Williams v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C.
(Filed 2 May 2003)
Statutes of Limitation and Repose–constitutionality of statute–continuing violation–runs from
The statute of limitations did not bar a counterclaim for a declaratory judgment that challenged the
constitutionality of an Orange County anti-discrimination ordinance and its enabling legislation because the
alleged wrong constitutes a continuing violation. Although Orange County asserts that the statute of limitations ran
from the effective date of the ordinance or the enabling legislation, this suit and a companion case were the first
two suits brought pursuant to the ordinance and BCBSNC had no certainty that it would run afoul of the ordinance
until it was enforced.
Laches–constitutionality of statute–runs from enforcement
A counterclaim challenging the constitutionality of an Orange County anti-discrimination ordinance was
not barred by laches, even though it was filed five and one-half years after the ordinance was adopted and eight
and one-half years after the enabling legislation and Orange County had expended large amounts of money, time,
and administrative effort in the creation and enforcement of the legislation and the ordinance, because this suit and
a companion case were the first two suits brought pursuant to the ordinance and BCBSNC moved expeditiously
once the suits were filed.
Constitutional Law–North Carolina–local act–anti-discrimination ordinance
The employment discrimination provisions of an Orange County anti-discrimination ordinance and its
enabling legislation constituted local acts within the meaning of Article II, section 24 of the North Carolina
Constitution because, using the reasonable classification test, it could not be concluded that conditions in Orange
County are suspect to such an extent that the legislature could legally create a separate classification to address
employment discrimination in that county only.
Constitutional Law–North Carolina–local act prohibition–labor and trade
The employment discrimination provisions of an Orange County anti-discrimination ordinance and its
enabling legislation regulated labor and trade and violated the local act provisions of the North Carolina
Constitution because the effect was to govern labor practices even though the intent was to prohibit discrimination.
Constitutional Law–North Carolina–local act–permissive–invalid
Legislation enabling an Orange County anti-discrimination ordinance was invalid (as applied to
employment) as a prohibited local act regardless of whether Orange County chose to act on the legislation. A
statute’s validity is judged by what is possible rather than by what has been done.
Constitutional Law–North Carolina–delegation of power to counties–limited
Orange County did not possess statutory authority to pass an employment discrimination ordinance
independent of the ordinance’s enabling legislation. Any delegation of power by the legislature to the counties
must be accompanied by adequate guiding standards and the aspirational language in the cited authority (N.C.G.S.
§ 143-422.2) contains little detail. The resulting local law is inequitable in application, although not arbitrary in
conception; moreover, the changes of policy and procedure found here should emanate from the General
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA
FILED: 2 MAY 2003
BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD OF NORTH CAROLINA,
ORANGE COUNTY, ORANGE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, and ORANGE COUNTY HUMAN
On discretionary review pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7A-31, prior to a
determination by the Court of Appeals, of an order for partial summary
judgment entered 13 November 2000 and an amended order for partial summary
judgment entered 23 January 2001 by Judge Steven A. Balog in Superior Court,
Heard in the Supreme Court 11 December 2001.
Maupin Taylor & Ellis, P.A., by Thomas A. Farr, M. Keith Kapp,
Kevin W. Benedict, and Terence D. Friedman, for defendant-appellee
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.
Coleman, Gledhill & Hargrave, P.C., by Geoffrey E. Gledhill and
S. Sean Borhanian; and The Brough Law Firm, by Michael B. Brough,
for defendant-appellants Orange County, Orange County Board of
Commissioners, and Orange County Human Relations Commission.
Office of the City Attorney, by Emanuel McGirt, for City of Durham,
Elliot, Pishko, Gelbin & Morgan, P.A., by Robert M. Elliot and
J. Griffin Morgan, on behalf of the North Carolina Academy of Trial
Lawyers; and Seth H. Jaffe, for the American Civil Liberties Union
of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Inc., amici curiae.
Van Hoy, Reutlinger & Adams, by Philip Marshall Van Hoy and Stephen
John Dunn, on behalf of Employers Association and Capital
Associated Industries, Inc., amici curiae.
Edwards, Ballard, Clark, Barrett and Carlson, P.A., by Kenneth P.
Carlson, Jr., on behalf of North Carolina Society of Human Resource
Management, amicus curiae.
North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, by C. Ronald
Aycock, Counsel and Executive Director; and S.C. Kitchen, Durham
County Attorney, amicus curiae.
-3Office of the County Attorney, by E. Holt Moore, III, for New
Hanover County Human Relations Commission, amicus curiae.
City of Asheville, by Robert W. Oast, Jr., City Attorney, amicus
City of Durham, by Emanuel McGirt, City Attorney, amicus curiae.
Moore & Van Allen, PLLC, by George M. Teague, on behalf of North
Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry; and P. Andrew Ellen
for the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association, amici curiae.
