— Posts About NC Court of Appeals

Voucher victory as Court of Appeals permits preliminary injunction to remain in place

Advocates for private school vouchers suffered another defeat today, as the North Carolina Court of Appeals left in place Judge Hobgood’s order enjoining the state’s private school voucher scheme.

The North Carolina General Assembly enacted the scheme in 2013.  If implemented, it would divert money from North Carolina’s public schools to subsidize private school students’ tuition.  Together with attorneys from the Justice Center, Patterson Harkavy attorneys Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh represent twenty five plaintiffs who claim the scheme violates various provisions of the North Carolina Constitution.  On February 28, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood agreed, finding that it likely violated the requirement that money allocated for public education be used “exclusively” for free public schools.  He therefore issued a preliminary injunction preventing the state from taking any steps to implement the program.

On March 18, proponents of private school vouchers asked the North Carolina Court of Appeals to delay the implementation of Judge Hobgood’s injunction until an appeal could be heard.  Today’s order denies that petition.  The favorable ruling is the first time an appellate court has addressed any issue in this litigation.

The brief order from the Court of Appeals can be found here.

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Narendra and Paul file Amicus Brief in Support of the UNC Center for Civil Rights

Narendra Ghosh and Paul Smith have submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice in The Royal Oak Concerned Citizens Association et. al. v. Brunswick County.  The Plaintiffs are represented in part by the UNC Center for Civil Rights.

The Plaintiffs advocate the interests of the residents of Royal Oak, a historically African American community in majority-white Brunswick County.  Plaintiffs allege in part that Brunswick County has engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against their community because of its racial composition.  Royal Oak has long been denied sewer and water access and has disproportionately born the burden of the county’s undesirable land uses, including the longstanding operation of a landfill and the relocation of an animal shelter to the community from a predominantly white neighborhood.  Brunswick County recently voted to rezone two properties within the community for industrial use, with express intent to expand the existing landfill.  As a result of Brunswick County’s actions, the Plaintiffs allege that the value of the Royal Oak residents’ land has declined, that residents have been forced to undertake great expense to secure drinkable water, and that some homes have been rendered uninhabitable.  Plaintiffs sued the county on a number of grounds.  On September 7, 2012, the trial court denied the majority of Brunswick County’s motion to dismiss.  The County appealed this order.

Narendra and Paul’s brief addressed the viability of the Plaintiffs’ claims under the North Carolina Fair Housing Act, which in part prohibits local governments from making land use decisions that have the intent or effect of discriminating against residents on the basis of their race.  Defendant argued that Plaintiffs’ claims under the Act were not viable because they had not first elected to pursue administrative relief, and because the County had yet to obtain a final permit for the landfill expansion.  The amicus brief discusses the extent to which imposing an administrative exhaustion requirement on claims under the North Carolina Fair Housing Act would defeat the rights the Act seeks to create.  It also argues that it would be appropriate for the court to enjoin the expansion of the landfill at this time and that, regardless, the justiciability of the entire controversy does not turn on the availability of that one form of relief.

For more information, see this news report discussing the controversy and this op-ed from the News & Observer.

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Win for Burton and Narendra: Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of District Attorney Tracey Cline

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial court order removing Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline from her office.  In re Cline, __ N.C. App. ___, 749 S.E.2d 91 (2013).  Patterson Harkavy attorney Burton Craige acted as court appointed counsel responding to Cline’s appeal of her dismissal.

The controversy has its roots in late 2011, when Cline began making numerous false and outrageous accusations against Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, Jr. in public pleadings.  Cline’s behavior lead attorney Kerstin Sutton to petition for Cline’s removal under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-66, which establishes a number of grounds on which a district attorney can be removed from office.  Sutton was appointed to present evidence against Cline at a hearing before Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood.  On March 2, 2012, Judge Hobgood found that Cline had engaged in conduct “prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the office into disrepute” under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-66(6), and removed her from office.  Cline appealed.

The court appointed Burton Craige to manage the response to Cline’s appeal.  Burton worked with Sutton and Patterson Harkavy attorney Narendra Ghosh to defend Judge Hobgood’s removal order.  On October 1, a unanimous panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals published an opinion affirming Judge Hobgood’s order removing Cline from her office.

The News and Observer has engaged in extensive coverage of the controversy, including an investigative series entitled “Twisted Truth: a Prosecutor Under Attack.”  More recent articles explore Burton’s role as court appointed independent counsel and discuss Monday’s Court of Appeals decision.

