The Trouble with Trebles: What Violates G.S. 75-1.1?

Abstract

At first glance the North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act appears to be a broad, almost unconstitutionally vague statute. Its federal counterpart, the Federal Trade Commission Act, evoked similar responses when it was first enforced. Like the FTC Act, North Carolina General Statute § 75-1.1 has taken shape through judicial interpretation and legislative modification. (North Carolina General Statutes hereinafter referred to as G.S.). As this process has proceeded over the last decade or so, many aspects of the scope and application of the statute have been determined. No general answer, however, has been given to the question of just what does violate the statute. The boundary between a simple breach of contract, rendering one liable for at most simple damages, and an unfair trade practice, rendering one liable for treble damages and attorney\u27s fees, remains ill-defined. The significance of the question is clear, both to the used car dealer and his customer arguing over an 800automobile,andtothebusinessmanwhose800 automobile, and to the businessman whose 8,000,000 deal falls through. This problem is highlighted, but not illuminated, by the conflict of analytical processes between the Supreme Court of North Carolina and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. This conflict is evidence of uncertainty in the objectives of the statute and uncertainty among the judiciary as to the basic desirability of the statutory remedy

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