Electronic Signatures Gain Official Approval From North Carolina Court

Digital signatures have finally  been officially approved by the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In a recent decision by the North Carolina  Court of Appeals in Powell vs. City  of Newton, the Court enforced a settlement agreement even though no settlement  agreement had actually been  signed. As far as we know, this is the first reference to this statute by the  North Carolina Court of Appeals.

The Court reached it’s decision in part based upon emails which were sent  between counsel for the parties which  reflected the settlement terms and  which circulated the necessary documents. The Court held that the emails  and documents which were sent between  attorneys for the parties actually  satisfied the signature requirement of  the statute and thereby bound the parties  to the settlement agreement. The  Court went on to say “The parties, by their conduct, impliedly agreed to conduct themselves via electronic means, subjecting themselves to the provisions of the Uniform Electronic Transactions  Act”.

How Can This Impact Your Communications  With Others?
The Uniform Electronic Transactions  Act (“UETA”) does not apply to  all transactions but it does apply to  most. It applies only to electronic records  and signatures that relate to a “transaction”, which is defined as those  interactions between people relating to  business, commercial, or governmental affairs. UETA has the limited objective of ensuring that electronic records and  electronic signatures are the equivalents of paper records and manual signatures.

Thus, you now may enter into contracts with binding terms without ever actually physically signing a document as you have in the past. Simply agreeing  to the terms and conditions of the agreement and responding via email to the  other parties may be enough to create a  binding agreement.  Agreement to use electronic means  between the parties may be derived in several ways including express assent and from the context and surrounding  circumstances, including the parties’ intent. In some circumstances, the use  of a business card that includes your  email address may be an indication of asset to contract and bind yourself electronically.

The Court’s recent decision to uphold the UETA law is a great start in enforcing the existing law. The primary aspect to remember now is that your electronic communications, including  those with smart phones, etc. may create binding agreements with those you  contract with.