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Burton and Narendra Secure Court of Appeals Win in Medical Malpractice Discovery Dispute

In Hammond v. Saini, __ N.C. App. ___, 748 S.E.2d 585 (2013), the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Patterson Harkavy’s client, Plaintiff Judy Hammond.  Ms. Hammond suffered severe injuries from an operating room fire while undergoing surgery to remove a possible basal cell carcinoma from her face.  In her subsequent medical malpractice suit, the Defendants refused to produce certain documents addressing the fire and notes made by the hospital’s risk manager following the fire.  The trial court rejected the Defendants’ argument that these items were privileged and granted Ms. Hammond’s motion to compel discovery.  Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh represented Ms. Hammond on Defendants’ appeal of that decision.

On September 3, a Court of Appeals panel published a unanimous opinion in favor of Ms. Hammond, affirming the order compelling production of the Defendants’ reports, and remanding the issue of whether the risk manager’s notes were protected by the Work Product Doctrine to the trial court.  For more information, read Burton and Narendra’s brief to the Court of Appeals.

 

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Court of Appeals Rejects REDA Claim by Pro Se Plaintiff

In Fatta v M & M Properties Management, Inc. the North Carolina Court of Appeals heard an appeal by a pro se plaintiff of the trial court’s granting of summary judgement.  Plaintiff worked for the company in one of their hotels as a property manager.  During Plaintiff’s training, he was injured while cleaning a room.  He reported the injury to his supervisor and said he would file workers’ compensation paperwork if the injury was more severe than a pulled muscle.  A day after he reported his injury to his supervisor, Plaintiff was given a first and final written warning; five days after the warning Plaintiff was terminated.  Plaintiff filed a Form 18 with the North Carolina Industrial Commission five days following his termination.

Plaintiff contends that the company violated the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA) by firing him while he was engaged in protected activity, namely threatening to file a workers’ compensation claim.  The Court of Appeals agreed that threatening to file a workers’ compensation claim is protected activity.  However, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order because Plaintiff could not show a causal relationship between his termination and threatening to file a claim.  Plaintiff argued that the close proximity in time between when he reported his injury and was terminated showed that Defendant had unfairly retaliated against him for threatening to file a workers’ compensation claim.  However the Court stated that the proximity of the date of injury to the termination date is not enough, standing alone, to show a causal connection.

Given the really close timing here, the Court’s decision seems incorrect.  But, it appears that because the plaintiff was not represented by an attorney, he did not develop the facts in his case as well as he could have. There well could have been more incriminating facts that were not put before the court.

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Rawls Prevails in Court of Appeals in Workers’ Compensation Case

The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled in favor of one of the firm’s clients in an appeal brought by the defendants.  In Rawls v. Yellow Roadway Corporation, the Full Commission awarded Veran Rawls ongoing total disability compensation since his 2005 truck accident.  Defendants argued that the Full Commission had erred in several findings of fact, claiming that they were not based on competent medical evidence.  The Court rejected all of these arguments and affirmed in full the Commission’s decision.  Hank Patterson and Narendra Ghosh represented Mr. Rawls in the appeal.

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Appeals Court Decides Two Workers’ Comp Cases

The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently published decisions in the following cases:

In Coffey v Weyerhaeuser Co., the Court,based on N.C.G.S. 97-38 in the Workers’ Compensation Act, was tasked with determining “whether [Barber's] death occurred within two years of the Commission’s final determination of disability.”  Dennis Barber, Sr.  was diagnosed with asbestosis in 1997 and laryngeal cancer in 1998; he subsequently died in 2009.  A settlement agreement was signed in October of 1999 and approved by the NC Industrial Commission in November of that year.  The agreement in particular said “the date of approval of this Agreement shall be the date of final determination of disability by the Industrial Commission.”  In order for death benefits to be paid, the death of an injured employee must occur within six years of the injury or within two years of a final determination of disability by the Commission.  The Court held that the 1999 approval of the settlement, which addressed the issue of permanent disability, constitute a final determination, which rendered the plaintiff’s claim for death benefits untimely.

And in Carr v Department of Health & Human Services, the defendants appealed, contending that plaintiff’s cervical spine injury was not “caused, exacerbated, or aggravated” when she was injured in a 2008 fall.  The Court of Appeals rejected their argument on causation because the expert physician stated, in part, that causation from the injury was “more likely than not.”  The Court remanded on the issue of disability for the Commission to address prongs two and three of the Russell test.

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NC COA Addresses Exception to Workers’ Comp Preemption

In Trivette v. Yount the defendant, a middle school principle, had a fire extinguisher removed from a classroom after a student had removed the safety pin and discharged the extinguisher.  The fire extinguisher was brought to the front office to avoid any further incident.  The following day the defendant placed the fire extinguisher on or around the plaintiff”s desk in the front office.  The plaintiff alleged that he was joking around with the fire extinguisher and when asked to stop joking “before it went off” said to the plaintiff, “Oh, you’re being such a baby, nothing is going to happen.”  The fire extinguisher discharged and sprayed the plaintiff’s body and face aggravating her preexisting neuro-muscular condition and causing extensive injury.

