Robertson v. Steris Corp. (Lawyers Weekly No. 14-07-1070, 19 pp.) (Linda McGee, Ch. J.) Appealed from Brunswick County Superior Court (D. Jack Hooks Jr., J.) N.C. App.
Holding: Although a panel of this court has said “that equitable remedies which require the payment of money do not constitute compensatory damages as set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 24-5(b),” Medical Mutual Insurance Co. of North Carolina v. Mauldin, 157 N.C. App. 136, 577 S.E.2d 680 (2003), we are bound by Farmah v. Farmah, 348 N.C. 586, 500 S.E.2d 662 (1998), to hold that § 24-5(b) does control the award of interest in quasi-contract actions like one at issue.
We affirm the trial court’s award of interest on its award of attorney’s fees in quantum meruit.
Plaintiffs were injured in a work-related accident. Without a written fee agreement, attorney Henry Temple represented plaintiffs for four and a half years. After a settlement had been negotiated, plaintiffs fired Temple and hired new counsel.
Temple filed a motion in the cause, seeking attorney’s fees. The trial court awarded the fees in quantum meruit. Plaintiffs appealed, and this court affirmed.
In the interim, the trial court subsequently granted Temple’s “Motion to Correct Judgment” and granted Temple interest on the attorney’s fee award.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Judge Jack Hooks signed the order granting interest on April 19, 2013. Temple’s attorneys served plaintiffs with the signed order on April 26, 2013.
Judge Hooks resigned effective April 30, 2013. The clerk of court filed the signed order on May 3, 2013.
Though we find no authority directly on point, we hold that where, as here, a judge signs an otherwise valid written order prior to leaving office, the trial court, through the proper county clerk of court, retains jurisdiction to file that judgment, even after the trial judge retires, and thereby completes the steps required for entry. Our holding is not in conflict with the purpose of N.C. R. Civ. P. 58, and we can conceive of no public policy interests counseling a different outcome.
Where Temple’s N.C. R. Civ. P. 60(a) motion and the resolution of that motion occurred before plaintiffs’ appeal was docketed, the trial court had jurisdiction to correct any clerical errors in the order plaintiffs were appealing.
Plaintiffs argue that the May 3, 2013 order made a substantive, rather than clerical, change because it increased their obligation by nearly $50,000. However, a change is only substantive if it changes the underlying order in a substantive way. The amount of money involved is not what creates a substantive right.
Pursuant to G.S. § 24-5(b), monetary awards other than costs bear interest as a matter of law. The failure to include interest mandated by § 24-5(b) was a clerical mistake for purposes of Rule 60(a).
Even though Temple mistakenly requested relief pursuant to G.S. § 24-5(a) – which relates to actions in contract – the trial court correctly looked to § 24-5(b) to grant interest on its quantum meruit award.
Plaintiffs argue that § 24-5(b) does not allow for interest on equitable remedies, such as quasi-contract, that involve monetary awards. Despite the quote from Mauldin set out above, the court notes that the cases cited in Mauldin involved a workers’ compensation lien and an equitable distribution award. Moreover, we are bound by Farmah to hold that § 24-5(b) controls the award of interest in quasi-contract actions.
Though the trial court did not expressly designate the award in quantum meruit as “compensatory damages,” that designation is clearly implied in the May 3, 2013 order.