Debbie Harden is co-leader of the Firm’s Financial Services Sector Team and a partner in the Firm’s Business Litigation Practice Group. She has more than 35 years of experience as a strategic business litigator and trusted legal adviser. In addition to counseling on corporate, governance and fiduciary matters, Debbie has a broad-based commercial arbitration and litigation practice in state and federal courts including the specialized North Carolina Business Court. A Chambers USA-ranked commercial litigator with a Martindale AV-ranking, she was also selected for inclusion by Best Lawyers in America in the fields of Commercial Litigation, Banking and Finance Litigation, ERISA Litigation, Securities Litigation, Mergers and Acquisitions Litigation, and Trust and Estates Litigation. Debbie has been recognized as both the “ERISA Litigation Lawyer of the Year” and the “Trusts and Estates Lawyer of the Year” for Charlotte and is included in the North Carolina Super Lawyers.
As summarized by Chambers USA from client interviews, Debbie is a “tenacious and meticulous advocate” and a "really fine litigator with incredible analytical skills.” She is also “acclaimed for her keen and committed client advocacy,” “noted by clients for her effective courtroom demeanor” and is “praised by clients for her efforts to understand their business and its needs.” (Chambers USA 2014 - present).
Debbie focuses on complex corporate and commercial arbitration and litigation including contracts, investments, fiduciary disputes, Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) cases, class action defense, derivative actions, securities litigation, antitrust disputes, and insurance matters. In the class action area, Debbie has successfully defended clients in putative and certified actions involving ERISA, securities, banking, consumer finance, insurance, real estate, mortgage, antitrust and tax claims. With respect to fiduciary litigation, Debbie has obtained numerous defense verdicts and countless summary judgments for her clients.
Any result the lawyer or law firm may have achieved on behalf of clients in other matters does not necessarily indicate similar results can be obtained for other clients.
- Obtained complete defense award in AAA arbitration involving complex investment matter in January 2022, including recovery by client of AAA costs. Hearing in fourth quarter of 2021 with 14 witnesses (8 experts) and more than 600 hearing exhibits.
- Defending Duke Energy Carolinas in a mass action pending in the Western District of North Carolina.
- Served as counsel for Carolinas Healthcare System/Atrium Health in federal and state antitrust litigation brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, the North Carolina Department of Justice and purported classes of insureds. Putative federal class action dismissed by district court, dismissal upheld by Fourth Circuit, and cert petition denied by U.S. Supreme Court in 2021. Putative state class action dismissed in entirety by NC Supreme Court.
- Obtained summary judgment for Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. on claims of breach of fiduciary duty and fraud based on an alleged conflict of interest between trust services and commercial lending.
- Defended Duke Energy Corporation and its Board of Directors in federal securities litigation and derivative actions arising out of Duke’s merger with Progress Energy, as well as the company’s coal ash issues.
- Obtained favorable class settlement for three hospital defendants in an anti-trust and price-fixing class action, despite claim of compensatory damages exceeding $200,000,000, after class certification denied on one of two alleged classes.
- Defeated class certification in putative class action alleging bait-and-switch tactics on the part of a mortgage broker.
- Represented Nationwide Insurance in defense of putative class action claims challenging its insurance practices.
- Obtained complete dismissal of Americo Financial Life and Annuity Insurance Company, Investors Life Insurance Company of North America, and Americo Life Inc. in annuity-based putative class action, with dismissal upheld by the Fourth Circuit.
- Defeated class certification for Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation in land rights-and real estate-based putative class.
- ERISA and Fiduciary
- Defended financial institution and its Board of Directors in excessive fee class actions.
- Successfully litigated various fiduciary matters, including claims involving administration of trust and estates and investments.
- Obtained five defense verdicts after separate trials in ERISA severance lawsuits, which the Fourth Circuit affirmed on appeal.
- Achieved favorable settlement on the eve of trial for financial institution after years of litigation with beneficiary alleging breach of fiduciary duty involving investments, distributions and conflicts of interest.
- Achieved favorable settlement of ERISA breach of fiduciary duty claim regarding investments and implementation of investment directives for financial institution.
- Obtained summary judgment on alleged ERISA breach of fiduciary duty claims and state law claims on behalf of all plan participants regarding the annuity funding of a pension plan. Case affirmed on appeal by the Fourth Circuit.
- Achieved favorable class settlement in ERISA retiree health care benefits litigation involving subsequent plan amendments.
- Obtained summary judgment for financial institution in ERISA benefits action challenging service credit.
- Obtained numerous summary judgments for insurance companies, plan sponsors, plan administrators and claims administrators in ERISA benefit lawsuits.
Professional and Civic Activities
- Mecklenburg County Bar Association
- Georgia State Bar
- North Carolina Bar Association, Litigation Section
- American Bar Association
- Board and Finance Committee of the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte/ImaginOn
- Board and Investment Committee of the Greater Cultural Trust
- Board of Managers of the Uptown YMCA, including service as Chair
- Recipient of the Uptown YMCA Volunteer of the Year Award for 2005
- Board and Audit Committee of the Habitat for Humanity of the Charlotte Region
Honors and Awards
- Chambers USA Ranked Lawyer, Litigation – General Commercial, North Carolina, 2013 – Present
- Super Lawyers Honoree in Business Litigation, Class Action/Mass Torts, Civil Litigation, Securities Litigation, North Carolina Super Lawyers magazine (Thomson Reuters), 2006 – Present
- Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America (BL Rankings) in the fields of Commercial Litigation, Litigation – Banking and Finance, Litigation – ERISA, Litigation – Mergers & Acquisitions, Litigation – Trusts and Estates, Litigation – Securities, 2006 – Present
- Received the Best Lawyers™ ERISA Litigation "Lawyer of the Year" award in Charlotte, North Carolina, 2019, 2021