Justia North Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the opinion and award of the North Carolina Industrial Commission denying Plaintiff relief on her claim for disability compensation from Defendants, holding that there was no error.On appeal, the court of appeals held that Plaintiff's claim was not time-barred under N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-24 and thus reversed the Commission's dismissal of Plaintiff's claim based on a 2014 injury. The court remanded the case to the Commission for a determination as to whether Plaintiff suffered a compensable injury under the Workers' Compensation Act. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff's claim was not barred by section 97-24. View "Cunningham v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the order of the superior court affirming the decision of the Board of Review for the North Carolina Department of Commerce adopting the decision of the appeals referee ruling that Frank Lennane was disqualified for unemployment benefits, holding that there was no error.At issue was whether Lennane's leaving work was attributable to his employer, as required by N.C. Gen. Stat. 96-14.5(a), to avoid disqualification for unemployment benefits. The lower courts affirmed the administrative decision that Lennane was disqualified for unemployment benefits because he failed to show good cause attributable to the employer for leaving. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that while Lennane left work for good cause, he failed to satisfy his burden to show that his leaving work was "attributable to the employer" as a matter of law. View "In re Lennane" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the court of appeals erred in concluding that more than 220,000 former State employees (the Retirees) possessed no vested rights within the meaning of the Contracts Clause to the benefit of lifetime enrollment in any particular premium-free health insurance plan, holding that the trial court correctly concluded that the Retirees had obtained a vested right protected under the Contracts Clause.After the General Assembly enacted a statute eliminating Retirees' option to remain enrolled in the plan of their choice, the Retirees argued that the State had undertaken a contractual obligation to provide them with the option to remain enrolled in the premium-free preferred provider organization health insurance plan that allocated eighty percent of the costs of health care services to the insurer and twenty percent to the insured for life. The trial court entered partial summary judgment for Retirees. The court of appeals reversed and remanded for summary judgment in favor of the State. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court correctly determined there were no genuine issues of material fact relating to whether Retirees possessed a vested right protected under the Contracts Clause. View "Lake v. State Health Plan for Teachers & State Employees" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court modified and affirmed the decision of the court of appeals holding that the decision of the North Carolina Industrial Commission should be reversed and this case remanded to the Commission for recalculation of Plaintiff's average weekly wage, holding that the court of appeals did not err.Plaintiff, an injured employee, received temporary disability benefits. Plaintiff later requested that his claim be assigned for a hearing, claiming that Defendant, his employer, had unilaterally lowered the amount of temporary total disability benefits that he had been receiving with respect to his back injury and that the parties could not agree with respect to the amount of benefits to which Plaintiff was entitled. The Commission determined that the fifth method for calculating Plaintiff's average weekly wage was appropriate for use in this case. The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the findings and conclusions that the Commission made in support of its average weekly wages determination appeared to rest upon a misapplication of the applicable legal standard. View "Nay v. Cornerstone Staffing Solutions" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' decision affirming the North Carolina Industrial Commission's finding that the uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) proceeds that Plaintiff received on behalf of her husband's estate through the settlement of a wrongful death lawsuit were subject to Defendants' subrogation lien under N.C. Gen. Stat. 97-10.2, holding that the UIM proceeds recovered from the wrongful death lawsuit may not be used to satisfy Defendants' workers' compensation lien.The decedent, Plaintiff's husband and an employee of Employer, was involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident with a third party in South Carolina. The Commission ordered Defendants to pay workers' compensation benefits to Plaintiff. Plaintiff then filed a wrongful death case seeking damages from the third party driver. The parties reached a settlement agreement that included recovery in the form of UIM proceeds. The workers' compensation insurance carrier for Employer subsequently claimed a lien on the UIM proceeds that Plaintiff recovered from the wrongful death settlement. The Commission ordered the distribution of Plaintiff's entire recovery from the South Carolina wrongful death settlement, concluding that Defendants were entitled to subrogation under section 97-10.2. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendants may not satisfy their workers' compensation lien by collecting from Plaintiff's recovery of UIM proceeds in her South Carolina wrongful death settlement. View "Walker v. K&W Cafeterias" on Justia Law

