Courts & the Law, News

NC Court of Appeals: Charter school operator can’t sue former superintendent for libel

The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled earlier this week that charter school operator Baker Mitchell Jr. cannot sue former Brunswick County superintendent Edward Pruden for libel.

Mitchell is a founder of Charter Day School in Leland and his company Roger Bacon Academies receives millions in public dollars to run four charter schools in the Wilmington area. He sued Pruden in 2015 for more than $100,000 in damages over statements he made to third parties about charter schools.

Pruden has openly questioned the amount in public funding that went to schools run by Mitchell. The Brunswick County school board fired him in late 2014 without publicly disclosing why, seven months before his contract was set to expire.

The Court of Appeals opinion characterizes some of Mitchell’s accusations against Pruden in the libel lawsuit as follows:

Defendant, acting outside of the scope of his employment as Superintendent, falsely stated to third parties that the public charter schools were “dismantling” North Carolina’s public education system and that they have “morphed into an entrepreneurial opportunity.” On 4 December 2013, a video entitled “Dr. Pruden Superintendent of the Year Video” was published on YouTube. In that video, defendant falsely stated that BCS was superior to the “competition” because BCS “does not operate schools for a profit.” Plaintiffs alleged that defendant’s reference to “competition” was “clearly a reference” to the public charter schools for children of Brunswick County.

The second amended complaint further alleged as follows: In 2013, RBA submitted an application to the Office of Charter Schools for a new public charter school named “South Brunswick Charter School” (“SBCS”). Defendant began an “obsessive public campaign to derail approval” of the new school, “viciously defaming the character and reputation” of Mitchell.

Pruden sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, which a lower court did not do. The three-judge Court of Appeals panel unanimously concluded that the lower court erred in that decision.

Judge Douglas McCullough wrote, with Judges Donna Stroud and Valerie Johnson Zachary concurring, that Mitchell’s allegations are “legally insufficient to overcome [Pruden’s] public official immunity.”

[Pruden’s] actions were consistent with the duties and authority of a superintendent and constituted permissible opinions regarding his concerns for the approval of a new charter school.

Courts & the Law, News

No action from U.S. Supreme Court today on whether it will take redistricting case requiring special elections

The U.S. Supreme Court took no action today on the North Carolina redistricting case for which it recently agreed to put the special elections a lower court ordered on hold.

Justices met for a conference to review cases it could take up, including the state’s appeal in North Carolina v. Covington, in which the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled legislators must hold special elections after legislative district maps were ruled racially gerrymandered.

The court gave no indication when it granted the stay last week of whether it would actually take the case. If it does not, the lower court’s order will remain, and North Carolina will have to hold the special elections.

Justices also have yet to issue an opinion in another North Carolina redistricting case, McCrory v. Harris, which challenges two congressional district maps that the state’s legislature drew. They heard oral argument in that case in early December.

Courts & the Law, News

Medicaid lawsuit dates set; GOP health care proposal postponed

If there is a court hearing in the Medicaid expansion lawsuit, it will be next Friday, Jan. 27, in New Bern, according to an order entered by U.S. District Court Judge Louise Wood Flanagan.

All parties involved in the lawsuit were set to have a teleconference tomorrow, but it was canceled after an agreed upon schedule for next week. Plaintiff and defendant responses and replies are due Monday and Wednesday, respectfully.

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger filed a lawsuit late last week against both the state and federal Department of Health and Human Services in reaction to Gov. Roy Cooper announcing plans to expand Medicaid.

They also filed for a temporary restraining order, which Flanagan granted. Now pending before the court is a motion from the defendants to vacate that restraining order and plaintiffs’ motions for preliminary and permanent injunctions, which would block Medicaid expansion efforts either until the outcome of the lawsuit or forever.

By next week, Donald Trump will be president and his administration will have the power to deny any applications from states to expand Medicaid. The fate of the Affordable Care Act as a whole also remains unknown under Trump’s administration.

North Carolina GOP leaders were supposed to hold a press conference today on the topic of “patient focused healthcare proposal for North Carolina,” but it was postponed at the last minute after a “key healthcare chair” was unable to attend, according to Garrett Ventry, a spokesman for NC House Majority Leader John Bell (R-Craven, Greene, Lenoir, Wayne).

Ventry had not yet rescheduled the press conference, but said it would likely be next week. It’s unknown what the proposal expected to be announced entailed.

Courts & the Law, News

Court of appeals sets date in Rowan County prayer case

Attorneys will argue the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ current prayer policy before all 15 judges of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on March 22. The court is located in Richmond, Va.

The en banc review was granted in response to the ACLU of North Carolina asking the federal court to reconsider after a 2-1 ruling in September that reversed a U.S. District Court decision holding that the county’s state sponsored prayers violated the Constitution.

At the Rowan County Board meetings, the chairman directs the public to stand for the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, the meeting is called to order and then there is another invocation or prayer, according to the ACLU’s lawsuit. Three Rowan County residents who do not identify as Christian are challenging the proceedings.

You can read more about the details of the case here.

Courts & the Law, News

Federal judge temporarily blocks governor’s Medicaid expansion efforts

A federal judge over the weekend granted North Carolina legislative leaders’ request to block Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to expand Medicaid.

Plaintiffs, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, filed the motion for a temporary restraining order Saturday. U.S. District Court Judge Louise Wood Flanagan issued the order granting their motion the same day.

It was announced late Friday that Moore and Berger filed a 20-page lawsuit to prevent Cooper from expanding Medicaid, as he announced earlier this month.

Moore and Berger claim expanding Medicaid violates the U.S. Constitution. More states have adopted Medicaid expansion than not at 32, including the District of Columbia.

The restraining order lasts two weeks. A hearing in the case has not yet been set.