Appeals court vacates order in KDHPD case
The N.C. Court of Appeals has vacated an order issued by a Superior Court judge in January that had given Kill Devil Hills employees permission to file grievances and complaints against the town with the senior resident Superior Court judge of the local judicial district.
The three-judge panel agreed with the town’s position that as no party had presented a controversy to the court, the trial court had no jurisdiction to act on its own and issue an order that usurped the town’s power to administer it’s personnel policy.
The town appealed the order of Superior Court Judge Milton F. Fitch, Jr. based upon that and two other points of law: the order was not within the “inherent authority” of the trial court as stated in Fitch’s order, and the town was denied due process.
Next, the appeals court ruled the trial court could not exercise its “inherent authority” to issue such an order since it was established that the court had no jurisdiction in the first place.
Finally, the appeals court agreed with the town was denied due process, since Judge Fitch did not offer the town a hearing before the order was issued, nor did he obtain a waiver of hearing from the town.
While an order issued by Judge Jerry Tillett asking for copies of the personnel files of town employees is mentioned in the background analysis of the order, the court did not address or vacate any orders issued by Tillett, nor was his order the subject of this appeals case.
Also, Tillett’s orders would be subject to a different analysis than that applied to Fitch’s order, since Tillett offered the town a hearing before issuing his order and the town declined a hearing and issued a waiver allowing the personnel files to be turned over and copied by the court.
An unusual aspect of this appeal is that it was a one-sided case.
Judge Fitch did not file any motions on his behalf, and the appeals court denied attorney Dennis Rose, who represented the four police officers at the heart of these proceedings, any standing in the appeals decision.
Earlier in the year a visiting Superior Court judge had dismissed the officers law suit against the town, claiming they also lacked standing to sue the town.
The appeal was filed on behalf of the town by the law firm of Cranfill, Sumner and Hartzog, who was also acting on behalf of the League of Municipalities.
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