In this action, we are called upon to determine:
(1) whether the
North Carolina General Assembly violated Article II, Section 24 of the North
Carolina Constitution by ratifying enabling legislation permitting Orange
County, the Orange County Board of Commissioners, and the Orange County Human
Relations Commission (collectively, counterclaim defendants) to enact and
enforce the employment provisions of an antidiscrimination ordinance entitled
the Orange County Civil Rights Ordinance (the Ordinance); and (2) whether
counterclaim defendants acted illegally in enacting and enforcing the
employment provisions of that Ordinance.
For the reasons that follow, we
affirm the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment to defendant Blue
Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) and denial of summary judgment
to counterclaim defendants.
Pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 160A-492, the Orange County Board of
Commissioners (the Board of Commissioners) in 1987 established the Orange
County Human Relations Commission (the HRC).
See N.C.G.S. § 160A-492 (2001)
(“[t]he governing body of any city, town, or county is hereby authorized to
undertake . . . human relations, community action and manpower development
programs . . . [and] may appoint such human relations, community action and
manpower development committees or boards and citizens’ committees, as it may
deem necessary in carrying out such programs and activities”).
Commissioners’ mandate to the HRC was that it
The Board of
-4(1) study and make recommendations concerning problems in
the field of human relationships; (2) anticipate and
discover practices and customs most likely to create
animosity and unrest and to seek solutions to problems as
they arise; (3) make recommendations designed to promote
goodwill and harmony among groups in the County
irrespective of their race, color, creed, religion,
ancestry, national origin, sex, affectional preference,
disability, age, marital status or status with regard to
public assistance; (4) monitor complaints involving
discrimination; (5) address and attempt to remedy the
violence, tensions, polarization, and other harm created
through the practices of discrimination, bias, hatred,
and civil inequality; and (6) promote harmonious
relations within the county through hearings and due
process of law . . . .
Orange County Civil Rights Ordinance, art. II, sec. 2.1(a), at 1 (effective
1 January 1995) [hereinafter Ordinance].
Thereafter, the HRC advertised and conducted public hearings on
discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodation
and determined that discrimination in those areas existed in Orange County on
the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability,
familial status, marital status, sexual orientation, and veteran status.
Ordinance, art. II, sec. 2.1(b), (c).
As a result of these findings, the
Board of Commissioners requested that the North Carolina General Assembly
adopt enabling legislation allowing Orange County to enact a comprehensive
civil rights ordinance.
In response, the General Assembly ratified chapter 246 of the 1991
Session Laws on 10 June 1991, effective that same day.
ch. 246, sec. 6, 1991 N.C. Sess. Laws 456, 460.
Act of June 10, 1991,
This legislation was passed
both to aid Orange County in addressing the concerns raised by the HRC and to
authorize Orange County to create or designate a commission to assist in the
implementation of the Ordinance.
Section 6 of chapter 246 authorized the
Board of Commissioners to adopt an ordinance to be referred to either as a
“Civil Rights Ordinance” or a “Human Rights Ordinance.”
-5On 23 March 1993, the Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution
requesting that the Orange County delegation to the General Assembly
introduce a rewrite of the 1991 legislation to provide for “local
administration of federal and [s]tate laws prohibiting discrimination on the
basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability,
marital status, familial status, and veteran status.”
The General Assembly
made the requested amendments by enacting section 14 of chapter 358 of the
1993 Session Laws, effective upon ratification on 16 July 1993.
July 16, 1993, ch. 358, sec. 14, 1993 N.C. Sess. Laws 1158, 1169.
After the General Assembly passed this enabling legislation, the
Board of Commissioners, on 6 June 1994, adopted the Ordinance.
On 18 April
1995, the Board of Commissioners adopted another resolution requesting from
the General Assembly an amendment to the enabling legislation authorizing the
HRC to serve as a deferral agency for cases deferred by the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD), pursuant to planned “worksharing agreements” with those
These agreements would authorize transfer by the EEOC to Orange
County of employment discrimination complaints filed with it originating in
the county and transfer by HUD to Orange County of housing discrimination
complaints arising in the county.
Accordingly, the General Assembly enacted
section 2, chapter 339 of the 1995 Session Laws, effective upon ratification
on 28 June 1995.
Act of June 28, 1995, ch. 339, sec. 2, 1995 N.C. Sess. Laws
In its current form, the Ordinance is an antidiscrimination law
applicable only in Orange County and administered by counterclaim defendants.
The employment provision of the Ordinance provides in pertinent part:
It is unlawful for an employer:
(1) To fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any
individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any
individual with respect to that individual’s
-6compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of
employment, because of such individual’s race, color,
religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, familial
status, or veteran status.
