NOTEWORTHY CASES | civil rights and constitutional law

2018 |
Tully v. City of Wilmington

In March 2018, S. Luke Largess and Cheyenne N. Chambers obtained a significant victory before the Supreme Court of North Carolina on behalf of Kevin Tully, a Wilmington police officer. The landmark case created a new cause of action for government employees under Article I, Section 1 of the North Carolina Constitution. A copy of the Court’s opinion can be accessed here.

In December 2014, represented by former Tin Fulton attorney, Katy Parker, Mr. Tully sued the City, asserting that he was never given the opportunity to grieve his denial of a promotion—a violation of his state constitutional right to “the enjoyment of the fruits of [his] own labor.”

 
2016 |
Tully v. City of Wilmington

Katy Parker successfully argued on behalf of Kevin Tully, a Wilmington police officer, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Mr. Tully filed a complaint that the city’s promotion process violated his constitutional rights to substantive due process and equal protection under the North Carolina Constitution. The Court of Appeals held that he had alleged a valid property and liberty interest in requiring the city to comply with its own established promotional process.

 
2015 |
Kagonyera v. Buncombe County

Following the exoneration of Kenneth Kagonyera by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, the law firm filed suit against Buncombe County and various current and former members of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office for their respective roles in the wrongful prosecution of Mr. Kagonyera. The lawsuit was ultimately resolved when the civil defendants agreed to pay Mr. Kagonyera $515,000. Click here for coverage of the civil lawsuit.

 
2015 |
Loy v. City of Salisbury

Jake Sussman and Salisbury attorney Randy Reamer brought an excessive force lawsuit on behalf of Rev. J.W. Loy against the Salisbury Police Department and one of its officers. Rev. Loy, who was 91 years old at the time, was injured after Officer C. Hamm tackled him to the floor during an encounter at an assisted living facility in Salisbury. The defendants agreed to pay Rev. Loy $180,000 to resolve the case.

 
2014 |
General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Reisinger

In a landmark civil rights ruling, U.S. District Judge Max G. Cogburn, Jr. ruled in favor of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and co-counsel at Arnold & Porter and struck down Amendment One, the ban against same-sex marriage in North Carolina. Judge Cogburn ruled that North Carolina’s ban on marriage equality violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. Judge Cogburn’s order was entered at 5:30 p.m. on October 10, 2014. In Raleigh, the Wake County Register of Deeds issued her first same-sex marriage license at 5:44 p.m. and a ceremony quickly followed.

Click here to read Judge Cogburn’s order.

See below for media coverage of this historic ruling:

The Charlotte Observer, Oct. 10, 2014
Federal Judge Overturns North Carolina Same-Sex Marriage Ban

The News & Observer, Oct. 10, 2014
Gay Marriage Now Legal in North Carolina

The Charlotte Observer, Oct. 11, 2014
Charlotte Attorney For Same-Sex Couples Celebrates Anniversary — And Legal Win

 
2013 |
In re Wilmington Star-News & N.C. Press Association

Representing the Wilmington Star-News and the N.C Press Association, Katy Parker successfully persuaded Superior Court Judge Jack Jenkins in New Hanover County to order the release of a dash cam video showing a Wilmington Police Department canine officer releasing his dog on a suspect following a police chase on Halloween night. The police department had previously refused to release the video to the public.

 
2013 |
Barber v. City of Charlotte

After Clarence Barber complained about being wrongfully arrested for carrying a concealed weapon — his lawfully owned gun was in plain view when he was approached by law enforcement — his criminal charge was increased to a felony. Luke Largess successfully litigated a federal lawsuit on Mr. Barber’s behalf in which he alleged federal constitutional claims under the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as state tort claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution, and obstruction of justice. The matter was resolved with a pretrial settlement of $99,000.

 
2012 |
Leardini v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools

Jeff Leardini, a middle school teacher, was charged with improperly touching students. He was terminated by Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and faced criminal charges. Noell Tin represented Leardini and secured a not guilty verdict on all charges in Mecklenburg County Superior Court in June 2007.

Luke Largess subsequently represented Leardini in a civil action against CMS, alleging that CMS violated his right to due process when they terminated him. On February 24, 2012, a federal jury ruled in Leardini’s favor and awarded him over $1.1 million. Leardini said he never thought about giving up and putting the episode behind him, telling the Charlotte Observer: “My good name is worth it, even if it takes five years to get there.” Largess observed that the jury’s verdict should help “the school system to appreciate the personal pressure that people are under when they’re accused,” stressing that teachers “should be supported and not just treated as the enemy.” The case was later settled on appeal for $680,000. P.J. Roth of Asheville was co-counsel.

 
2012 |
Gaddy v. Yelton et al.

