Monday, November 08, 2010, 2:55 PM

Supreme Court Opinions

On Friday, November 5, 2010, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued two opinions.

In Kinlaw v. Harris, a divided Supreme Court affirmed and reversed an opinion from a divided Court of Appeals. Justice Newby, writing for a four justice majority, held that trial courts could determine on a case-by-case basis whether to allow a judgment debtor to exempt funds withdrawn from the debtor's individual retirement account ("IRA") from execution by creditors. While funds contained in an IRAs and similar retirement accounts are typically exempt from a judgment creditor's collection efforts, the majority explained that "there may be some circumstances under which withdrawn funds are no longer exempt from execution." (emphasis added) Although the majority did not specify what those circumstances were, the opinion seems to indicate that funds withdrawn for purposes other than retirement related expenses would not be exempt. The majority went on to hold – contrary to the majority opinion from the Court of Appeals – that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it ordered that the judgment debtor place any funds withdrawn from his IRA into an escrow account in order to allow the judgment creditor to challenged the proposed withdrawal.

Justice Edmunds, joined by Chief Justice Parker and Justice Timmons-Goodson, concurred in part and dissented in part from the majority opinion. Justice Edmunds believed that both the corpus of the IRA and any future withdrawals were exempt from collections efforts. Justice Edmunds raised concerns that "[t]he majority's holding both thwarts the General Assembly's intent to exempt retirement funds and puts trial courts in the untenable position of determining which withdrawals from a debtor's IRA represent legitimate retirement expenses."

In State v. Waring, Justice Edmonds wrote for a unanimous court in upholding a death sentence in a case involving what the Court described as "a brutal, prolonged, and merciless killing."

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