Ordinance, art. IV, sec. 4.1(a)(1), at 9 (effective 1 January 1996).1
Ordinance is enforceable by a private cause of action that permits those
affected to recover injunctive relief, back pay, and compensatory and
punitive damages up to $300,000.
art. X, at 54-55.
Ordinance, art. VIII, sec. 8.3.2, at 50-53;
Different sections of the Ordinance prohibit
discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, as well as
the infliction of bodily injury or property destruction on account of the
factors listed above.
The employment discrimination provision of the
Ordinance became effective 1 January 1996 and applies to all employers
engaged in an industry affecting commerce who have fifteen or more employees
in Orange County.
Ordinance, art. III, at 4.
employers include the State of North Carolina and the United States.
The Ordinance provides that when the HRC receives individual complaints
of employment discrimination, it may begin its investigation by requesting a
statement of the employer’s position regarding the allegations.
art. VIII, sec. 8.1, at 39-42.
HRC may also issue subpoenas to obtain
documents and materials from the employer.
After completing its
investigation, the HRC issues either a finding of cause to believe
discrimination occurred or a finding that reasonable cause does not exist.
Ordinance, art. VIII, sec. 8.2, at 42-46.
If the HRC finds cause to exist, attempts are made to resolve the
complaint by conference, conciliation, and/or persuasion.
The Ordinance was enacted 6 June 1994 and was
subsequently amended 3 August 1995. All of its articles, with
the exception of Article IV, took effect on 1 January 1995.
Article IV, the unfair employment provision of the Ordinance that
is the subject of the appeal at bar became effective 1 January
-7VIII, sec. 8.1, at 42.
If these efforts fail, the HRC issues a right-to-sue
letter, Ordinance, art. VIII, sec. 8.2, at 45, allowing the complainant to
litigate the matter in the Superior Court, Orange County, within one year of
receipt of the letter, Ordinance, art. X, at 54.
As an alternative if cause
is found to exist, the HRC itself can instead choose to litigate the
employment discrimination claim before a state administrative law judge
Ordinance, art. VIII, sec. 8.2(j)(1), at 45.
In such a case, the
employer has no opportunity to opt out of the administrative process and
demand a jury trial in state court.
Any decision by the ALJ is automatically reviewed by a three-member
panel of the HRC commissioners.
Ordinance, art. VIII, sec. 8.3.1(a), at
Ordinance, art. VIII, sec. 8.3.1(j)(1), at
A reviewing panel has the discretion to review all aspects of the ALJ’s
findings, including findings of fact, credibility determinations, and legal
findings, and may affirm, modify, or reverse the ALJ’s recommended decision.
In the case at bar, plaintiff Mary Williams filed claims with the
HRC and the EEOC alleging discrimination on the grounds that she had been
forced to resign from her employment with BCBSNC because of her age and sex,
and also alleging that BCBSNC had retaliated against her for filing the
Following an investigation, the HRC found reasonable
cause to believe that BCBSNC had discriminated against plaintiff based on her
age and gender, and issued a right-to-sue letter.
Plaintiff filed the suit giving rise to the instant appeal in
Superior Court, Orange County, on 23 March 1999, claiming that BCBSNC fired
her because of her age and also in retaliation for filing a claim of
discrimination with the HRC and the EEOC.
four causes of action:
Specifically, plaintiff alleged
(1) that BCBSNC wrongfully discharged plaintiff
because of her age, in violation of North Carolina public policy as set forth
in the Equal Employment Practices Act (EEPA), N.C.G.S. ch. 143, art. 49A
-8(2001), and the Ordinance; (2) that BCBSNC wrongfully discharged plaintiff
because she filed a charge of age discrimination with the HRC and the EEOC,
in violation of North Carolina public policy as set forth in the EEPA and the
Ordinance; (3) that BCBSNC discharged plaintiff because of her age, in
violation of the Ordinance; and (4) that BCBSNC discharged plaintiff in
retaliation for filing a complaint with the HRC in violation of the
BCBSNC removed the suit to the United States District Court for the
Middle District of North Carolina, asserting that plaintiff’s claims raised
substantial questions of federal law.
On 29 July 1999, the federal court
remanded the case to Superior Court, Orange County, holding that because
plaintiff had chosen to assert only state law claims, she was entitled to
proceed in state court.
After the trial court on 1 November 1999 approved BCBSNC’s motion
to add a counterclaim, BCBSNC filed its amended answer and counterclaim.
This new filing contained a declaratory judgment action (denominated as the
counterclaim), asserting that the enabling legislation and the Ordinance
violated Article II, Section 24(1)(j) of the North Carolina Constitution,
which prohibits “any local, private, or special act or resolution . . .
[r]egulating labor, trade, mining, or manufacturing.”
N.C. Const. art. II, §
On 31 July 2000, BCBSNC filed a further amended answer and first
amended counterclaim, adding a claim that the Ordinance denied BCBSNC equal
protection of the law.
