Moore, Weatherman among GOP figures supporting parents’ Charlotte Latin lawsuit

Tim Moore CLC 2022 Source: Maya Reagan, Carolina Journal

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  • Fourteen Republican lawmakers and election candidates are supporting two parents in their lawsuit against a Charlotte private school. Among the supporters are state House Speaker Tim Moore, lieutenant governor candidate Hal Weatherman, and state Senate Majority Leader Paul Newton.
  • Doug and Nicole Turpin have asked the North Carolina Supreme Court to take their case against Charlotte Latin School. The Turpins argue that Charlotte Latin breached its contract with the Turpin family when it expelled two Turpin children in 2021.
  • Lower courts have ruled against the Turpins. The state Court of Appeals ruled, 2-1, in April to throw out the Turpins' lawsuit.

State House Speaker Tim Moore and lieutenant governor candidate Hal Weatherman are among 14 Republican political figures supporting parents who seek the North Carolina Supreme Court’s review of a lawsuit against a Charlotte private school.

Doug and Nicole Turpin argue that Charlotte Latin School breached its contract with the Turpin family by expelling two children in 2021. The Turpins say the expulsions took place after the parents started asking questions about the school’s change in priorities and philosophy.

Lower courts have ruled against the Turpins. The parents filed an appeal on May 7 asking North Carolina’s highest court to take the case. The 14 GOP political figures and consulting company Future Prep Educational Services filed paperwork Tuesday to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

A separate friend-of-the-court brief involves eight local Moms for Liberty groups, Moms for America, Color Us United, New Tolerance Campaign, Education Veritas, Parents Unite, and Future Prep.

In addition to leading the state House, Moore is the Republican nominee in North Carolina’s 14th Congressional District election. A fellow Republican congressional candidate, 10th District nominee Pat Harrigan, also backs the friend-of-the-court brief.

Weatherman’s name appeared in the court filing on the same day that he faced Jim O’Neill in a primary runoff for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

Remaining signers are:

*State Senate Majority Leader Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus

*Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, the state House Rules chairman and a candidate to succeed Moore as House speaker in 2025

*Sen. Brad Overcash, R-Gaston

*Sen. Amy Galey, R-Alamance

*Rep. David Willis, R-Union

*Rep. Donnie Loftis, R-Gaston

*Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow

*Rep. Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort

*Rep. Frank Sossamon, R-Granville

*Rep. Jeff Zenger. R-Forsyth

*Rep. Bill Ward, R-Pasquotank

The signers, known in legal terms as amici, “believe that the Turpins’ petition raises issues that are important to all North Carolinians,” wrote lawyer Troy Shelton.

“Should the Court review what law governs the relationship among private schools, their students, and parents?” the court filing asked. “Amici believe that private-school enrollment is increasing already, and may increase substantially more due to funding of the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Private schools, students, and parents would all benefit from understanding what laws govern this relationship.”

“Should the Court review whether any law protects critics of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs?” the court filing continued. “Whatever one’s views are of DEI programs, Amici believe that reprisals against DEI critics can violate a whole host of laws. The Turpins’ petition is a good vehicle to outline some of the protections that the law provides to DEI critics.”

The court filing also explained Future Prep’s interest in the case. The company “offers test preparation and career and college readiness services,” Shelton wrote.

“Future Prep works to help students advance based on merit and personal achievement,” according to the court filing. “Future Prep has seen that some private schools have abandoned transparency for the sake of ideology, and some have suppressed inquiries into their DEI practices.”

“Future Prep views this conduct as harmful to the next generation of Americans,” Shelton added. “Although private schools are free to contract as other businesses, like other businesses they must still be held accountable when they engage in misrepresentation and defamation.”

The Turpins are making their second bid for the state Supreme Court to take the case. Their latest appeal followed April’s split 2-1 decision against the parents from the state’s second-highest court.

“[T]he Court of Appeals insulated Latin — and other private schools — from ordinary civil liability,” wrote the Turpins’ lawyers. “Along with other parents, the Turpins questioned Latin’s changing culture, which, over two years, veered away from a neutral, apolitical education and toward an intense focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

“What rights do parents retain? Because they dared question Latin’s agenda, Latin retaliated against the Turpins,” the Supreme Court petition continued. “Rather than treat Latin like any other private market participant, the Court of Appeals essentially determined that Latin was beyond reproach, and it faulted the Turpins for questioning Latin’s new culture.”

