Tuesday, May 04, 2010, 9:54 AM

COA: Trial Judges Cannot Overrule Eachother, Even If On Different Motions

Today the COA confirmed that one superior court judge can't overrule another -- even if under the guise of a different motion with a different standard. The case is Adkins v. Stanly County Board of Education.

In Adkins, an assistant school superintendent brought a retaliation complaint claiming her employment contract was not renewed because of an earlier lawsuit. The defendants moved to dismiss plaintiffs' claims, and the trial court granted in part and denied in part that motion. A different superior court judge then granted summary judgment in the defendants' favor, and the plaintiff appealed.

The COA reversed the trial court's summary judgment. The COA recognized that motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment are different animals with different standards. However, the same legal issue can -- and here, did -- some up at both. And to the extent that that happens, the later trial judge is bound by the ruling of the earlier one. In Adkins, the trial court ruled on the motion to dismiss that, as a matter of law, the plaintiff's earlier lawsuit touched on a matter of public concern. The trial court was bound by this legal determination at the summary judgment hearing and its ruling otherwise was error.

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