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In this dispute concerning the manner in which the cost of pensions for certain retirees should be funded, the Supreme Court held that the Administrative Procedure Act's (APA) rulemaking procedures bind how the Retirement System's Board of Trustees adopt "cap factors" under the anti-pension spiking provision at issue in this case.In order to calculate the retirement benefit cap applicable to each retiree, the Act to Enact Anti-Pension-Spiking Legislation by Establishing a Contribution-Based Benefit Cap directs the Retirement System's Board of Trustees to adopt a contribution-based benefit cap factor recommended by an actuary, which the Board had traditionally adopted by resolution. Here, the Retirement System determined that Dr. Barry Shepherd's pension benefits were subject the contribution-based benefit cap. The trial court concluded that the Board of Trustees' adoption of the cap factor was void because the action was subject to rulemaking under the APA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Board of Trustees was required to adopt the statutorily mandated cap factor utilizing the rulemaking procedures required by the APA; and (2) the Retirement System erred by billing the Board of Education an additional amount relating to Dr. Shepherd's pension, in light of the Board of Trustees' failure to adopt the necessary cap factor in an appropriate manner. View "Cabarrus County Board of Education v. Department of State Treasurer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals invalidating a decision by an administrative law judge (ALJ) to award back pay and attorneys' fees to a local government employee protected under the North Carolina Human Resources Act who prevailed in a wrongful termination proceeding before the Office of Administrative Hearings, holding that N.C. Gen. Stat. 126-34.02 explicitly provides that an ALJ has the authority to award back pay and attorneys' fees to any protected state and local government employee.Petitioner was dismissed from her employment with Forsyth County Department of Social Services on the grounds of grossly inefficient job performance and unacceptable personal conduct. An ALJ reversed the Department's decision to terminate Petitioner's employment on the grounds that the Department had violated Petitioner's procedural rights and lacked just cause to dismiss Petitioner from its employment. The ALJ then ordered the Department to reinstate Petitioner to her former position, with all applicable back pay and benefits, and to pay Petitioners' attorneys' fees. The court of appeals vacated the ALJ's decision in part, concluding that the ALJ lacked the authority to award back pay and attorneys' fees. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the ALJ had sufficient express statutory authority to award back pay and attorneys' fees to Petitioner. View "Rouse v. Forsyth County Department of Social Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals affirming the decision of the North Carolina Industrial Commission awarding Plaintiff ongoing disability compensation and medical compensation for her medical conditions and remanded this case for further proceedings before the Commission, holding that it could not be determined from the record if the Commission, as the Court of Appeals concluded, made findings of causation independent of the application of any presumption.In affirming the Commission’s award of benefits, the Court of Appeals concluded that the Commission made adequate findings that Plaintiff met her burden of proving causation with a presumption of causation and therefore had an alternative factual basis for its award. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Court of Appeals erred by failing to remand this case to the Commission for additional findings and conclusions because the Court could not determine from the record the extent to which the Commission relied on a presumption of causation or whether it had an independent, alternate basis for its determination of causation. View "Pine v. Wal-Mart Associates, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a police officer, adequately stated a claim that his rights under Article I, Section 1 of the North Carolina Constitution were violated when his employer, the City of Wilmington, refused to consider Plaintiff’s appeal regarding the validity of an examination required for a promotion.Upon seeking promotion, Plaintiff took a written examination, a required step in the promotional process, but did not receive a passing score. Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the test answers, but the City Manager informed him that the test answers were not a grievance item. Plaintiff filed a complaint, arguing that the City arbitrarily and irrationally deprived him of enjoyment of the fruits of his own labor, in violation of the Constitution. The trial court granted the City’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, in which the City argued that Plaintiff did not have a property interest that could support his claims. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the trial court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s claim arising under Article I, Section 1 of the North Carolina Constitution; but (2) Plaintiff did not state a valid claim under Article I, Section 19. View "Tully v. City of Wilmington" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the North Carolina Industrial Commission’s decision to award Plaintiff benefits arising out of a 2009 automobile accident. The court of appeals concluded that Plaintiff was barred from pursuing compensation for his personal injury claim under the Workers’ Compensation Act because he had elected to settle his claim against the third-party tortfeasor without the consent of Defendant, the City of Charlotte, and had received disbursement of the settlement proceedings. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the Act protects both the employer’s lien against third-party proceeds and the employee’s right to pursue workers’ compensation benefits under these circumstances; and (2) therefore, the Commission correctly concluded that Plaintiff had not waived his right to compensation under the Act. View "Easter-Rozzelle v. City of Charlotte" on Justia Law