“But the Turpins have been clear that they are not challenging Latin’s power to adopt DEI-focused policies, arguing instead that parents shouldn’t be defamed or have their children expelled for simply asking about what their child is learning in class,” the Turpins’ lawyers added. “The court thus deprived the Turpins of their legal rights, preventing thousands of parents from asking questions about their own children’s wellbeing in the process.”

The Appeals Court ruling  “conflicts with” state Supreme Court precedents. “[H]ere the Court of Appeals relied on motivated reasoning to view the facts in the light least favorable to the Turpins,” their lawyers argued. “Because that court read the complaint in an unnatural way to deprive the Turpins of their rights, the Court of Appeals’ failure to abide by the standard of review also warrants review.”

The petition also argued that the case raises two significant legal questions for the high court to address. First, the Appeals Court “muddied the waters about the requirements for successfully pleading a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim.” Second, appellate judges rejected the Turpins’ claim of negligent misrepresentation. “But it did so just because it determined that the Turpins’ relationship with Latin was non-commercial. This issue separately merits review because it makes unclear whether private schools are, or are not, commercial actors.”

The Appeals Court’s April 2 decision marked the second time appellate judges had ruled against the Turpins. Unlike the first unanimous ruling in January, the latest decision split judges, 2-1, and produced three separate opinions.

The Turpins argued that the school violated its contract after the parents raised questions about changes in Charlotte Latin’s focus. The school responded that the Turpins violated provisions of the school’s “parent-school partnership” with ongoing complaints about Charlotte Latin’s operations.

“On appeal, plaintiffs contend that they ‘sufficiently alleged a breach of contract, and the trial court was wrong to conclude otherwise’ because ‘the court ignored the agreement’s plain language and disregarded Latin’s obligation to apply those agreements in good faith.’ We disagree, because the plain and unambiguous language of the enrollment contracts — and pursuant to the enrollment contracts, the Parent-School Partnership — allowed Latin to terminate plaintiffs’ enrollment contracts at Latin’s discretion,” wrote Judge Carolyn Thompson for the court’s majority.

Thompson had written the original decision in the case. The Appeals Court agreed to pull that decision in February, almost a month after the Turpins asked for the full 15-member court to rehear the case.

Judge John Arrowood supported Thompson’s majority opinion but wrote his own concurrence in April.

“I agree that plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege a breach of contract because the plain and unambiguous language in the enrollment contracts, which state that ‘the School reserves the right to discontinue enrollment if it concludes that the actions of a parent/guardian make such a relationship impossible or seriously interfere with the School’s mission[,]’ allowed the school to terminate plaintiffs’ 2021 enrollment contracts at its discretion,” Arrowood wrote. “Because I believe that allowing this case, in its current state, to advance further would severely undermine the fundamental right to freely contract in North Carolina, which is a bedrock principle of North Carolina law, I write separately to highlight those concerns.”

“North Carolina ‘recognizes that, unless contrary to public policy or prohibited by statute, freedom of contract is a fundamental constitutional right,’” Arrowood explained. “Thus, absent such policies or prohibitive statutes, it is beyond question that parties can contract as they see fit and that courts must enforce those contracts as written to preserve that fundamental right.

“In my view, these enrollment contracts between a private school and those who wish to attend that school do not violate any public policy, statutory prohibitions, or protections,” the concurring opinion continued. “Therefore, this is a case of basic contract interpretation.”

Thompson and Arrowood are Democrats. Judge Julee Flood, a Republican, dissented from the ruling favoring Charlotte Latin.

“The line between the right to terminate a private contract and a contract breach is sometimes mercurial,” Flood wrote. “While the majority would draw that line at the point at which Plaintiffs were accused of certain behaviors in violation of provisions of their private school enrollment contracts, I conclude that the mandates of a Rule 12(b)(6) review are such that we must decline to draw that line prematurely.”

Rule 12(b)(6) involves testing the legal sufficiency of a complaint.

