J. Nicholas Ellis 

Wake Forest University, JD, 1986

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, BS, 1982

Professional and Community Activities

American Board of Trial Advocates, Eastern North Carolina Chapter, Member since 2008, Secretary & Treasurer, 2015

Wilson Family YMCA Board of Directors, President, 2015

Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America

Eastern North Carolina Inn Court, President, 2005 – 2006, Charter Member

North Carolina Association of Defense Attorneys, President, 2004, Executive Vice President, 2002, Board of Directors, 1998 – 2001

North Carolina Bar Association, Co-Chair, Tort Reform Task Force, 2005, Board of Governors, 2001 – 2004, Chair, Litigation Section, 1999 – 2000, Chairman, Public Information Committee, 1997 – 1998, Chairman, Local Bar Services Committee, 1994 – 1995

North Carolina General Assembly, Civil Litigation Study Commission, Co-Chair, 2000

Notable Accomplishments
Jurisdictions Licensed
3993 Sunset Avenue, Rocky Mount, NC 27804t: 252.972.7115||
PO Box 353, Rocky Mount, NC 27802-0353f: 252.972.7045|
301 Fayetteville Street, Suite 1900, Raleigh, NC 27601t: 919.783.2907||
P.O. Box 1801, Raleigh, NC 27602-1801f: 919.783.1075|

Nick has been trying cases in the state and federal courts of North Carolina since 1987. He has served as lead counsel in jury trials in federal court and in 13 different counties in eastern North Carolina. Nick has been before juries in cases involving negligence, federal migrant labor issues, contract disputes, wills/trusts and real estate. His clients are generally businesses and individuals being sued, but he also represents plaintiffs in negligence and commercial cases.

Best Lawyers Award Badge 

Representative Experience

Eugene Dunston v. Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, et al; (United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, 2015) - After an eight day jury trial a 12-member jury issued a complete defense verdict for the Sheriff of Wake County and three of his detention officers. Plaintiff, a detainee in the jail, claimed the officers used excessive force against him on three separate occasions and sued them for violating his Constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. He also made claims for battery, negligence, and made a claim against the Sheriff for negligent supervision. Video captured two of these incidents. The case was hotly contested as to all issues and included an intermediate appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit to address the defense of qualified immunity for the defendants. At trial, both parties presented evidence by fact and expert witness.  Video of the jail and the incidents was presented, which was closely analyzed by the jury. The plaintiff made a pre-trial settlement demand of $225,000, but claimed to have over $400,000 in attorney's fees, which can be awarded in 1983 cases. The trial court granted the officers a directed verdict as to the claims against them for negligence. And, after deliberating for five hours, the jury rendered a verdict absolving each defendant as to each of the remaining claims. The negligent supervision claim, which had been bifurcated, was dismissed by the trial judge. This was reportedly the first jury trial against Wake County or the Sheriff in over 20 years. Nick and Caroline Mackie were able to defend these law enforcement officers in a time where their actions are being closely scrutinized by the public and the media.

Gethers v. Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, et al; (United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, 2014) – Represented defendants in a claim by the estate of a detainee for wrongful death when he committed suicide in the Wake County  jail. Estate made claims under 42 USC §1983 and under state law. Detention officers had twice placed the detainee on suicide watch, but both times he was removed from suicide watch after  being independently evaluated by a psychiatrist. Summary judgment was granted in favor of the Sheriff’s Office as to all claims. The federal claims were for alleged deliberate indifference to the detainee’s condition and that there was inadequate training for the detention officers in treating suicidal detainees. The United States District Court Judge dismissed the deliberate indifference claim because there was no evidence the guards actually knew of a serious medical condition that they deliberately disregarded. Further, the training claim was dismissed because “The inadequacy of police training may serve as a basis for § 1983 liability only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact.”

Mancuso, et al. v. Burton Farm Development Company and Boddie-Noell Enterprises, Inc., (North Carolina Court of Appeals, 9/17/2013), - In a published opinion, the NC Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a summary judgment for the developer of a 900 acre real estate project on the coast of North Carolina, who was accused of breaching a contract, committing fraud and violating NC’s Unfair Trade Act because it did not build a proposed marina. The appellate court issued its ruling on September 17, 2013 affirming the trial court that found the defendants, Poyner Spruill’s clients, did not have an implied contractual duty to build a  400 slip marina at Burton Farm’s development, Arlington Place, located in Pamlico County. The plaintiffs bought five lots (total sales price near $460,000) in late 2006 for investment purposes. They claimed they bought the lots because the developer’s advertising material and its agents all represented to them that a deep-water, inland marina would be constructed. When it did not get built, the plaintiffs sued for breach of implied contract, fraud, Unfair Trade violations and asked the court to find the member of Burton Farm, an LLC, was the “alter ego” of the LLC and therefore, liable in its own name. The trial court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed this because the parol evidence rule and Statute of Frauds governed the sale of real estate and the sales contracts. Essentially, the terms of the written contract could not be contradicted by the plaintiffs’ allegations about things they may have been told or advertising they reviewed before they signed the purchase contracts. The developer had numerous disclaimers in its marketing material that the marina may not be built for a variety of factors, including CAMA permitting issues and market conditions. The court found these disclaimers complied with the requirements of the Interstate Land Sales Act, so there was no basis for a claim under this federal law, either. The application of this “Black Letter Law” turned out to be the foundation of the court’s ruling that resulted in the dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit. And, the appellate court applied this same ruling to uphold the dismissal of three companion cases that other plaintiffs had filed involving the sale of seven lots (total sales price over $1,000,000).

Jonathan White, et al. v. Burton Farm Development Company and Boddie-Noell Enterprises, Inc. (North Carolina Court of Appeals, 9/17/2013)

Waterway Drive POA v. Town of Cedar Point (Carteret County Superior Court, 2012) – Represented 20+ landowners and POA in dispute with municipality over whether a road depicted on a 1936 plat was public or private. The road fronted the Intercostal Waterway and so potential diminution of value to the clients’ property was substantial if the road was declared to be public. After extensive discovery of city officials and landowners, the trial court granted summary judgment to the POA and declared the road was private. North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed  summary judgment. 

James Garrett v. Randy Parton, et al (2009 - NC Business Court) - We represented country music entertainer Randy Parton in a taxpayer derivative action in which Plaintiff sought to recover more than $15 million for an alleged fraud and conspiracy surrounding the construction and operation of "The Randy Parton Theatre", a Branson, MO-style theater in Roanoke Rapids, NC. The case was filed by the NC Institute for Constitutional Law. We were able to get the case dismissed in its entirety by establishing the plaintiff did not have standing to bring these claims as an individual taxpayer or through a taxpayer derivative theory. 

read all representative experience

Prior Legal Experience

Prior to joining Poyner Spruill, Nick practiced with Ward and Smith in New Bern from 1987 to 1991.  Beforehand, he served as Law Clerk to the Honorable Thomas M. Moore, US Bankruptcy Court for Eastern District of NC from 1986 to 1987.  
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