State Supreme Court to hear cases dealing with speedway shutdown, UNC fees

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  • The N.C. Supreme Court will hear COVID-related cases in the months ahead dealing with a forced speedway shutdown and University of North Carolina fees.
  • The court will not wade into a fight between Boone and Watauga County over distribution of sales tax revenue.

The N.C. Supreme Court will hear two high-profile COVID-related cases in the months ahead. One deals with the forced shutdown of an Alamance County speedway. The other targets student fees paid at the University of North Carolina’s flagship universities when they were closed for in-person instruction.

The court’s latest petitions list, released Friday, also indicates justices will hear a libel case related to a television station’s accurate reporting of false information provided by the Wake County Sheriff’s Office.

Meanwhile, the state’s highest court has declined to take up Boone’s tax dispute with Watauga County. A Court of Appeals decision favoring the county and three of its towns will stand in that case.

The Supreme Court has granted State Health and Human Services Secretary Kody Kinsley’s request to hear a case involving the shutdown of the Ace Speedway during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kinsley hopes the high court will reverse a unanimous Aug. 2 Appeals Court ruling against him. Appellate judges determined that owners of the Alamance County racetrack could sue the official over a COVID-related shutdown in 2020.

“This appeal concerns whether the State can be subject to claims for financial damages for taking steps to protect public health during the worst pandemic in a century,” wrote state Solicitor General Ryan Park, representing Kinsley.

Kinsley is the named defendant in the lawsuit, even though the speedway’s shutdown took place under the authority of his predecessor, Dr. Mandy Cohen.

In a separate case, the state Supreme Court will take up the issue of student fees paid to UNC Chapel Hill and N.C. State during COVID-related campus shutdowns.

The high court issued a “writ of superseadas” blocking a unanimous Appeals Court ruling against the UNC System. The state Supreme Court also granted the university’s request to hear the case, Lannan v. Board of Governors of UNC.

A grad student at N.C. State University and a UNC Chapel Hill undergrad are seeking refunds of fees paid for the fall 2020 semester, when their campuses remained closed for students. A trial judge and the Court of Appeals had agreed the lawsuit could move forward.

In Walker v. Wake County Sheriff’s Department, the court will decide whether a media outlet can avoid legal liability by correctly reporting false information received from a government agency. In this case, WTVD reported false information about a criminal case in 2019. But the television station accurately reported an email from a Wake County Sheriff’s employee. The sheriff’s employee had provided inaccurate information.

Both a trial judge and the Appeals Court have ruled that the plaintiff cannot sue WTVD, since it enjoys a “fair report privilege.” The state Supreme Court will review that issue.

The state Supreme Court will not jump into the political fight between Boone and Watauga County over distribution of local sales tax funds. Boone accused the county and three other towns of crafting a sales tax distribution scheme that violates state law.

The county and the smaller towns urged the court to steer clear of a “messy, local political squabble” dating back 35 years. A unanimous Appeals Court panel had rejected Boone’s case.

No dates have been scheduled yet for arguments in the speedway, UNC fees, or “fair report privilege” cases.