North Carolina

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Domestic Case Law

Gersch v. Fantasia North Carolina Court of Appeals (2007)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Plaintiff and defendant were engaged and had one child.  The trial court entered a protective order due to plaintiff’s allegation that defendant hit her during a visitation exchange.  Plaintiff had a visitation exchange of infant son with defendant at plaintiff’s parents’ house.  Plaintiff’s father carried their infant son towards his house.  Defendant allegedly punched and kicked plaintiff’s father.  When plaintiff tried to pull him away, he threw her into the railing.  The court found that the trial court’s finding was supported by competent evidence, and was not persuaded by defendant’s “assertion that the trial court improperly shifted the burden of proof onto defendant in determining that defendant committed an act of domestic violence.”  Because the trial court found that defendant did not “rebut plaintiff’s testimony that she received bruises on her left side as the result of being slung into the railing, . . . the trial court believed Ms. Gersch.” 



State v. Malette North Carolina Supreme Court (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

A court issued a warrant for the arrest of the defendant after he assaulted and injured Dorian Jones.  The magistrate judge did not authorize his release after he was arrested; he was held for a hearing before the District Court Judge.  The Judge set a secured bond of $10,000; a few days later, the State and defense counsel agreed to a lowered bond on the condition that the defendant would have no contact with the victim.  The District Court Judge signed the order, and he was released after posting bond.  About a week later, when his case was called, he moved to dismiss.  He argued prosecution of the case violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution.  The court noted that in its consideration of statutes, it has held that “constitutional attacks on criminal statutes must be made on a case-by-case basis.”  It found that in this case, there was no unreasonable delay in holding a post-detention hearing for the defendant.  Therefore, it held that N.C.G.S. § 15A-534.1(b), which “sets forth conditions of bail and pretrial release for individuals accused of crimes of domestic violence” was constitutional as applied to the defendant.



Poole v. Copland, Inc. North Carolina Supreme Court (1998)

Sexual harassment

Plaintiff sued John Haynes for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and Copland, Inc. for ratification of Haynes’ conduct, negligent retention and supervision of Haynes, and imputed liability.  The plaintiff alleged that Haynes intimidated and harassed her during the one year that she worked for Copland, Inc.  She asked him to stop and reported the incidents to her supervisor.  The supervisor reportedly told her that he was a “youngun” and to ignore him.  After one incident outside of work, she complained to her supervisors.  They had a meeting with the plaintiff and Haynes; Haynes was terminated, and the plaintiff was also terminated later that day.  The plaintiff alleged that the harassment caused her to cry, disturbed her sleep, and gave her nightmares.  She testified to a long history of sexual abuse at the hands of various individuals.  Experts explained that she had a dissociative disorder and the experience of harassment caused a flashback that triggered severe mental problems.  The trial court dismissed all claims except the claim “for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Haynes and the claims against Copland for ratification of Haynes’ conduct and negligent retention of Haynes.”  The jury awarded monetary damages, and the Court of Appeals ordered a new trial, citing an error in the charge.  The North Carolina Supreme Court considered the “thin skull” rule, which “provides that if the defendant’s misconduct amounts to a breach of duty to a person of ordinary susceptibility, he is liable for all damages suffered by the plaintiff notwithstanding the fact that these damages were unusually extensive because of the particular susceptibility of the plaintiff.”  Copland argued that there was error because the jury was permitted to “consider the thin skull damages when it determined the liability issue.”  Copland contends therefore that the jury was able to find liability “without finding that defendant Haynes’ action could have caused severe emotional distress in a person of ordinary susceptibility.”  The court disagreed, noting that a clinical psychologist testified that a person of “ordinary sensibilities” could have been affected in a manner similar to the plaintiff in this case.  It also held that there was no error in the jury instructions, and that the instructions correctly explained that the jury had to find that Haynes’ actions could have reasonably injured a person of normal sensibilities before it could hold him liable for all of the consequences of his actions.  The court also did not review the Court of Appeals finding that the thin skull rule applies to mental, not just physical injury, and that the fact that the jury received instructions during the damages, rather than liability phase of the case, was not error.



Elrod v. Elrod North Carolina Court of Appeals (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Plaintiff and Defendant were married in 1998 but entered into a separation agreement in 2007.  Plaintiff and Defendant were living together.  They were discussing work that needed to be done around the house when defendant husband requested that the wife look at the door sweep.  The wife bent down to look and subsequently could not recall anything that took place until she woke up around 3:00 am and found herself in bed with a “terrible headache” and extreme nausea.  Defendant told her that she had had a seizure and had hit her head.  She went to the hospital.  The doctor found that her injuries were life-threatening and consistent with domestic violence, not with a seizure.  Her family members testified that at the hospital defendant acted nervous.  When her son insinuated to defendant that defendant caused the injuries, defendant responded “What man would walk away from three million dollars?”  Three days later plaintiff filed a complaint and motion for a domestic violence protective order.  The trial court entered the protective order, finding that defendant caused the plaintiff’s severe injuries.  Defendant appealed, arguing that the finding was “not supported by competent evidence” and “the findings did not support the conclusion that domestic violence had occurred.”  The appellate court noted that in North Carolina, domestic violence is “the commission of one or more of the following acts upon an aggrieved party or upon a minor child residing with or in the custody of the aggrieved party by a person with whom the aggrieved party has or has had a personal relationship, but does not include acts of self-defense: (1) Attempting to cause bodily injury, or intentionally causing bodily injury.”  The court reviewed the evidence and found that it supported the trial court’s finding – the defendant’s testimony was “not plausible.”