Beginning on 6 November 2000, the trial court heard
cross-motions for summary judgment.
BCBSNC’s motion was based upon a claim
that the Ordinance’s employment discrimination provision was
unconstitutional, while counterclaim defendants’ motion argued that the
Ordinance was constitutional in its entirety but that, even if it were not,
BCBSNC was precluded from attacking the Ordinance based on the affirmative
defenses of laches and the statute of limitations.
-9After hearing arguments and reviewing the parties’ briefs, the
trial court on 13 November 2000 entered an order declaring the employment
provision of the Ordinance to be in violation of Article II, Section 24 of
the North Carolina Constitution, and in violation of the equal protection
guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and
Article I, Section 19 of the North Carolina Constitution.
The trial court
also enjoined counterclaim defendants from enforcing the unlawful employment
discrimination provisions of the Ordinance as well as any civil rights
investigations and civil actions thereunder.
Pursuant to the request of
counterclaim defendants, and with the consent of BCBSNC, the trial court on
23 January 2001 amended its order to certify its decision for interlocutory
appeal under Rule 54(b) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure and
section 1-277 of the North Carolina General Statutes.
N.C.G.S. § 1-277 (2001).
19 February 2001.
N.C. R. Civ. P. 54(b);
Counterclaim defendants filed notice of appeal on
This Court allowed discretionary review on 19 July 2001,
prior to determination by the Court of Appeals pursuant to section 7A-31.
N.C.G.S. § 7A-31 (2001).
As a preliminary matter, we observe that the only issues before us
pertain to the employment provisions of the enabling legislation and the
Because the parties had no occasion to brief or argue the
constitutionality of the provisions of the enabling legislation and the
Ordinance relating to housing and public accommodation and because the
following analysis consequently focuses only on the employment provisions, we
express no opinion as to the legality of any aspect of either the enabling
legislation or the Ordinance unrelated to employment.
 We first consider whether the trial court erred in concluding
that BCBSNC’s declaratory judgment action against counterclaim defendants was
not barred by the statute of limitations.
Summary judgment may be granted in
a declaratory judgment proceeding, N.C. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Briley,
-10127 N.C. App. 442, 444, 491 S.E.2d 656, 657 (1997), disc. rev. denied, 347
N.C. 577, 500 S.E.2d 82 (1998), where “the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if
any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that any
party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law,” N.C.G.S. § 1A-1, Rule
“When the statute of limitations is properly pleaded and the
facts of the case are not disputed[,] resolution of the question becomes a
matter of law and summary judgment may be appropriate.”
Associated Indem. Corp., 84 N.C. App. 365, 369, 353 S.E.2d 123, 126, disc.
rev. denied, 319 N.C. 673, 356 S.E.2d 779 (1987).
Counterclaim defendants contend that summary judgment should have
been granted because the claims of BCBSNC are barred by the statute of
Their position is that the time period for BCBSNC’s filing of a
constitutional challenge to the Ordinance or the enabling legislation began
to run on the date the enabling legislation or the Ordinance became
effective, which was 28 June 1995 for the enabling legislation or 1 January
1996 for the Ordinance.
Further, counterclaim defendants contend that the
applicable statute of limitations for BCBSNC’s action is three years based
upon either N.C.G.S. § 1-52(2) or 1-52(5) and that BCBSNC failed successfully
to file suit within that period because BCBSNC filed its counterclaim motion
on 1 November 1999.
We disagree, and for the reasons that follow, we affirm
the trial court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of BCBSNC as to this
The general rule for claims other than malpractice is that a cause
of action accrues as soon as the right to institute and maintain a suit
See N.C.G.S. § 1-15(a) (2001); Thurston Motor Lines, Inc. v. General
Motors Corp., 258 N.C. 323, 325, 128 S.E.2d 413, 415 (1962).
Court has also recognized the “continuing wrong” or “continuing violation”
doctrine as an exception to the general rule.
See Faulkenbury v. Teachers’ &
-11State Employees’ Ret. Sys. of N.C., 345 N.C. 683, 694-95, 483 S.E.2d 422,
This doctrine states that an applicable statute of
limitations does not begin to run until the violative act ceases.
Virginia Hosp. Ass’n. v. Baliles, 868 F.2d 653, 663 (4th Cir. 1989).
continuing violation is occasioned by continual unlawful acts, not by
continual ill effects from an original violation.”
1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 1981).
Ward v. Caulk, 650 F.2d
To determine whether BCBSNC suffers from a
continuing violation, we examine this case under a test that considers “[t]he
particular policies of the statute of limitations in question, as well as the
nature of the wrongful conduct and harm alleged,” as set out in Cooper v.
United States, 442 F.2d 908, 912 (7th Cir. 1971).
