In a 2-1 decision today, the Court of Appeals ruled that heirs of eugenics victims who contend that they were unconstitutionally denied relief under the state’s Eugenics Asexualization and Sterilization Compensation Program must first present their claims to a three-judge panel before seeking appellate review.
The heirs in the three separate cases before the court had all been denied compensation by the Industrial Commission, based upon a provision of the eugenics compensation law that requires victims to have been “alive on June 30, 2013.”
On appeal they argued that the legislature’s distinction between living and deceased victims for purposes of restitution violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection.
In the decision written by Court of Appeals Judge Linda McGee, with Judge Mark Davis joining, the court held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the claims based upon the 2014 law that required facial constitutional challenges be heard by an appointed three-judge panel.
Noting that the Industrial Commission as an administrative board could not decide constitutional claims, McGee wrote:
The General Assembly, having provided an exclusive means of review of facial challenges to enactments of the General Assembly based upon the North Carolina Constitution or federal law, has thereby precluded review by other means in the first instance.
Judge Chris Dillon dissented, saying that as he understood the three-judge panel law, the heirs’ claims were properly before the Court of Appeals:
I do not believe that [the law] provides that a three-judge panel of our Court considering the appeal be required to remand the facial challenge issue to a three-judge panel of superior court judges before addressing the other issues. Rather, I believe that . . . the General Assembly was simply providing a procedure whereby a facial challenge would never be left up to a single judge, but always to a panel of jurists.
Unless the cases go up to the state Supreme Court (based upon the dissent) for a review of the scope of the three-judge panel law, they will return to the Industrial Commission for a further remand to a three-judge panel in Wake County.
The Court of Appeals decision is here.
For more about the heir’s claims, read here.