Thursday, June 28, 2007, 3:32 PM

NC SCT Splits On Public Duty Doctrine

In Multiple Claimants v. NCDHHS, the NC Supreme Court split as to whether the public duty doctrine blocked the plaintiff inmates' suit, with the majority holding it did not. The majority, authored by Justice Timmons-Goodson, held that statutes to benefit a certain class, inmates, and inmates' inability to care for themselves, created a special relationship, an exception to the public duty doctrine.

The dissent, authored by Chief Justice Parker and joined by Justice Brady, underscored that operating a local prison is a public (and primarily county) duty that cannot serve as the basis for a civil suit. Moreover, the dissent would have held that no special relationship existed because the statutes at issue go only to the state's general governmental roles in assisting counties with operating their prisons and because the legislature did not intend, with those statutes, to have the state become the guarantor of every local prison's safety.

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