See Faulkenbury v.
Teachers’ & State Employees’ Ret. Sys. of N.C., 108 N.C. App. 357, 368, 424
S.E.2d 420, 425 (utilizing the Cooper test to determine if a continuing
violation exists), aff’d per curiam, 335 N.C. 158, 436 S.E.2d 821 (1993);
National Adver. Co. v. City of Raleigh, 947 F.2d 1158, 1167 (4th Cir. 1991)
(same), cert. denied, 504 U.S. 931, 118 L. Ed. 2d 593 (1992).
we must examine the wrong alleged by BCBSNC to determine if the purported
violation is the result of “continual unlawful acts,” each of which restarts
the running of the statute of limitations, or if the alleged wrong is instead
merely the “continual ill effects from an original violation.”
Caulk, 650 F.2d at 1147.
Our review of the record satisfies us that the alleged wrong here
constitutes a continuing violation.
To date, BCBSNC has been the subject of
at least two lawsuits as well as numerous proceedings under the Ordinance.
When the enabling legislation and the Ordinance were first enacted, BCBSNC
was just another employer in Orange County to which these new laws applied;
any harm to BCBSNC was both prospective and speculative.
The alleged wrongs
to BCBSNC became apparent only upon enforcement of the Ordinance through the
filing of lawsuits and proceedings against BCBSNC.
Thus, BCBSNC is not
-12merely suffering the ill effects of a single alleged original wrong that
accrued when the enabling legislation and the Ordinance were enacted.
Instead, it has been subjected to a number of alleged wrongs through the
application of the enabling legislation and the Ordinance.
“[I]f the same
alleged violation was committed at the time of each act, then the limitations
period begins anew with each violation . . . .”
Perez v. Laredo Junior
Coll., 706 F.2d 731, 733 (5th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1042, 79 L.
Ed. 2d 172 (1984).
Counterclaim defendants cite several cases to support their
position that the alleged wrong occurred upon enactment of the applicable
laws and that any further wrong was no more than the ill effects of an
See Capital Outdoor Adver., Inc. v. City of Raleigh, 337
N.C. 150, 164, 446 S.E.2d 289, 297 (1994) (where owner of outdoor advertising
company challenged ordinance requiring amortization and ultimate removal of
nonconforming signs, limitation period began on effective date of ordinance
because “[i]t was on that precise date that the expected useful life of the
plaintiffs’ billboards was foreshortened”); National Adver. Co. v. City of
Raleigh, 947 F.2d 1158 (where ordinance required that nonconforming signs be
removed within five and one-half years, limitations period began to run when
ordinance enacted because plaintiff advertiser was immediately on notice that
his signs would have to be taken down at a time certain in the future); Rozar
v. Mullis, 85 F.3d 556 (11th Cir. 1996) (where landfill placed in
predominately African-American neighborhood, two-year statute of limitations
applied to bar suit against county defendants because plaintiffs’ injury
accrued when county selected the landfill site at a public hearing, but did
not bar suit against state defendants, who became involved only during the
later permitting process).
from the case at bar.
We believe that these cases are distinguishable
In both Capital Outdoor Advertising and National
Advertising Company, the plaintiffs were provided notice at the moment the
-13ordinances were passed that they would suffer a specific loss at a specific
By contrast, BCBSNC had no certainty that it would run afoul of the
Ordinance until the instant suit and companion suit were filed against it.
Rozar involved a taking, in that the value of the plaintiffs’ property would
be diminished by the landfill.
“This argument misapprehends the differences
between a statute that effects a taking and a statute that inflicts some
other kind of harm.”
Levald, Inc. v. City of Palm Desert, 998 F.2d 680, 688
(9th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1093, 127 L. Ed. 2d 217 (1994).
takings cases, there is a “single harm, measurable and compensable when the
statute is passed.”
Unlike the cases cited by counterclaim defendants, the alleged
wrong in the case at bar “is continuing, or does not occur until the statute
is enforced -- in other words, until it is applied.”
BCBSNC, the suit brought by plaintiff here against BCBSNC, and a companion
case, were the first two lawsuits brought against an employer pursuant to the
BCBSNC asserted a challenge to the constitutionality of the
Ordinance nine months after plaintiff’s lawsuit was filed and only four and a
half months after this case was remanded from the federal district court.
Similarly, BCBSNC sought to challenge the Ordinance eleven months after the
companion lawsuit was filed.
Thus, BCBSNC’s action in the case at bar was
brought well within any limitations period triggered by the suits and
proceedings brought against it.
These assignments of error are overruled.
 We next address whether the trial court erred in concluding
that BCBSNC’s declaratory judgment action against counterclaim defendants was
not barred by the equitable doctrine of laches.
Like the statute of
limitations, laches may be raised properly on a motion for summary judgment.
