Amicus Brief Seeks Reversal of Ruling that Could Impair Availability of Audits in North Carolina

January 28, 2015

GavelThe American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and North Carolina Association of CPAs (NCACPA) have joined forces to file an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court of North Carolina in support of an accounting firm in the matter of Commscope Credit Union v. Butler & Burke.

The case involves a credit union that was penalized by the Internal Revenue Service for failing to file its federal Form 990 over of number of years.  The credit union in turn sued its auditor alleging, among other things, that the CPA firm breached its fiduciary duty to the credit union.  The firm moved to dismiss all claims and the trial court granted the motion.  On appeal, however, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision.  In its ruling, the appellate court held that it was possible a fiduciary relationship may exist between the auditor and audit client based on a standard audit engagement.    

The amicus brief filed by NCACPA and AICPA on January 13 urges the Supreme Court of North Carolina to accept the case and reverse the appellate court’s decision, noting that the appellate court holding that an auditor may owe a fiduciary duty to an audit client cannot be reconciled with professional auditing standards and North Carolina law, which mandate an auditor be independent of the audit client.  In informing the Supreme Court of North Carolina that an auditor is required to act independently, objectively and impartially, and without bias to the audit client, NCACPA and AICPA request that longstanding principles of auditor independence be upheld in North Carolina. 

Although no North Carolina court has squarely addressed this issue before, the decision departs from settled precedent in numerous other jurisdictions recognizing that the auditor-client relationship by its nature cannot be a fiduciary one.