— Posts About NC Supreme Court

Burton and Narendra File Amicus Brief with NC Supreme Court in Defense of the Racial Justice Act

Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh have submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice in North Carolina v. Marcus Reymond Robinson.  The case addresses the first instance of a North Carolina death row inmate having his death sentence reduced to life in prison under the North Carolina Racial Justice Act.

The Racial Justice Act was a landmark piece of legislation enacted in 2009.  It permitted individuals on death row to use statistical analysis when arguing that race played a role in their sentencing; those death sentences found to have been sought or obtained on the basis of race under the act would be commuted to life without possibility of parole.  The Racial Justice Act was weakened in 2012, and repealed in 2013.

Marcus Robinson was the first death row inmate to have his sentence commuted to life without possibility of parole under the RJA.  In April of 2012, Judge Gregory Weeks found that Robinson had introduced “a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina” that had been largely unrebutted by the State.  Judge Weeks ultimately concluded that prosecutors had intentionally used race as a significant factor when striking potential jurors, and found that race had been a significant factor in determining when the death penalty was sought and imposed at the time of Robinson’s trial.  Judge Weeks therefore commuted Robinson’s death sentence to life without the possibility of parole.  Read this article from the New York Times for more information on Mr. Robinson’s case.

The State appealed Judge Week’s order to the North Carolina Supreme Court.  Burton and Narendra’s amicus brief discusses the nature of racial bias in jury selection, addresses the limited extent to which long-standing constitutional doctrines protect against such bias, explores the manner in which the Racial Justice Act remedied these deficiencies, and argues that Judge Weeks correctly applied the Racial Justice Act in commuting Robinson’s sentence.

 

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NC Supreme Court Sends Parking Lot Case Back to Commission

The North Carolina Supreme Court has sent a tricky workers’ compensation case back the Industrial Commission for additional fact-finding.  Cardwell v. Jenkins Cleaner involves a plaintiff who was injured when she slipped on some black ice three feet away from the back door to her office.  Our coverage of the Court of Appeals’ split-decision in the case is here.

The Supreme Court, in a short per curiam order, concluded that the Industrial Commission failed to make findings on one of the key factual issues: whether the cement area where plaintiff fell was part of defendant-employer’s premises or part of the parking lot.  Accordingly, the Court remanded the case back to the Commission for additional fact-finding.

Burton Craige assisted with the amicus brief filed by the North Carolina Advocates of Justice in this case.

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North Carolina Supreme Court Denies Review in Taylor v. Town of Garner; Win for Plaintiff

The North Carolina Supreme Court denied the defendants’ petition for discretionary review (PDR) in Taylor v. Town of Garner.  The Court of Appeals decided earlier this year that Officer Taylor is entitled to workers’ compensation benefits from the Town of Garner for the injury he suffered while working as a mounter officer at an N.C. State football game.  Because Officer Taylor was working pursuant to a mutual aid and assistance agreement between the Town of Garner and N.C. State, Garner remained responsible for his workers’ compensation.  The Court’s denial of the PDR means that Officer Taylor will finally receive his benefits.  Valerie Johnson and Narendra Ghosh represent Officer Taylor.

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Latest NC Supreme Court Decisions on Medical Malpractice and Employment Law

The North Carolina Supreme Court issued its latest round of decisions on April 15.  Two cases are worthy of note.  In the first, Brown v. Kindred Nursing Centers East, the 4-3 majority ruled that a plaintiff’s medical malpracitce complaint had to be dismissed because the plaintiff did not properly comply with the 120-day extension procedure of Rule 9(j) — the special rule for medical malpractice cases requiring the certification by a physician of the validity of the complaint.   As the dissent pointed out, the majority’s opinion was both wrong on the merits, and especially harsh because the plaintiff filed his original complaint pro se.

In White v. Thompson, the Court (again over a dissent by Justice Hudson) held that the plaintiff did not state a valid claim under the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices (UDTP) Act.  The case was between former business partners in a partnership.  The Court concluded that the UDTP does not cover actions in a business’s internal operations.  This continues a line of cases carving out most employment law disputes from the purview of the UDTP Act.

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NC Supreme Court Approves Industrial Commission’s Transition Process

On Friday, in Baxter v. Danny Nicholson, Inc., the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld an Industrial Commission decision that defendants had attacked on the grounds that one of the Commissioners was not authorized to exercise his powers on the day of the decision.  The case arose out of the transition when one of the Commissioners was replaced in 2007.  On February 2, 2007, the three-member panel of the Commission signed the opinion and award in this case.  That same day, then-Governor Easley notified then-Commissioner Bolch (whose term had formally expired, but who was holding over pending a replacement) that he was appointing Commissioner McDonald to replace him.  The panel’s decision was filed on February 5, and McDonald took his oath of office on February 9.  The Governor’s office explained that there is a delay in taking the oath just so that the old Commissioner can finish and issue any pending cases that he worked on.

