We have blogged several times on the fact that North Carolina is one of only two states that does not allow a federal court to certify questions to its state courts for guidance on issues of state law. Recently, a Fourth Circuit concurrence by Judge Thacker contained another public plea for North Carolina to adopt a certification mechanism–quickly. In Stahle v. CTS Corp., Judge Thacker noted that with the publication of Stahle, four different federal appellate courts had addressed the exact same question of North Carolina state law–all with different views on how the North Carolina statute should be interpreted. Judge Thacker mused, rather comically, that “since the [Fourth Circuit] crystal ball is warmed up,” perhaps the General Assembly would react swiftly to the Court’s decision by fixing the statute at issue. She concluded her concurrence by stating,
And maybe the State of North Carolina will likewise act swiftly to create a certified question mechanism, giving its own state courts a chance to influence the interpretation of the laws operating within its borders, rather than leaving it to the federal courts to divine how North Carolina should operate.”
Stahle v. CTS Corp., No. 15-1001 (4th Cir. Mar. 2, 2016) slip op. at 44.
In the past, North Carolina’s efforts to adopt a certification procedure were derailed by statutory and constitutional concerns. Recently, however, North Carolina has exhibited a renewed appetite for rolling up its sleeves to find a way to address those concerns. Both the NCBA’s Appellate Practice Section and the Appellate Rules Committee are exploring if and how a certification procedure could be adopted in North Carolina. Moreover, certification of state law questions fits neatly within Chief Justice Martin’s goal of having the Supreme Court provide more guidance and clarity on important state law issues.
While the change may not happen as swiftly as the Fourth Circuit would like, change is in the air. As always, we will keep you posted on any developments.
h/t to James Kilbourne for bringing this case to my attention.