While the Court of Appeals’ decision in Atl. Coast Conference v. Univ. of Maryland was the stuff of headlines locally and nationally, the Court issued eighteen other opinions yesterday. One of them, Estate of Vaughan v. Pike Elec., LLC, is of interest because it deals with a question of first impression under the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act and provides guidance to advocates about preserving issues for appeal.
Estate of Vaughan arose out of the death of a man who was electrocuted and killed while working as a groundman for defendant Pike Electric. His estate filed a negligence complaint against his employer and his supervisors. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as North Carolina General Statute § 97-10.10, which is the exclusivity provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act. In essence, the defendants argued that the lawsuit failed to state a claim and that the lawsuit belonged in front of the North Carolina Industrial Commission. The trial court denied the motion and the defendants filed an interlocutory appeal.
In holding that the interlocutory appeal was properly before it, the Court made some new law. The Court identified as a matter of first impression the question of whether the trial court’s denial of the motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and the exclusivity provision of the Workers Compensation Act was immediately appealable as affecting a substantial right. The Court ruled that the denial of the 12(b)(6) motion was immediately appealable to the extent the motion was asserted pursuant to the exclusivity provision. With respect to the 12(b)(1) motion regarding a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court relied on recent Supreme Court precedent for the proposition that the interlocutory appeal was appropriate.
Ultimately, the Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the trial court’s decision on the motions to dismiss. The Court held that the Estate’s claims against the decedent’s former employer did not establish the court’s jurisdiction or a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Estate’s claims against the decedent’s supervisor, on the other hand, alleged sufficient facts of willful, wanton, and reckless negligence to allow the tort claim to proceed.
Finally, the Court rejected the supervisor-defendant’s attempt to preserve an issue for appeal that he placed in a footnote of his brief without further argument or elaboration. Citing Rule 28(b)(6) of the Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Court explained that a party abandons an issue on appeal when it fails to offer “reason or argument” in support of the issue.
– Eric Snider