Reversing the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded that the authority of an appointed officer continues until the date on which his successor takes the oath of the office in question and thereby becomes duly qualified to begin performing the duties of that office.  The Court found that the laws on replacing state officers did not violate Article VI of the North Carolina Constitution.  As Commissioner Bolch could validly issue the decision, the Court remanded the case so that it could be considered on its merits.

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NC Supreme Court Goes Awry in Workers’ Comp Case on Notice

In Gregory v. W.A. Brown & Sons, the North Carolina Supreme Court has at the very least made a simple area of the law very complicated, and at worst dealt a severe blow to injured workers with little legal justification.  At issue is the employee notice provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act, N.C.G.S. § 97-22, which requires injured employees to give written notice of their injury to their employer within 30 days unless the lack of notice did not harm the employer.  At issue in this case is whether the employee’s failure to provide written notice — even though she immediately told her supervisor about the injury, received a back brace, and was sent to human resources — should bar her from receiving any compensation.

This case should have been simple, since just in 2008, the Supreme Court (yes, the very same court) decided unanimously that an employer’s actual knowledge of an employee’s work-related injury satisfies the notice requirement under N.C.G.S. § 97-22, eliminating the need for any inquiry about alleged prejudice to the employer.  Richardson v. Maxim Healthcare/Allegis Group, 362 N.C. 657, 669 S.E.2d 582 (2008).  The majority in Gregory, however, goes through a number of contortions to distinguish the case from Richardson, and along the way effectively reviews findings of fact de novo, which appellate courts are supposed to be barred from doing.  The majority eventually holds, opaquely, that the Industrial Commission must make more specific findings and legal conclusions about the lack of prejudice to the employer before excusing notice, though it seems to implying that the appellate courts should not defer to any such conclusions.  Troubling to say the least.

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Supreme Court Affirms COA on Employment At Will Case

In Franco v. Lipposcience, Inc., the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed per curiam an NC Court of Appeals decision regarding employment at will.  The COA had issued a split-decision earlier this year, with Judge Wynn writing for the majority and Judge Erwin dissenting.  The plaintiff, who had been the VP of Marketing, was terminated and sought to bring a breach of contract claim.  At issue was whether he had a partial employment contract, or whether he was an ordinary at-will employee.

Most employees are employed at will, which means they can be fired for almost any reason and without regard to the quality of their performance.  There are three general exceptions: (1) the employee has a contract with the employer, either individually or through a labor union; (2) federal and state statutes have created exceptions prohibiting employers from discharging employees based on impermissible considerations such as the employee’s age, race, sex, religion, national origin, or disability, or in retaliation for filing certain claims against the employer; and (3) the state courts have created a public-policy exception to the employment-at-will rule.

Read more…

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NC Supreme Court Denies Review in Fulford v. Jenkins; Win for Plaintiff

The North Carolina Supreme Court denied the defendants’ petition for discretionary review (PDR) in Fulford v. Jenkins today, among its long list of orders.  This is a wrongful death action based on the negligence of the Duplin County Department of Social Services and its employees.  The defendants lost on the issue governmental immunity, appealed, lost unimously in the Court of Appeals, and then sought review from the Supreme Court.   Burton Craige and Narendra Ghosh assisted with the plaintiff’s representation at the Supreme Court, opposing the PDR.  The Court’s denial of the PDR means that the case will return to the trial court where it can proceed.

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Today’s Employment Decision by the NC Supreme Court

Carolina Power & Light Company v. Employment Security Commission: At issue was whether an employee who accepts a voluntary early retirement package, offered by the employer as part of a company-wide downsizing, is eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.  In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that the employee was not entitled to benefits because he still had a position, and thus had left his employment “without good cause attributable to the employer.”  The opinion summarizes the existing case law on “good cause” in the unemployment context.

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Patterson Harkavy Prevails for Plaintiff in a Significant Constitutional Decision by the NC Supreme Court

In a unanimous decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff could pursue his constitutional claims against the local board of education in Craig v. New Hanover County Board of Education.  Jusitce Hudson, writing for the Court, held that the plaintiff’s constitutional claims could not be barred because the school board enjoyed immunity from other tort claims.   Burton Craige helped to represent the plaintiff on appeal, and argued the case before the Supreme Court.

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