See Taylor v. City of Raleigh, 290 N.C. 608, 622, 227 S.E.2d 576, 584 (1976);
Capps v. City of Raleigh, 35 N.C. App. 290, 241 S.E.2d 527 (1978).
-14In equity, where lapse of time has resulted in some
change in the condition of the property or in the
relations of the parties which would make it unjust to
permit the prosecution of the claim, the doctrine of
laches will be applied. Hence, what delay will
constitute laches depends upon the facts and
circumstances of each case.
Teachey v. Gurley, 214 N.C. 288, 294, 199 S.E. 83, 88 (1938).
Our review of
this issue involves a three-part analysis:
(1) Do the pleadings, affidavits and exhibits show any
dispute as to the facts upon which [counterclaim]
defendants rely to show laches on the part of plaintiffs
[technically, defendants in this case]? (2) If not, do
the undisputed facts, if true, establish plaintiffs’
laches? (3) If so, is it appropriate that [counterclaim]
defendants’ motion for summary judgment, made under G.S.
1A-1, Rule 56(b), be granted?
Taylor v. City of Raleigh, 290 N.C. at 621, 227 S.E.2d at 584.
Here, counterclaim defendants contend that BCBSNC’s delay in filing
a constitutional challenge -- almost five and a half years after the
Ordinance was adopted and eight and a half years from the effective date of
the enabling legislation -- has caused a sufficient detrimental change in
their position that laches should act as a bar to suit.
defendants argue that BCBSNC’s delay in bringing the challenge, when
considered along with the large amounts of money, time, and administrative
effort expended in the creation and enforcement of the enabling legislation
and the Ordinance, has caused it materially to change its position such that
it would be prejudicial and unfair to allow BCBSNC’s challenge to continue.
As detailed above, BCBSNC indicates in its brief that the suit at
bar and the companion case were the first two lawsuits brought against an
employer pursuant to the Ordinance.
We have held “‘the mere passage or lapse
of time is insufficient to support a finding of laches; for the doctrine of
laches to be sustained, the delay must be shown to be unreasonable and must
have worked to the disadvantage, injury or prejudice of the person seeking to
Id. at 622-23, 227 S.E.2d at 584-85 (quoting 22 Am. Jur. 2d
-15Declaratory Judgments § 78 (1965)).
As detailed below, we do not discount
the expense and effort expended by Orange County.
Nevertheless, the record
shows that BCBSNC moved expeditiously once these suits were filed against it.
Accordingly, we believe that there was no unreasonable delay in bringing this
These assignments of error are overruled.
 We next consider whether the trial court erred in its holding
that the employment discrimination provisions of the Ordinance and its
enabling legislation violated Article II, Section 24 of the North Carolina
This section of the Constitution, entitled “Limitations on
local, private, and special legislation,” provides in pertinent part:
(1) Prohibited subjects. The General Assembly shall
not enact any local, private, or special act or
. . . .
Regulating labor, trade, mining, or manufacturing;
. . . .
(3) Prohibited acts void. Any local, private, or
special act or resolution enacted in violation of the
provisions of this Section shall be void.
N.C. Const. art. II, § 24(1)(j), (3).
Counterclaim defendants argue that neither the enabling legislation
nor the Ordinance is a local act under Article II, Section 24.
counterclaim defendants contend that even if this Court determines that the
enabling legislation and the Ordinance are local acts, they are not
prohibited local acts because they seek to regulate discrimination (which is
not a forbidden purpose) rather than labor or trade.
Our review of counterclaim defendants’ argument is two-fold.
First, we must determine whether the enabling legislation and the Ordinance
are local acts as contended by BCBSNC or whether they are general laws as
contended by counterclaim defendants.
Second, if they are found to be local
-16acts, we must determine whether the enabling legislation and the Ordinance
regulate labor or trade.
As we make this determination, we are aware that:
It is well settled in this State that the courts
have the power, and it is their duty in proper cases, to
declare an act of the General Assembly unconstitutional
-- but it must be plainly and clearly the case. If there
is any reasonable doubt, it will be resolved in favor of
the lawful exercise of their powers by the
representatives of the people.
Glenn v. Board of Educ., 210 N.C. 525, 529-30, 187 S.E. 781, 784 (1936).
“A statute is either ‘general’ or ‘local’; there is no middle
High Point Surplus Co. v. Pleasants, 264 N.C. 650, 656, 142 S.E.2d
697, 702 (1965).
We have observed that “no exact rule or formula capable of
constant application can be devised for determining in every case whether a
law is local, private or special or whether general.”
254 N.C. 510, 517, 119 S.E.2d 888, 893 (1961).
McIntyre v. Clarkson,
Consequently, since the
enactment of Article II, Section 24 (originally Article II, Section 29, see
Smith v. County of Mecklenburg, 280 N.C. 497, 506, 187 S.E.2d 67, 73 (1972)),
we have set out alternative methods for determining whether a law is general
See City of New Bern v. New Bern-Craven Cty. Bd. of Educ., 338
N.C. 430, 435-36, 450 S.E.2d 735, 738-39 (1994).