Jake Sussman and Luke Largess sued the City of Asheville and four of its police officers after Robert Gaddy was assaulted during a wrongful arrest. Law enforcement alleged that Gaddy resisted and then fought the officers during an encounter. In response, law enforcement used batons and pepper spray while taking Gaddy into custody. After Gaddy was acquitted on all criminal charges in Buncombe County District Court, a federal lawsuit was filed in the Western District of North Carolina. After the officers’ motions for summary judgment failed, the City of Asheville agreed to pay Mr. Gaddy a favorable settlement.

 
2012 |
Hall v. Spence

John Gresham represented a former assistant clerk of court on a First Amendment claim that her termination from employment was motivated by her religious beliefs. Ms. Hall received a $300,000 settlement on the eve of trial.

 
2012 |
ACLU of North Carolina v. Conti

While Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, Katy Parker represented the organization and its individual members in a lawsuit against the State of North Carolina, challenging the State’s new plan to offer a state-sponsored “Choose Life” license plate, without providing a countervailing pro-choice alternative, in contravention of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Katy won a preliminary injunction in the Eastern District of North Carolina, which was later converted into a permanent injunction, thereby ensuring that the State provide an open forum on a controversial issue, rather than offering only one side of the debate.

 
2012 |
Gibson v. City of Salisbury

Jake Sussman and Luke Largess represented Felicia Gibson in her lawsuit against the City of Salisbury in the aftermath of two false arrests by the same Salisbury Police officer. Ms. Gibson’s initial arrest, which generated significant media attention, occurred while she was standing on her front stoop and filming a police encounter over 40 feet away. Despite other people standing next to Ms. Gibson, she was the only person arrested — presumably because she was recording the officer. After challenging the officer’s arrest in court, Ms. Gibson was later re-arrested by the same officer for allegedly cursing at him in public (a fact she adamantly denied). All criminal charges were ultimately dismissed and the City of Salisbury paid Ms. Gibson a monetary settlement.

 
2012 |
Estate of Kluttz v. Town of Spencer

Jake Sussman represented the estate of Christopher Kluttz in a wrongful death lawsuit that was litigated in the Middle District of North Carolina. Mr. Kluttz, a former police officer and member of the United States military, was shot and killed in his Spencer, North Carolina home, after a police officer entered his home. The case was successfully resolved following mediation. In addition to a monetary settlement for the Kluttz family, the Town of Spencer agreed to place a plaque in its police department to honor Christopher’s service to the community and his country.

 
2011 |
Joyner v. Forsyth County Board of Commissioners

As Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, Katy Parker represented two Forsyth County residents who challenged their County Board of Commissioners’ practice of opening meetings with sectarian prayer as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Katy won an injunction in federal court in the Middle District of North Carolina, blocking the County from continuing this practice. The injunction was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, thereby ensuring that religious minorities in Forsyth County can attend county board meetings without hearing a county-sponsored prayer that is specific to the majority religion.

 
2011 |
Estate of Boone v. City of Gastonia

Jake Sussman represented the estate of a man in the Western District of North Carolina who was shot and killed by a Gastonia Police Officer. After the plaintiff successfully fended off the City’s motion for summary judgment, the case was successfully resolved prior to arguments before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

 
2010 |
Starnes v. Town of China Grove

Jake Sussman represented a mother and her son who were arrested in Rowan County following a traffic stop. After successfully defending his clients against the criminal charges, Sussman filed a civil lawsuit on his clients’ behalf. That civil action resulted in a successful jury verdict of false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution against one of the arresting officers.

 
2010 |
State v. Elabanjo

Katy Parker successfully challenged North Carolina’s profanity statute on behalf of Samantha Elabanjo, who was arrested after loudly referring to a police officer as an “[a–hole].” Katy established that the profanity statute was unconstitutional under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

 
2010 |
Partee v. City of Salisbury

Jake Sussman represented Wayne Partee, who was injured by a Salisbury Police Officer following a routine traffic stop. The case was successfully resolved for a $60,000 settlement following mediation.

 
2009 |
Jones v. Graham County Board of Education

In 2009, Luke Largess represented employees of the Graham County Board of Education in a challenge to the Board’s policy mandating the random, suspicionless drug and alcohol testing of all Board employees. The Court of Appeals held that the policy violated the North Carolina Constitution’s guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures.

 
2009 |
Paylor v. Town of Elon Police Department

While with the ACLU of North Carolina, Katy Parker successfully resolved a federal lawsuit on behalf of her client, John W. Paylor, who was repeatedly shot with a Taser by Elon Police officers while unarmed in his underwear and presenting no threat to the officers. Mr. Paylor was given a monetary settlement and the police department agreed to change its policies on Taser use.

 
2007 |
Ervin v. North Carolina Department of Revenue

Luke Largess and Jake Sussman represented a client in the Western District of North Carolina in a civil action alleging that the city police and N.C. Department of Revenue violated the client’s rights during and following a drug arrest, which included a civil seizure of the client’s property.

