Q&A With NCAJ Hero Stuart Paynter
You’ve no doubt heard Stuart Paynter’s name in the news. He has a record of playing to win in high-stakes cases against big-name clients. Among those whose details can be shared: He served as a lead counsel representing student athletes in a case against Electronic Arts that yielded a $60 million settlement. Their names and likenesses had been used by the video game maker. Of that settlement total, $20 million came from the NCAA and represented one of the first times the NCAA has ever paid a student athlete for the use of his or her name, image or likeness. He was co-lead trial counsel in a trio of consolidated wrongful-death cases that yielded a $383.5 million jury verdict against DaVita, Inc., a chain of dialysis clinics, alleging fraud and improper administration of dialysis.
Last fall, in a small-dollar but big-impact case, he and his Paynter Law colleague Gagan Gupta, also an NCAJ member, won a ruling on behalf of Triangle restaurateurs in a COVID-19-related business interruption claim suit against their insurance provider. The ruling in favor of the restaurant owners was the first in the nation where plaintiffs prevailed in actions against insurance companies regarding business interruption claims triggered by pandemic shutdowns. Hundreds of similar suits have been filed. Paynter is hopeful that the result in their case will help pave the way for other small businesses fighting insurance companies.
Before he started his own practice, Paynter practiced with D.C. firm Sullivan & Cromwell. Among the cases he worked on there was defending Microsoft in the antitrust suit brought by the Department of Justice and several state attorneys general. His pro bono work included gaining a favorable settlement for a class of Portsmouth, Virginia, residents alleging racial discrimination against the City of Portsmouth and a private developer and assisting the Chesapeake Bay Foundation with stormwater advocacy in D.C. A native of Wilmington, North Carolina, Paynter earned his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and his Juris Doctor from Stanford University Law School. He divides his time between Hillsborough, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.
Why did you decide to pursue a career as a plaintiff’s lawyer? Was there a single moment when you realized that you wanted to follow this path?
When I quit Sullivan & Cromwell, I took some time off to travel through Mexico and learn some Spanish. When I was there, I got a call from a friend with a client who wanted to litigate an IP case on contingency. He suggested that we work together, and that turned into a full-time practice.
Is there a case that stands out as particularly memorable, one that made you feel proud to practice law?
We had three wrongful death cases against a huge dialysis chain. Our clients had lost close loved-ones, but the company’s attitude was basically that they were on dialysis and would have died anyway. Their last settlement offer was $0. We took the cases to trial and put their CEO on the stand. He was so arrogant and out of touch that it sealed their fate. We got a jury verdict of more than $380 million. What career accomplishments are you most proud of? We took down a payment processing company that processed payments for a network of shady debt settlement companies. Through a complex set of procedural maneuvers, including a $1.4 billion default judgment, we were able to ultimately force the company’s sureties to tender approximately $15 million worth of surety bonds. We still have the paper judgment. That and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee!
What advice would you give a lawyer who just passed the bar this year?
Who you work with is just as important as what you do.
How does your membership in NCAJ make you a better lawyer or support your practice of the law?
NCAJ provides a rich network of contacts and is a great advocate for the plaintiffs’ bar. NCAJ is working with us right now to file an amicus brief in one of our cases. That type of support is invaluable.
Describe the perfect day away from the office.
Pre-COVID whenever I traveled for work, I liked to tag on an extra day or two to relax and explore wherever I was. One of my favorite memories is getting out of a deposition in Madison, Wisconsin, early, renting a car spur of the moment, and heading out to the Wisconsin Dells area for some trail running.