damages for a jury.
The jury awarded Amato $8,940 in damages for one month’s loss of use, which was the period she could not access the property until a judge ordered the gate be opened. The jury also awarded $300,000 in damages as punishment for Miller’s conduct. Judge Stephen R. Futrell reduced the punitive damages to $250,000, which is the applicable cap under state law.
“This jury sent a message to anyone who thinks he can take advantage of his neighbors,” said W. Cory Reiss, the attorney for Amato and a partner at Reiss & Nutt. “Don’t. You will be held accountable.”
FINE JEWELRY AUCTIONEER HIT WITH TRIPLE DAMAGES TO N.C. MAN FOR FAKE WATCHES
June 26, 2023—The Superior Court in Cumberland County entered judgment against a Wyoming company Monday for defrauding a North Carolina watch collector in an online auction of four fake "Rolexes" and a "Cartier" bracelet .
The court tripled the damages to Reiss & Nutt’s client, Brantley Turner, awarding more than $221,000 under North Carolina’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Maison de Luxe, LLC represented itself as a reseller and appraiser of fine jewelry and watches in its online auctions. Turner, a long-time collector, knew as soon as he received the items that they were not legitimate and confirmed that conclusion with a respected appraiser.
Maison de Luxe refunded some of the money Turner had paid but ultimately stopped cooperating. Reiss & Nutt filed the action in 2022, which Maison de Luxe tried to move to federal court. Reiss & Nutt successfully argued the case should be remanded to state court.
A Superior Court judge sitting in Fayetteville found there were no questions of fact to be decided at trial and entered judgment for Turner.
“Maison de Luxe should have just refunded the money,” said W. Cory Reiss, who represented Turner. “Now we’ve got a much larger judgment to hit them with in the courts of Wyoming.”
NORTH CAROLINA PLAINTIFFS WIN $30 MILLION AGAINST TEXAS STORM CHASER
February 24, 2023—A Texas storm chasing contractor has been ordered to pay $30 million to North Carolina property owners and a general contractor for obtaining fraudulent reconstruction contracts in the wake of Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Disaster America USA, LLC, its subsidiary Disaster America of North Carolina, LLC, and the estate of their owner, Donald Husk, who died in 2021, racked up a series of judgments in lawsuits brought by the Wilmington firm Reiss & Nutt, PLLC.
The Houston-based companies used the license of a Greensboro general contractor, JCG & Associates, Inc., without its knowledge to acquire dozens of contracts primarily on the exclusive resort of Bald Head Island.
In the lawsuits, 13 property owners complained Disaster America did not do the work it promised, and some said the company caused additional damage to their properties.
The judgments include violations of the state’s racketeering statutes related to claims of insurance fraud and unfair trade practices.
Property owners hired Disaster America because it had identified JCG & Associates, Inc., which held a valid North Carolina general contractor’s license, as a partner on the projects. JCG, however, had never heard of Disaster America.
Evidence showed that by 2018, Disaster America of North Carolina had let its contractor’s license in this state lapse. As Florence approached the coast, company officers obtained a copy of JCG’s license from a middleman in New Orleans and used the name and license number on contracts they printed and carried to North Carolina. Disaster America targeted Bald Head Island, which had suffered major damage and includes some of the most expensive homes in the state.
In January, a North Carolina Business Court judge sanctioned the defendants for refusing to participate in pre-trial proceedings and entered judgment in favor of three homeowners and JCG totaling more than $17.2 million, including $5.3 million in profits awarded to JCG for service mark infringement. Superior Court judges in New Hanover and Brunswick counties had previously entered five judgments totaling approximately $12.8 million in favor of another 10 property owners.
“Disaster-stricken homeowners can become targets for unscrupulous contractors when they’re most vulnerable,” said W. Cory Reiss, attorney for the plaintiffs. “This was an especially brazen scheme by out-of-state players. But every day, North Carolina owners are being plagued by home-grown unlicensed, under-licensed, unqualified, and under-capitalized contractors. The state needs to clamp down hard.”
Impersonating a licensed contractor is a criminal offence, but neither the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office nor the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors enforced existing laws against Disaster America after complaints from JCG.
Reiss said his firm continues to pursue Disaster America in its home state of Texas in association with Scott H. Palmer, P.C., a firm near Dallas.
FEDERAL COURT NIXES DO-OVER SUIT
February 3, 2023—A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former restaurant employee today because he should have pursued his claims during prior litigation tried to a jury verdict in 2022.
Edgar Santos Cardenas was one of three former employees of Eternal Sunshine Café in Wilmington whom the restaurant had sued in state court for stealing its recipes. A jury held the trio liable in October 2022 for computer trespass, misappropriation of trade secrets, and other claims, hitting them with compensatory and punitive damages.
Reiss & Nutt represented the restaurant at trial, but then Cardenas filed a separate action in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina alleging he wasn't paid for all his time in violation of federal and state labor laws. Cardenas had denied at the previous trial spending any time inventing recipes for Eternal Sunshine, but the jury disagreed. In the new lawsuit, Cardenas claimed he should have been paid overtime for work he previously denied performing.
The federal court decided the new claims were so related to the previous case that the jury's judgment was final as to all of them and dismissed the suit.
"Our courts don't like it when parties to litigation file lawsuits that contradict a verdict already rendered," said W. Cory Reiss, counsel for Eternal Sunshine. "It's a waste of everyone's time and resources."