An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

NO. COA02-1714


Filed: 19 August 2003

Executor of the Estate of

         v.                        Moore County
                                No. 01 CVS 0067
NEIL F. DOWD and wife, TARA

    Appeal by defendants from an order dated 14 October 2002 by Judge Peter M. McHugh in Superior Court, Moore County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 4 August 2003.

    Gill & Tobias, LLP., by Douglas R. Gill, for plaintiffs- appellees.

    Bruce T. Cunningham, Jr., for defendants-appellants.

    McGEE, Judge.

    Luther G. Williams (Williams) agreed to sell Neil F. Dowd and Tara D. Dowd (defendants) an eighty-acre tract of land in Moore County, North Carolina for $80,400 in October 1998. The property was conveyed by deed on 3 December 1998. Williams died on 21 February 1999. Plaintiffs Louise Lewis and Ajul Jones were named as beneficiaries in Williams' will, and plaintiff Lawrence McNeill Johnson was appointed as executor of Williams' estate.
    Plaintiffs filed a complaint on 19 January 2001 seeking to have the deed declared void and ineffective and to have title tothe property restored to the beneficiaries under the terms of Williams' will. Plaintiffs alleged that Williams' signature on the deed was forged. Alternatively, plaintiffs alleged that the deed was void due to the exercise of undue influence by Williams' caretaker, who procured execution of the deed, and because Williams was mentally incompetent.
    At trial, plaintiffs offered into evidence Williams' death certificate, over defendants' objection. The immediate cause of death was listed on the certificate as "dementia, profound."
    The jury found that the deed did not "meet the requirements of law for conveying valid title." The trial court declared the deed void and divested title of the property from defendants and restored it to Williams' estate. Defendants filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial court denied. Defendants appeal from the denial of their motion for a new trial.
    Defendants argue the trial court erred in admitting Williams' death certificate into evidence. Defendants contend that "when a cause of death placed on a death certificate is a matter of opinion beyond the common knowledge of lay persons, an expert witness must be qualified and testify corroborating the cause of death before a death certificate may be introduced." Defendants argue that whether Williams died of "dementia, profound" was a matter of opinion, and by admitting the death certificate, the person who signed the death certificate was allowed to testify in absentia as to the cause of Williams' death.
    A motion for a new trial is addressed to the sound discretionof the trial court, and "[a]ppellate review 'is strictly limited to the determination of whether the record affirmatively demonstrates a manifest abuse of discretion by the judge.'" Campbell v. Pitt County Memorial Hosp., 321 N.C. 260, 264-65, 362 S.E.2d 273, 275-76 (1987)(quoting Worthington v. Bynum, 305 N.C. 478, 482, 290 S.E.2d 599, 602 (1982)). "'[A]n appellate court should not disturb a discretionary Rule 59 order unless it is reasonably convinced by the cold record that the trial judge's ruling probably amounted to a substantial miscarriage of justice.'" Id. (quoting Worthington at 487, 290 S.E.2d at 605). See also Anderson v. Hollifield, 345 N.C. 480, 482-83, 480 S.E.2d 661, 663 (1997).
    In the case before us, we find no abuse of discretion. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-392 (2001) provides in part:
            Reports of investigations made by a county medical examiner or by the Chief Medical Examiner and toxicology and autopsy reports made pursuant to this Part may be received as evidence in any court or other proceeding.

Additionally, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-93(h) (2001) provides in part:
            A certified copy issued under the provisions of this section shall have the same evidentiary value as the original and shall be prima facie evidence of the facts stated in the document.

Furthermore, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 803 provides for an exception to the hearsay rule for the admission of the following documents:
        (8) Public Records and Reports. -- Records, reports, statements, or data compilations, in any form, of public offices or agencies, setting forth (A) the activities of the office or agency, or (B) matters observed pursuant toduty imposed by law as to which matters there was a duty to report, excluding, however, in criminal cases matters observed by police officers and other law-enforcement personnel, or (C) in civil actions and proceedings and against the State in criminal cases, factual findings resulting from an investigation made pursuant to authority granted by law, unless the sources of information or other circumstances indicate lack of trustworthiness.

        (9) Records of Vital Statistics. -- Records or data compilations, in any form, of births, fetal deaths, deaths, or marriages, if the report thereof was made to a public office pursuant to requirements of law.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 8C-1, Rule 803(8) and (9)(2001). Based on these statutes and rules of evidence, our Supreme Court has stated that "a death certificate is admissible in evidence and is prima facie evidence of the facts stated therein." Segrest v. Gillette, 331 N.C. 97, 102-03, 414 S.E.2d 334, 337 (1992). Williams' death certificate was admissible and the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendants' motion for a new trial.
    Judges HUDSON and GEER concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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