NC Appeals Court affirms dismissal of Chatham County Confederate monument case

Chatham County removed this Confederate monument from the county courthouse property in 2019. (Carolina Journal file photo)

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  • The N.C. Court of Appeals has ruled unanimously against plaintiffs challenging removal of a Confederate monument from the Chatham County Courthouse property.
  • Appellate judges agreed with a trial court that plaintiffs linked to the United Daughters of the Confederacy lacked legal standing to proceed with a lawsuit.

A unanimous N.C. Court of Appeals panel has affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit challenging removal of a Confederate monument at the Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro.

Appellate judges agreed Tuesday with trial Judge Susan Bray’s decision in 2019 that plaintiffs associated with the United Daughters of the Confederacy lacked legal standing to file their suit.

The 27-foot-tall monument stood outside the courthouse from 1907 to 2019. It honored Confederate soldiers. Chatham County Commissioners voted in August 2019 to ask UDC to remove the statue at the county’s expense.

Three individuals and the Winnie Davis Chapter 259 of UDC filed suit in October 2019.

“Plaintiffs … alleged that the Monument was an ‘object of remembrance’ that could ‘only be relocated, whether temporarily or permanently,’ in accordance with the provisions of
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 100-2.1, and that the County Commissioners’ vote to remove the
Monument was a ‘proscriptive action’ in violation of the statute,” wrote Appeals Court Judge Valerie Zachary. “The same day, Plaintiffs filed a separate motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent the County Commissioners ‘from attempting to remove, alter, disassemble, or destroy the … Monument[.]’”

Bray dismissed the suit in December 2019. Meanwhile, Chatham County had removed the monument in November.

Appellate judges rejected multiple arguments UDC plaintiffs put forward about their legal standing in the case. They had no standing as taxpayers. They “failed to plead any facts that tend to establish that they had any possessory, proprietary, or contractual interest in the Monument,” Zachary wrote.

Nor can the plaintiffs claim legal standing because of a state law dealing with Confederate monument removal, Zachary explained. She cited a December 2022 precedent from the state’s highest court.

“As our Supreme Court made plain in United Daughters of the Confederacy, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 100-2.1 does not ‘explicitly authorize[ ] the assertion of a private cause of action for the purpose of enforcing that statutory provision,’” Zachary wrote. “Furthermore, even if N.C. Gen. Stat. § 100-2.1 implicitly authorized a private right of action, Plaintiffs’ allegations, like those in United Daughters of the Confederacy, are inadequate to support that Plaintiffs ‘would be in the class of persons on which the statute confers the right.’”

Judges Julee Flood and Allison Riggs joined Zachary’s opinion.

Chatham County paid more than $44,000 in 2019 to have the monument “carefully dismantled and transported, part of more than $200,000 in expenses related to maintaining security around the area of the monument during a months-long series of meetings, protests and demonstrations in Pittsboro that ultimately resulted in injuries, dozens of arrests and, for a time, statewide and some nationwide attention,” the Chatham News and Record reported in October 2021.

The county paid $300 per month to store the dismantled monument in a Greensboro warehouse as the legal battle continued, according to the 2021 newspaper report.