 
2005 |
Lytle v. Town of Bolton

Luke Largess and Jake Sussman represented a husband and wife in the Eastern District of North Carolina in a civil action alleging that a local Chief of Police assaulted and unlawfully arrested them after the couple sought to file a complaint against the Chief. The case was successfully resolved through a confidential settlement.

 
2001 |
Hunt v. Cromartie

Adam Stein was co-counsel at trial and successfully argued in the U.S. Supreme Court in Hunt v. Cromartie, which was argued and decided with Smallwood v. Cromartie. The continuation of ongoing litigation concerning the 12th Congressional District of North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the 12th Congressional District was deemed not to be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Stein’s former law partner Melvin Watt has been elected to represent the 12th Congressional District in each election since its creation in 1992.

 
1999 |
Belk v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Luke Largess, along with James Ferguson and others at Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham & Sumter, represented the class of black families in the 1999 trial and later appeals in the historic Charlotte school desegregation case, originally known as Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education, and later as Belk v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.

The original Swann case, which was filed in 1965 in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, North Carolina, led to the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1971 that extensive busing was an acceptable means for desegregating Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. That ruling paved the way for busing in school districts across the nation where it was deemed necessary to bring about an end to segregated educational systems.

Sparked by a lawsuit filed in 1997 by a white parent, William Capacchione, who challenged the school board’s use of racial quotas to draw more African American students to magnet schools, a group of black families moved to reactivate the Swann case in what became known as Belk v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. Mr. Capacchione and another group of white families intervened and the cases were consolidated.

The case was tried for two-months in federal district court before Judge Robert Potter in 1999. The case was then appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. After a hearing before an en banc panel, the 4th Circuit ruled that Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools had achieved unitary status in that prior vestiges of racial discrimination had been eliminated to the extent practicable; that the school board acted in good faith in implementing quotas to achieve racial balance in magnet schools; that the white parent-intervenors were not entitled to attorney fees; and that the injunction to eliminate the use of racial quotas was lifted against the school board, as there was no showing that the school board would not comply with a race neutral system in the future.

 
1996 |
Shaw v. Hunt

Adam Stein was co-counsel at trial and in the U.S. Supreme Court in a Shaw v. Hunt, which involved voters who intervened in two cases to defend North Carolina’s congressional redistricting plans after the 1990 Census. The plans included two districts that enabled black voters to elect candidates of their choice to Congress for the first time in the 20th Century. In Shaw, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the 12th Congressional District was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander, reversing the U.S. District Court which had approved the districting plan.

Litigation continued and in Hunt v. Cromartie II, 532 U.S. 234 (2001), which Stein argued in the U.S. Supreme Court, the 12th Congressional District was deemed not to be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Stein’s former law partner Melvin Watt has been elected to represent the 12th Congressional District in each election since its creation in 1992.

 
1992 |
Crump v. Board of Education

John Gresham successfully litigated this case from trial to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which affirmed a school teacher’s jury verdict of $76,000 in a case brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for being forced to endure a dismissal hearing before a school board containing one member who was biased against him.

 
1992 |
Corum v. University of North Carolina

John Gresham represented a university professor in a free speech claim against the University of North Carolina and some of its officials. At issue was whether the professor had standing to bring a constitutional claim when there was no specific statute authorizing such a cause of action. In a groundbreaking 1992 decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of the professor, holding that in the absence of an adequate state remedy, a person whose constitutional rights have been abridged has a direct claim against the State and its officials under the North Carolina Constitution.

 
1988 |
West v. Atkins

Adam Stein briefed and argued West v. Atkins in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled in favor of Stein’s client, reversing the en banc Fourth Circuit and holding that a doctor under contract with the State to provide part time medical services to prisoners acts “under color of state law” and thus may be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating a prisoner’s constitutional rights. The Court prevented the State from denying prisoners access to federal courts when the State contracts out its authority and its constitutional obligation to provided medical care. The Supreme Court also repudiated the doctrine fashioned by the Court of Appeals that professionals do not act under color of state law when acting within their professional capacities.

 
1972 |
Cotton v. Scotland Neck City Board of Education

Adam Stein was lead counsel at trial, on appeal, and briefed and argued the case in the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the North Carolina legislature’s creation of a predominantly white Scotland Neck school system in the midst of a majority black county school district, which was in the process of dismantling its dual school system, was an unconstitutional impediment to the disestablishment of the dual school system.

 
1971 |
Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Adam Stein was co-counsel at trial, on appeal, and in the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Court held that extensive busing was an acceptable means for desegregating Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. The ruling paved the way for busing in school districts across the nation where it was deemed necessary to bring about an end to segregated educational systems.