In earlier decisions, we
held that if the legislation impacted a majority of the counties, the law was
See State v. Dixon, 215 N.C. 161, 165, 1 S.E.2d 521, 523 (1939).
Later, we established what has become known as the “reasonable
S.E.2d at 894-95.
See McIntyre v. Clarkson, 254 N.C. at 518-19, 119
This test considers how the law in question classifies the
persons or places to which it applies.
Pursuant to this test, the
“[c]lassification must be reasonable and . . . must be based on a reasonable
and tangible distinction and operate the same on all parts of the state under
the same conditions and circumstances.”
law is deemed local
Id. at 519, 119 S.E.2d at 894.
-17where, by force of an inherent limitation, it arbitrarily
separates some places from others upon which, but for
such limitation, it would operate, where it embraces less
than the entire class of places to which such legislation
would be necessary or appropriate having regard to the
purpose for which the legislation was designed, and where
the classification does not rest on circumstances
distinguishing the places included from those excluded.
Id. at 518, 119 S.E.2d at 894.
On the other hand,
the constitutional prohibition against local acts simply
commands that when legislating in certain specified
fields the General Assembly must make rational
distinctions among units of local government which are
reasonably related to the purpose of the legislation.
A law is general if “any rational basis reasonably
related to the objective of the legislation can be
identified which justifies the separation of units of
local government into included and excluded categories.”
Adams v. N.C. Dep’t. of Natural & Econ. Res., 295 N.C. 683, 691, 249 S.E.2d
402, 407 (1978) (quoting Joseph S. Ferrell, Local Legislation in the North
Carolina General Assembly, 45 N.C. L. Rev. 340, 391 (1967)).
In Town of Emerald Isle v. State, 320 N.C. 640, 360 S.E.2d 756
(1987), we departed from the reasonable classification test enunciated in
Adams where the act in question applied only to a site-specific portion of
land on a particular beach.
Instead, we applied a test that examined “the
extent to which the act in question affects the general public interests and
concerns,” id. at 651, 360 S.E.2d at 763, because the reasonable
classification test was “ill-suited to the question presented in [that] case,
since by definition a particular public pedestrian beach access facility must
rest in but one location,”
id. at 650, 360 S.E.2d at 762.
Our review of the various analyses for determining whether an act
is local or general satisfies us that the reasonable classification test is
most appropriate to the case at bar.
While, in this case, the enabling
legislation and the Ordinance allowing for the creation of a comprehensive
civil rights ordinance apply only to Orange County, this legislation is not
site-specific as in Emerald Isle because “[s]uch a legislated change could be
-18effected as easily in [Orange County] as in any other [county] in the state.”
City of New Bern v. New Bern-Craven Cty. Bd. of Educ., 338 N.C. at 436, 450
S.E.2d at 739.
Consequently, the Emerald Isle analysis is inapplicable to
Under a reasonable classification analysis, “the distinguishing
factors between a valid general law and a prohibited local act are the
related elements of reasonable classification and uniform application.”
Adams v. N.C. Dep’t. of Natural & Econ. Res., 295 N.C. at 690, 249 S.E.2d at
Legislative classification of conditions, persons, places, or things is
reasonable when it is “based on [a] rational difference of situation or
High Point Surplus Co. v. Pleasants, 264 N.C. at 656, 142 S.E.2d
Based upon our earlier decisions, we must determine in this case
whether the legislature had a rational basis to justify singling out Orange
County through the enabling legislation, thereby allowing this one county to
create its own civil rights ordinance enforcing particular employment rights
of Orange County citizens.
Phrased differently, we must determine whether
the General Assembly should have granted Orange County the power, rationally
based upon some situation unique to that county, to create and enforce
additional employment rights beyond those accorded any other county in this
Based upon our thorough review of the record, we determine that
neither the enabling legislation passed by the legislature nor the Ordinance
suggests any rational basis justifying treatment of Orange County differently
from all other North Carolina counties as to those rights.
A history of the promulgation of Article II, Section 24 reveals:
The organic law of the State was originally drafted
and promulgated by a convention which met at Halifax in
December, 1776. During the ensuing 140 years, the
Legislature of North Carolina possessed virtually
unlimited constitutional power to enact local, private,
and special statutes. This legislative power was
exercised with much liberality, and produced a plethora
-19of local, private, and special enactments. As an
inevitable consequence, the law of the State was
frequently one thing in one locality, and quite different
things in other localities. To minimize the resultant
confusion, the people of North Carolina amended their
Constitution at the general election of 1916 so as to
deprive their Legislature of the power to enact local,
private, or special acts or resolutions relating to many
of the most common subjects of legislation.