“Treating the allegations in Plaintiffs’ Complaint as true, and viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, Plaintiffs made such allegations that they sufficiently stated a claim for breach of contract,” Flood wrote.

“Although the majority assesses Plaintiffs’ conduct as making impossible a ‘positive, collaborative working relationship between the School[,]’ or alternatively, as ‘seriously interfer[ing] with the School’s mission[,]’ such that Defendants were justified in their termination of Plaintiffs’ enrollment contracts, I conclude that this determination is premature as it necessarily involves findings of fact,” the dissent added.  

“It is not within our appellate purview to determine at this stage in the proceeding whether Defendants were justified in their termination of Plaintiffs’ enrollment contracts,” Flood wrote.

The appellate panel’s decision upheld an October 2022 trial court ruling favoring Charlotte Latin. Appellate judges focused on an element of the contractual agreement between the school and its parents. It required a “positive, collaborative working relationship between the School and a student’s parent/guardians.”

The Turpins alleged that Charlotte Latin “hatched a plan” to expel their children after the parents started asking questions about changes in the school’s operations.

The Turpins originally filed suit in April 2022. A trial judge dismissed all but one claim in October 2022. The Turpins later dropped that remaining claim as they pursued their appeal.

“Being a parent isn’t easy. Parents have a right — or, at the very least, a need — to understand what their children are exposed to, whether by their friends, the media, or their teachers,” according to a brief the Turpins’ lawyers filed in August. “This is a case about two parents needing an answer to that question.”

“Yet when they asked, Charlotte Latin School and its administrators, Chuck Baldecchi and Todd Ballaban, shut them down,” the brief continued. “In just over two weeks, the Turpins went from valued community members, invited to speak to Latin’s board of trustees, to pariahs whose children were expelled.”

“Latin expelled the Turpin children …  to make examples out of the Turpin family,” the parents argued. “The Turpins’ valid concerns irked the school’s administration. When Latin’s administrators got the chance, they hatched a plan to expel the Turpins’ children. … [T]his Court should reverse the trial court’s decision dismissing the complaint.”

During oral arguments in October, the lawyer for the Turpins, Chris Edwards, argued that the school unfairly targeted the family for expulsion.

“This is a business, not a public school,” Edwards said. “It may be a nonprofit business, but this is a business, not a public school. So, the Turpins are the school’s consumers, and it has an obligation to deal with them in good faith.”

In contrast, attorney Jennifer Van Zant, representing Charlotte Latin, argued that the school was well within its rights to end its relationship with the family. Van Zant emphasized that, in the school’s view, the students were not “expelled,” but the contract was simply ended.

“The very point of private education — whether it be a religious, classical, progressive, Montessori, experiential — is that schools can set a curriculum and policies and then parents can choose schools that match their personal ideologies,” Van Zant said. “Affirming the trial court’s order will affirm that in North Carolina, a private school may set its own course and may preserve a contractual right to separate from parents who want their children educated differently.”

Previously, the school characterized the suit as a challenge to its “diversity, equity, and inclusion” measures.

The NC Association of Independent Schools and Southern Association of Independent Schools filed briefs with the state’s second-highest court. The two groups supported Charlotte Latin’s case.

In a video interview with Carolina Journal, Turpin said that he and his wife were looking for a classical education for their children. They thought that would be achieved at Charlotte Latin. But the school took a turn toward progressivism after the George Floyd riots in 2020.

“All of a sudden they started sending out all kinds of very puzzling emails that sounded like virtue signaling,” Turpin said. “Then strange things began to appear in the school that were rather alarming to Christian parents like us.”

One of those was a picture hung in the hallway of the school depicting Jesus with his throat cut and black blood coming down his shirt, with the words “God is dead” on the forehead, according to Turpin.

The negative experience inspired Turpin to found a group called the Coalition for Liberty, which seeks to establish new classical model schools that are apolitical, among other objectives.

The May 7 petition arrived at the state Supreme Court more than one year after the Turpins first appealed to North Carolina’s seven justices. They filed a petition in March 2023 asking the state Supreme Court to bypass the Appeals Court and take up the case directly. The Supreme Court announced in September 2023 that it had rejected the bypass petition.