The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently reaffirmed North Carolina law that the intent of a defendant is irrelevant in an unfair and deceptive trade practice case. The case of Media Network, Inc. d/b/a Gateway Media v. Long Haymes Carr, Inc. d/b/a Mullen/LHC & Carney Media, Inc., (No. COA 08-801, N.C. Ct. of Appeals, June 16, 2009) holds that a UDTP claimant does not need to prove that the defendant acted with bad faith, willfulness, or knowledge. Whether the defendant’s acts are unfair or deceptive is determined by the effect of those acts on the marketplace, not on the intent or motive of the defendant.
This case is a huge benefit to plaintiffs in UDTP cases because of its unambiguous statement of North Carolina law. The reported North Carolina appellate cases involving UDTP claims contain numerous and varied legal characterizations of the type of conduct which may support a UDTP claim. The sheer number of cases seems to have created some uncertainty among some trial judges as to the appropriate legal tent to apply to UDTP claims. This case helps remove that uncertainty by clearly stating that the defendant’s intent and motive is not relevant. The case also holds that the plaintiff’s intent is irrelevant, even where, as in this case, the plaintiff is alleged to have bribed the defendant’s agent.
The Media Network case will help consumers, as well as business persons, who have deceived or unfairly treated in a business transaction. The opinion has no dissent, therefore the decision will stand unless the Supreme Court grants discretionary review.