J. Nicholas Ellis 
Partner
Education

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, President-Elect 2016, Secretary & Treasurer, 2015

Wilson Family YMCA Board of Directors, President, 2015

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: 919.783.1075 |
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. 

Representative Experience

Arnesen, et. al. vs. Rivers Edge Country Club, Inc., BB&T, et al. (No. 375A-14, North Carolina Supreme Court, December 18, 2015) - The N.C. Supreme Court issued opinion in which it dismissed claims filed by property owners against a developer and BB&T, who were seeking damages in excess of $90,000,000, which was represented by Poyner Spruill. The majority opinion was written by Justice Paul Newby. The Supreme Court summarizing Plaintiffs’ claim, which was essentially that they would not have purchased certain real property but for faulty appraisal information, which BB&T should have discovered and disclosed to them. The complaint revealed plaintiffs did not view, receive, order or inquire in any way about the appraisals before purchasing the property nor were the contracts they signed to buy the property contingent upon any appraisal. The court found no legal duty exists at law between a debtor and creditor or between a bank’s appraiser and a purchaser; and as such, the Plaintiffs’ claims failed. Plaintiffs further failed to sufficiently allege justifiable reliance upon the alleged faulty appraisal information, or lack thereof, or that their injuries were proximately caused by either BB&T or the appraisers and therefore the NC Business Court’s dismissal of this case was affirmed. Importantly, the majority held the plaintiffs were “investors” and so the Mortgage Lending Act (MLA) did not apply to these transactions. The case is very helpful for financial institutions because it confirms the extremely high pleading threshold Plaintiffs face in order to survive a Motion to Dismiss on such claims. More importantly, it recognized the true nature of Plaintiffs as “investors” and as such, the provisions of the MLA are not applicable in such transactions. Finally, it establishes the need for Plaintiffs to rely on the information in order to establish proximate cause.

Caleb Wardrett v. City of Rocky Mount Police Department, Det. Clifton and Det. Denotter ( United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, 2016) - The federal court granted summary judgment for the City of Rocky Mount, its Police Department and detectives in a case brought against them under 42 USC §1983 where claims were asserted for malicious prosecution and false arrest. The police detectives conducted interviews of witnesses who had information concerning an attempted homicide that took place in Rocky Mount. As a result of that investigation, the plaintiff was charged with attempted murder. The detectives believed they had probable cause to have an arrest warrant issued.  This belief was supported by the fact that the local magistrate found probable cause existed and issued the warrant. However, at a subsequent state court probable cause hearing, several witnesses failed to appear or changed their accounts of what happened, which led to the charges being dismissed.

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.”


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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