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Appellate Clinic Makes Good Law For North Carolina Homeowners

The North Carolina Court of Appeals on Sept. 20 ruled in favor of the Appellate Advocacy Clinic’s clients, in the case of Crump v. North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.  John Byron (’11) wrote the appellate brief for David Crump and his wife, Sharon.  In a unanimous, published opinion issued without oral argument, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Appellate Clinic and affirmed the lower court’s decision in favor of the Crumps.

In Crump, the plaintiffs bought a lakefront lot after a state inspector visited the property and issued a septic tank permit.  The plaintiffs, who planned to retire on the property, later learned that the soil was nowhere near the required depth.  They had to spend $28,500 before they could use the property, and they sued the State for negligence under the state tort claims act.  It turned out that the original inspector had intentionally certified incorrect soil depths on the Crumps’ property and on many others, and he later pled guilty to criminal charges.  In the Crumps’ case, the State argued that there could be no claim for negligence because of the inspector’s intentional acts.

The Court of Appeals rejected the State’s argument, concluding that the test is not whether the State employee’s acts were intentional, but whether the employee intended to injure the tort claimant.  The Court of Appeals also rejected the State’s argument that the inspector was not acting as an agent of the State because he acted outside the scope of his authority, reasoning that the inspector had acted within the scope of his administrative authority to issue or deny permits. 

This exact issue, and ones similar to it, arise frequently, according to Tim Wyatt (’10), a former Appellate Clinic member now practicing in Greensboro.  “I have had two cases just like this one in the past year,” Wyatt said, “and this new published opinion will come in handy.”

In addition to Byron, Appellate Clinic members Jimmy Byars (’10) and Will Morgan (’10) worked on the appeal in the 2009-10 school year.  At that time, the case was in the North Carolina Industrial Commission, which has jurisdiction over tort claims against the State.  In May 2010, Morgan became the first law student ever to argue before the “Full Commission,” the appellate body of the North Carolina Industrial Commission.  With Nicole Dupre (’10), his sister (a law student at University of North Carolina), and Professor Korzen in the courtroom, Morgan made an excellent argument responding to the State’s arguments.  The Full Commission later ruled in favor of the Crumps, and the State then appealed to the Court of Appeals.

For the 2011-12 school year, the Appellate Clinic has five appeals in five different appellate courts:  the Fourth Circuit, the Seventh Circuit, the Eleventh Circuit, the Delaware Supreme Court, and the North Carolina Court of Appeals. For more information about the Appellate Clinic, contact Professor Korzen at korzenjj@wfu.edu.