Cases & Deals

Abbott obtains favorable North Carolina Supreme Court ruling involving revocation of opposing counsel's pro hac vice admission to practice in pending products liability case

Clients Abbott Laboratories

On June 17, 2010, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jones Day client Abbott Laboratories, holding that the trial court acted within its discretion when, in response to Abbott's motion to disqualify plaintiff's counsel, it revoked plaintiff's counsel's pro hac vice admission to practice before a North Carolina trial court. The Court's judgment reversed the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which had held that the trial court lacked discretion to revoke the attorneys' pro hac vice status unless their conduct violated the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct.

Jones Day represented Abbott Laboratories in a products liability case pending in Transylvania County, North Carolina. The plaintiff was represented by two Indiana attorneys who had been admitted to practice pro hac vice in North Carolina. During the course of the case, Abbott learned that the Indiana attorneys had engaged in ex parte contact with one of Abbott's retained expert witnesses. Abbott accordingly moved the trial court to revoke their pro hac vice admissions. Following extensive briefing and argument, the trial court granted Abbott's motion.

Plaintiff took an interlocutory appeal of that order. Although the North Carolina Court of Appeals did not question the trial court's findings that the Indiana attorneys' conduct was inappropriate and constituted an appearance of impropriety, it nevertheless ruled that the trial court abused its decision by revoking the Indiana attorneys' pro hac vice status. The appellate court reasoned that because the attorneys' ex parte contact with the Abbott expert did not technically violate the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, the trial court had exceeded the bounds of its discretion by revoking their pro hac vice status.

Jones Day successfully petitioned the North Carolina Supreme Court to review the appellate court's decision, and the Court reversed. The Court wrote that "in focusing on the Rules of Professional Conduct, the Court of Appeals did not consider the trial court's independent inherent authority to discipline attorneys." This inherent authority, the Court elaborated, is "not limited by the rules of the State Bar." Accordingly, the Court held that the trial court's decision to revoke the Indiana attorneys' pro hac vice status was entirely within its discretion and authority, and completely consistent with North Carolina law.

Sisk v. Transylvania Community Hosp., Inc., et al, Case No. 67PA09 (N.C. June 17, 2010)

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