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Although electronic signatures have maintained an “equivalent to paper signature” status in North Carolina since 1998, their current use in commerce has remained surprisingly minimal. Perhaps that is about to change since e-signatures and their enforceability have become a talking point of late within the finance industry.
Some brief history. In 1998, North Carolina began recognizing e-signatures within public agencies through the North Carolina Electronic Commerce Act Signatures Act [N.C.G.S. 66-58.1]. The Act was designed to “facilitate electronic commerce with public agencies and regulate the application of electronic signatures when used in commerce with public agencies.” [N.C.G.S. 66-58.1]. Two years later, North Carolina adopted the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act [N.C.G.S. §66-312 et als.] (“UETA”), essentially recognizing e-signatures as equivalent to paper signatures in the private sector.
What does all this mean?
Basically, a record or signature may not be denied legal effect or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form [N.C.G.S. § 66-317(a)]. Similarly, a contract may not be denied legal effect or enforceability because an electronic record was used in its formation [N.C.G.S. § 66-317(b)]. In the official comments, the North Carolina legislature states “[A] transaction may not be denied legal effect solely because there is not a pen and ink ‘writing’ or ‘signature.’”
There should be little concern with interstate use across the U.S. as the UETA enjoys nearly universal acceptance, with adoption in forty-seven (47) states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and laws in place that recognize e-signatures in the three (3) remaining states.
For those who wish to contract and conduct business electronically in North Carolina, the door appears open to doing so. However, before wading into these waters, the following must be kept in mind:
Tom Gray is a partner in the firm and member of the firm’s creditors’ rights practice group. He concentrates his practice in commercial litigation, equipment leasing and finance, creditors’ rights, and construction law, representing a variety of businesses and individuals through all stages of commercial litigation. He also represents national and local equipment leasing companies and their financing sources seeking to enforce their rights pursuant to the lease, including the recovery of amounts due, recovery of equipment, and representation of creditors in bankruptcy court....LEARN MORE