At issue in this case is the plaintiff’s attempt to seek damages from the defendant directly in a personal injury action under the Pleasants exception.  The defendant contends that he was Ms. Trivette’s employer and thus her relief is limited only to the Workers’ Compensation Act.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, stating that though the defendant was Ms. Trivette’s immediate supervisor and an administrator, he is not given the authority to “employ” any person as outlined in N.C. Gen. Stat. §115C-288.  Therefore, the defendant was a co-employee and not the employer.  The Court also found sufficient evidence that he acted in a willful, wanton and recklessly negligent manner because he knew that there was a risk of the extinguisher accidentally discharging and was asked not to joke around with it, but continued to do so causing harm to the plaintiff.

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NC COA Decides Handful of Workers’ Comp Cases

Late last month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals published their opinions in the following workers’ compensation cases:

Archie v. Kirk:  The plaintiff worked for Edward Kirk changing billboard advertisements.  Kirk provided necessary tools and protection gear to the plaintiff.  In 2006, on a larger job for which Kirk hired an additional two workers, the plaintiff was electrocuted and burnt by a “power pole” which was near the billboard.  On appeal from the Industrial Commission , the defendants claimed that the plaintiff was not an employee and that Kirk did not have three or more regular employees working on the day the plaintiff was injured.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission’s determinations that there was an employer-employee relationship, the plaintiff was not an independent contractor, and the plaintiff was entitled to medical and disability benefits.

Chandler v. Atlantic Scrap & Processing:  The plaintiff cleaned buildings owned by Atlantic Scrap.  She was walking down a flight of concrete stairs and fell backwards striking her head, neck and shoulder.  She suffered a traumatic brain injury which caused severely diminished cognitive functioning.  Her husband had to provide attendant care services because she needed care 24-7 and defendants had denied in-home attendant care services.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the Industrial Commission had to award interest to Mr. Chandler for the attendant care services he provided because such services constitute “medical compensation.”  The Court also rejected all of defendant’s issues on appeal, including the well-worn argument that attendant care awards require pre-authorization from the Commission.

Malloy v. Davis Mechanical Inc.: The defendant appealed the NC Industrial Commission’s determination that the mediated settlement agreement was not fair and just and thus unenforceable.  The Court held that the Commission had erred in reviewing new medical bills which were not available at the time of the mediation and also erred when they considered the plaintiff’s child support lien.  The Court remanded back to the Commission to reconsider whether the mediated settlement agreement was fair and just excluding the aforementioned materials from consideration.

Shaw v. U.S. Airways: Mr. Curry Shaw sustained a lower back injury in 2000 when lifting luggage.  In 2008 Mr. Shaw died, and “the Commission concluded that Curry Shaw died of methadone toxicity – a direct result of his methadone use and a proximate result of his original compensable back injury.”  Defendants appealed, contending that Mr. Shaw’s death was not proximately related to his compensable work injury.  Given that Mr. Curry was taking Methadone because of his workplace injury, the Court stated that “to assert that Curry Shaw’s death was solely the result of a non-work related liver disease is an untenable argument”  and rejected Defendant’s contention.

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NC Court of Appeals’ Recent Workers’ Compensation Cases

The North Carolina Court of Appeals heard two workers’ compensation cases on appeal and decided them earlier this month.

The first, Mehaffey v. Burger King involved a manager at Burger King who suffered a compensable knee injury while at work.  In the North Carolina Industrial Commission’s Opinion and Award, the Plaintiff was awarded retroactive attendant care fees for his wife, home modifications for a power wheel chair, a hospital bed, and transportation to doctors appointments.   Defendants argued that the Commission erred in awarding retroactive payments for attendant care because they were not pre-approved.  Shockingly, the Court agreed, even though the it recently held in the Boylan and Ruiz cases that pre-approval was not necessary for attendant care services.  The Court relied on the out-dated Hatchett case from 1954, which has been superceded by later Supreme Court decisions and legislative changes.  Perhaps the Court will agree to rehear the case, which appears to be a clear mistake.

Next, in Keeton v. Circle K, the Court affirmed the Industrial Commission’s Opinion and Award, which granted the defendants’ application to suspend benefits.  Keeton appealed the Commission’s decision, contending that she should be entitled to continuing benefits because she made a reasonable effort to return to work and there was no actual refusal to work.  The Court rejected these contentions, concluding there was sufficient evidence to show that the available manager position with Circle K fit within her physical restrictions, was “suitable employment,” and the Plaintiff made no effort to return to work at Circle K.  Thus, deeming the Plaintiff’s actions to be a voluntary refusal to accept suitable employment, the Court affirmed the denial of benefits under N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-32.

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