A North Carolina court has dropped a $2.3 million civil judgment against a physician sued for committing adultery with a nurse because he did not know he was on trial.
The lawsuit was first brought forth against Dr. Matthew Johnson of Mooresville in 2018 by the husband of the nurse he was having an affair with, The Charlotte Observer reported. In 2019, the two sides reportedly claimed they had reached a settlement, but an agreement was never signed.
Notice for a 2019 civil trial, and other legal notifications were sent to Johnson’s address where he no longer lived. He only learned of the trial after a reporter brought it to his attention.
A three-judge panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled this week that Johnson’s due-process rights had been violated.
"The facts before us do not indicate that (Johnson) was negligent or inattentive to his case," Judge Fred Gore wrote in his ruling. "This is a case where (he) never received proper notice of trial."
Johnson has been granted a new trial— a move that his attorney, Rebecca Watts of Charlotte, applauded.
"In due process, it’s not all right that a judgment is handed down against someone who did not know there was a trial taking place," she said. "Basically, it’s a do-over. A potential do-over."
The affair began in 2014, when Johnson began engaging in a sexual relationship with Jana Sprinkle, a longtime surgical assistant at his practice. Jana later confessed to her husband, Gerald, after a photo on the surgeon's phone of Jana having sex reportedly was found by another employee, and eventually came into the possession of Jana's cousin.
While the couple did agree to reconcile, Gerald reportedly sought mental health treatment while Jana lost her job. That was when Gerald filed the lawsuit, accusing Johnson of alienation of affection and criminal conversation and of interfering with "a genuine love and affection" within the Sprinkles’ marriage, according to court documents cited by The Charlotte Observer.
After the supposed settlement, Johnson received no further notifications, including communications from his then-attorney, who had mailed him a departure notice after requesting that he be dropped from the case because of his client's "lack of communication, contempt towards his legal advice, and failure to procure payment for legal fees."
A pre-trial order was also issued, which was only signed by one side, and when the trial took place, between June 24 and 25, 2019, only one side showed up. Gerald was awarded $1.5 million in punitive damages and $794,000 in a compensatory award. Johnson filed his own appeal upon learning of the judgment against him, claiming Wagoner exceeded her authority, and the court landed on his due-process claim.
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