Readers of our blog may be interested in a few nuggets concerning interlocutory appeals that appeared in the slate of opinions that the North Carolina Court of Appeals published on June 17.
1) Interlocutory Appeal of Decision to Suppress Evidence in Criminal Cases.
As one who rarely has occasion to peruse the state’s Criminal Procedure Act, I was intrigued with the application of a criminal interlocutory appeal jurisdiction statute in State v. Williams. In that case the State appealed the trial court’s decision to suppress the results of a chemical blood test and defendant’s statements made prior to being advised of his Miranda rights. The basis of the State’s interlocutory appeal was N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-979(c), which states in pertinent part:
An order by the superior court granting a motion to suppress prior to trial is appealable to the appellate division of the General Court of Justice prior to trial upon certificate by the prosecutor to the judge who granted the motion that the appeal is not taken for the purpose of delay and that the evidence is essential to the case. The appeal is to the appellate court that would have jurisdiction if the defendant were found guilty of the charge and received the maximum punishment . . . .
Id. The criminal defendant unsuccessfully sought to have the State’s appeal dismissed on technical grounds (he argued that the prosecutor addressed his certification to the “court” as opposed to the “judge who granted the motion,” as listed in the statute). However, the Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed the trial court’s decision to suppress the contested evidence.
Our friends in district attorneys’ offices and in the criminal defense bar were, no doubt, well-aware of this mechanism for obtaining an interlocutory appeal. Dear readers, are you aware of other unique avenues for interlocutory appeals in your practice area that we have not yet covered in our blog? If so, please feel free to share them in our comments section.
2) Sovereign Immunity and Interlocutory Appeals.
Quick on the heels of its decision in Can Am South, LLC v. North Carolina that Matt posted about recently, the Court of Appeals again addressed an interlocutory appeal concerning sovereign immunity in the context of a motion to dismiss. In Lake v. State Health Plan for Teachers & State Employees a group of current and former state employees (including former Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake) alleged that North Carolina’s decision to discontinue certain health benefits for vested retirees constituted a breach of contract.
In the lower court, the State defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) (lack of subject-matter jurisdiction), Rule 12(b)(2) (lack of personal jurisdiction), and 12(b)(6) (failure to state a claim). The trial Court was unpersuaded and denied the motion in its entirety. It found that the plaintiffs had sufficiently pled the existence of a valid contract such that they could argue that the State had waived sovereign immunity and consented to be sued for damages on that contract. Defendants appealed.
On its way to affirming the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeals explained that only the Rule 12(b)(2) arguments were properly before it. Citing precedent, the Court explained that an order denying a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) is not immediately appealable, but that a denial of a motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity under Rule 12(b)(2) is proper on interlocutory appeal. The Court also acknowledged that “our Supreme Court has not resolved the issue as to whether a motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity is a motion under Rule 12(b)(1) or Rule 12(b)(2).” The Court deemed the dismissal of the defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) argument, which was based on the validity of the alleged contract, to be “an interlocutory order from which no immediate appeal can be taken.” But see Anderson v. Town of Andrews, 127 N.C.App. 599, 601, 492 S.E.2d 385, 386 (1997)(an appeal from the denial of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity affects a substantial right and is therefore immediately appealable).
Until our Supreme Court provides additional clarity regarding the proper classification of a sovereign immunity defense, State attorneys will be wise to consider carefully the bases for their motions to dismiss and the bases for any interlocutory appeal.
~ Eric Snider