by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The N.C. Appeals Court has ruled that a fired New Hanover County elections director must file suit in Wake County to challenge his dismissal.
Marvin McFadyen had taken his case to Superior Court in his home county. Judge Hunter Murphy summarized the reason why McFadyen should have filed suit elsewhere.
N.C.G.S. § 163-22(l) requires that any appeal from the State Board of Elections (“SBE”) be filed in the Superior Court of Wake County. Failure to comply with this statutory requirement deprives any other court of jurisdiction to hear the dispute. Where a court lacks jurisdiction over a case, any action made by the court related to that case is void ab initio and a nullity, leaving any appeal based on the court’s void actions moot. Here, Marvin McFadyen appealed his purported termination as a county director of elections by the SBE in the Superior Court of New Hanover County, in contravention of N.C.G.S. § 163-22(l). As a result, the Superior Court of New Hanover County was without jurisdiction, and all of its actions related to the case are void and vacated, rendering McFadyen’s appeal moot. We dismiss without prejudice to Defendant’s ability to refile in the Superior Court of Wake County.
In a concurrence, Judge Richard Dietz shed more light on the dispute.
There is a lot going on in this case, all of which can be traced back to the General Assembly’s failure to anticipate a conflict of interest by the director of the State Board of Elections. The legislature later amended the statute and inserted a fix. But that fix does not answer all the messy questions about whether the State Board, in this case, complied with the statute that existed at the time. One thing is certain, however—these are questions of statutory law, not contract law.
McFadyen was terminated by the State Board of Elections through a statutory termination process. …
Dietz later adds:
The statutory procedures that govern termination of state employees are complex and often exceedingly bureaucratic. Our General Assembly created these administrative procedures and layers of judicial review precisely because that statutory process does not lend itself to review under traditional, civil breach-of-contract principles in a separate lawsuit years later. Thus, the issues raised in this case should have been pursued through the APA and ultimately brought before the Wake County Superior Court as a challenge to the State Board’s final agency decision—not as a civil breach-of-contract case in New Hanover County Superior Court. Accordingly, the trial court properly dismissed the contract claims because they are an impermissible attempt to bypass mandatory judicial review required by statute.