In the public records case of Cline v. Hoke, Plaintiff brought an action against Defendant, assistant director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, in his official and individual capacity, seeking to obtain certain emails pursuant to North Carolina’s public…
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Our attorneys can get pretty obsessed about municipal issues. We’re extraordinarily responsive. We call you back, keep you informed, and treat you with courtesy and respect. Our Municipal Law team has particular experience representing local governments and agencies from Murphy to Manteo on a variety of issues, including employment law claims, school board issues, workers’ compensation claims, coverage issues, and general and premises liability claims. Our firm keeps a close eye on recent developments in governmental immunity cases coming down through the appellate courts and has been instrumental in litigating important cases that have clarified the caselaw for governmental immunity in North Carolina. Our firm’s statewide footprint allows us to service the entire state of North Carolina and all of its counties, cities and municipalities efficiently and effectively.
Matters referenced are for illustrative purposes only. They do not represent the firm’s entire record and past successes are not a guarantee of any future result or outcome.
Williams v. Pasquotank County (2012)
In 2012, Teague Campbell attorney Henry Gorham along with co-counsel at Womble Carlyle successfully obtained a favorable opinion from the North Carolina Supreme Court. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed an adverse decision by the Court of Appeals and clarified the analysis the court must take in determining whether a governmental entity acts in a governmental or proprietary function in Williams v. Pasquotank County. Teague Campbell represented Pasquotank County in defense of a wrongful death claim arising from a drowning at a County-owned park. The public park included a swimming hole. Pasquotank County moved for summary judgment and presented evidence at the trial court that operation of the park was a governmental function protected by governmental immunity, including facts to show that the operation of the swimming hole and park was not profitable and therefore not proprietary. The trial court denied the motion. Pasquotank County appealed and the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the denial, reasoning that despite the fact that the legislature designated parks and recreation to be a governmental function, because parks can be provided by private entities and not solely governmental entities, the trial court did not err in denying the motion for summary judgment.
Teague Campbell attorneys along with co-counsel petitioned for discretionary review before the North Carolina Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. The North Carolina Supreme Court noted that the fact that the general statutes proclaimed providing recreational services to be a governmental function was a threshold factor in determining that the activity was governmental in nature, but that the court should also examine the particular activity the governmental entity was engaged in. The decision in Williams set the stage for the Supreme Court’s articulation of a three step test to evaluate governmental immunity cases described in Bynum v. Wilson County.
Bynum v. Wilson County (2014)
Teague Campbell attorneys, along with co-counsel at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, secured a victory for municipal clients at the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2014 in Bynum v. Wilson County. The plaintiff fell down a set of stairs at Wilson County’s office building after paying his water bill resulting in serious injury. The plaintiff alleged Wilson County was negligent in failing to properly zone, inspect and repair the stairs. Wilson County raised the defense of governmental immunity and moved for summary judgment. The trial court denied this Motion. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the denial. In so doing, the Court of Appeals narrowed the scope of governmental immunity to focus on the plaintiff’s subjective intent for visiting the Wilson County property, which was to pay his water bill. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the purpose of the trip was related to a function not protected against suit by governmental immunity.
Teague Campbell attorneys successfully petitioned for discretionary review with the North Carolina Supreme Court and argued the Court of Appeals erred in switching the focus away from the acts of the sovereign to the subjective intent of the Plaintiff. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision. In its Opinion, the Supreme Court stated that the Court of Appeals improperly relied on the plaintiff’s subjective intent in ruling on the immunity issue. Rather, the acts of the government should be reviewed. The acts of inspecting and maintaining the county’s primary office building were in issue, and because the legislature has assigned the responsibility of supervising and maintaining county property, such activities are governmental in nature.
The Opinion in Bynum closely follows the precedential Government Immunity case of Williams v. Pasquotank County, in which Henry Gorham from Teague Campbell was also counsel of record. Bynum shaped precedent for premises liability cases alleged against counties, and solidified that the inquiry on this issue, while case specific, should focus primarily on the activity being undertaken by the government.
Parker v. Town of Erwin, et al (2015)
Teague Campbell attorneys Bryan Simpson and Natalia Isenberg obtained a reversal of an order denying a Town’s motion to dismiss on the basis of governmental immunity in the case of Parker v. Town of Erwin, et al, decided by the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The published opinion also clearly established that when challenging allegations that immunity was waived or does not apply in a motion to dismiss, the court must weigh and consider evidence presented and make specific findings as to whether or not plaintiffs met their burden of showing that personal jurisdiction exists over a governmental entity.
Plaintiffs brought a wrongful death claim against the Town and its officials alleging that defendants were negligent in failing to provide adequate police presence, adequate medical response, control traffic, erect barricades, and block streets to prevent crowding after a Christmas Parade. Plaintiffs claimed that the Town’s sponsorship of the parade along with the Chamber of Commerce was a proprietary function and therefore not subject to governmental immunity.
The Town and its officials filed a Motion to Dismiss on the basis of personal jurisdiction under the doctrine of governmental immunity. After hearing the evidence from both parties, the trial court denied the Town’s motion and concluded it was unable to conclusively determine based on the “conflicting” evidence that immunity barred the claims.
The Court of Appeals reversed. The appellate court applied the three step test set forth in the Bynum v. Wilson Co. decision, another favorable outcome for the doctrine of governmental immunity won by Teague Campbell attorneys Henry Gorham, Carrie Meigs and Leslie Lasher along with co-counsel at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. The Court of Appeals focused on the specific activities alleged to be negligent. The Court of Appeals noted that law enforcement, traffic control, and public safety were governmental activities and the doctrine of governmental immunity barred plaintiffs’ claims. The trial court’s order was reversed and remanded to decide whether plaintiffs’ allegations that the streets were not properly maintained or free from obstructions was also barred by immunity since the trial court had not made findings on that particular issue.
This was one of the first appellate opinions to apply the standard set forth in Bynum. The opinion also clarified the trial court’s duty to make findings of fact when deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on the basis of governmental immunity where both parties present evidence.