John Kubis and Megan Silver Obtain Favorable Opinions From the North Carolina Court of Appeals and North Carolina Supreme Court in Public Official Immunity Case
After a lengthy appellate process, a local county and its sheriff’s deputy have been cleared of any liability in relation to an automobile accident based upon public official immunity. Teague Campbell partner John Kubis successfully argued the Motion for Summary Judgment at the trial court level. Plaintiff then appealed the decision to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. John Kubis, in collaboration with Teague Campbell attorney Megan Silver, defended Plaintiff’s appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision in favor of the deputy and county. Subsequently, Plaintiff appealed the Court of Appeals’ decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-30 (substantial constitutional question). Plaintiff also petitioned the North Carolina Supreme Court for discretionary review pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-31. The North Carolina Supreme Court dismissed Plaintiff’s Notice of Appeal and denied her petition for discretionary review.
Russe v. Youngblood
In the recent North Carolina public official immunity case, Russe v. Youngblood, Plaintiff sued a local sheriff’s deputy individually and in his official capacity as a sheriff deputy for the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department. Plaintiff also sued Henderson County. At the time of the accident giving rise to the Complaint, the deputy was responding to a call from a fellow officer requesting backup in a known gang area. Attorney John Kubis successfully raised immunity defenses and filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the issues of governmental/sovereign immunity. The motion established the allegations of the Complaint related exclusively to the performance of governmental functions by the deputy in the course and scope of his employment. Kubis creatively used the dash cam footage from the officer trailing the deputy to demonstrate the deputy’s lights and sirens were operational, the deputy reduced his speed to allow approaching traffic to stop, and Plaintiff’s vehicle (unlike other vehicles) failed to stop when the deputy’s vehicle entered the intersection where the accident occurred. The trial judge granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants, and Plaintiff appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals explained public official immunity is a “derivative form” of governmental immunity. Epps v. Duke Univ., Inc., 122 N.C. App. 198, 203, 468 S.E.2d 846, 850 (1996). “A public official has immunity from negligence claims unless it is ‘alleged and proved that his act, or failure to act, was corrupt or malicious, or that he acted outside of and beyond the scope of his duties.’” Smith v. State, 289 N.C. 303, 331, 222 S.E.2d 412, 430 (1976) (citation and quotation marks omitted). The Court of Appeals explained because the deputy was acting in the course and scope of his employment, the only available exceptions to public official immunity are “proven allegations” his actions were corrupt or malicious. Plaintiff’s Complaint alleged the deputy acted maliciously, but the trial court and Court of Appeals disagreed. The Court of Appeals held the trial court did not err in granting Defendants summary judgment pursuant to public official immunity.
Plaintiff also argued that the deputy was grossly negligent in causing an accident while speeding and not in active pursuit of a law violator. The Court of Appeals disagreed and found the deputy was acting within the scope of his employment because he was responding to a call for backup. Further, the deputy’s emergency signals were activated, and he reduced his speed before he entered the intersection.
Congratulations to John and Megan on this excellent result for a hard-working first responder and county.