Friday, May 04, 2007, 3:46 PM

SCT Applies U.S. Constitution's Contract Clause Against County

In Wiggs v. Edgecombe County, deciced today, the SCT held that the Contract Clause in Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution precluded the County from applying an ordinance which purported to modify the terms of a local law enforcement officer's separation allowance.

When Officer Wiggs retired, he began receiving a special separation allowance. When he applied for a new job with the RDU Airport Authority, the County passed an ordinance providing for the termination of a retiree's benefits if the retiree becomes employed by a local government participating in the retirement system. As a result, Wiggs didn't seek employment with the Airport Authority.

Instead he sued the County and challenged the ordinance. The Contract Clause says, "No State shall . . . pass any . . . Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts . . . ." The SCT held that the Clause precluded the County from retroactively changing the terms and conditions of Wiggs' special separation allowance. The SCT held that the ordinance would do just that and, therefore, it would be unconstituitonal to apply the ordinance to Wiggs.

For the NC SCT's landmark Contract Clause case, see Faulkenbury v. Teachers' & State Employees' Ret. Sys., 345 N.C. 683, 690, 483 S.E.2d 422, 427 (1997).

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