. . . .
In thus amending their organic law, the people were
motivated by the desire that the General Assembly should
legislate for North Carolina in respect to the subjects
specified as a single united commonwealth rather than as
a conglomeration of innumerable discordant communities.
To prevent this laudable desire from degenerating into a
mere pious hope, they decreed in emphatic and express
terms that “any local, private, or special act or
resolution passed in violation of the provisions of this
section shall be void.”
Idol v. Street, 233 N.C. 730, 732-33, 65 S.E.2d 313, 314-15 (1951) (quoting
N.C. Const. of 1868, art. II, sec. 29 (1917) (now Article II, Section 24, as
previously noted); see also John V. Orth, The North Carolina State
A Reference Guide 89-90, 166-67 (1993).
A brief comparison of the Ordinance with the employment
discrimination law applicable across North Carolina reveals that the enabling
legislation and the Ordinance generate different law in one locality from
that applicable to other localities within the state.
First, the Ordinance
creates in Orange County two additional protected categories of employment
discrimination apparently found nowhere else in the state.2
prevents Orange County employers with fifteen or more employees from
We use the word “apparently” advisedly. The briefs
indicate that the City of Durham and New Hanover County also have
human relations commissions that enforce local employment
discrimination ordinances. Those ordinances are not before us.
However, even if their provisions mirror those of the Orange
County Ordinance and create similar additional employment rights
in the City of Durham and in New Hanover County, their existence
in those limited locales does not affect our analysis that the
enabling legislation and the employment provisions of the Orange
County Ordinance constitute a local law.
-20discriminating because of “familial status” or “veteran status,” Ordinance,
art. IV, sec. 4.1(a)(1), at 9, classifications that are not found in either
the EEPA or section 2000e-2 of title 42 of the United States Code, 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-2 (2000) (“Unlawful employment practices”).
Second, a method for
enforcing employment discrimination suits has been created in Orange County
that exists nowhere else in North Carolina.
Thus, in a single dispute
involving one employee, an employer in Orange County may be investigated and
sued by either the HRC or the EEOC.3
In other words, as acknowledged in
deposition by the Director of the Orange County Department of Human Rights
and Relations, such an Orange County employer can be compelled to respond to
two different government investigations and suits.
By contrast, an employer
elsewhere in North Carolina may be subject to investigation by the EEOC or
the North Carolina Department of Administration’s Human Relations Commission,
see N.C.G.S. § 143-422.3, but can only be sued through a federal claim
brought by the EEOC.
Additionally, an employee working in Orange County may benefit from
a longer statute of limitations for the raising of administrative claims than
employees working in other counties.
Employers in any county other than
Orange may raise a statute of limitations defense if an employee fails to
file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged unlawful act.
See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e) (2000).
In Orange County, however, by virtue of
the Ordinance, an employer may not raise a statute of limitations defense
unless the charge was filed after 300 days of the alleged act.
See id.; see
also 29 U.S.C. § 626(d)(2) (2000).
Similarly, the statute of limitations period for the filing of
discrimination lawsuits differs between Orange County employers and employers
A North Carolina employer not in Orange County may assert a
We note that a plaintiff may always bring suit as an
individual upon receipt of a right-to-sue letter.
-21statute of limitations defense against an employee who fails to file suit
within ninety days of receiving a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.
U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1); 29 U.S.C. § 626(e).
In contrast, while the
limitations period for EEOC complaints remains the same, an employer in
Orange County may not assert a statute of limitations defense for
discrimination claims filed under the Ordinance unless the employee fails to
file suit one year after receiving a right-to-sue notice from the HRC.
Ordinance, art. X, at 54.
In addition, there is no evidence in the record to suggest that
employment practices in Orange County differ in any significant way from the
employment practices in other North Carolina counties.
Consequently, we are
unable to conclude that conditions in Orange County alone are suspect to such
an extent that the legislature legally could create a separate classification
to address employment discrimination in that county only.
See City of New
Bern v. New Bern-Craven Cty. Bd. of Educ., 338 N.C. at 438, 450 S.E.2d at 740
(no rational basis to separate New Bern from other cities for special
legislative attention regarding the designation of an appropriate inspection
department); Smith v. County of Mecklenburg, 280 N.C. at 507-08, 187 S.E.2d
at 74 (no particular features in Mecklenburg and Moore Counties that
differentiate them from other counties with reference to the right of their
citizens to decide whether to have liquor by the drink); High Point Surplus
Co. v. Pleasants, 264 N.C. at 657, 142 S.E.2d at 703 (no reasonable
distinction to demonstrate that a Sunday observance law is more necessary for
the welfare of Wake County than other counties); Treasure City of
Fayetteville, Inc. v. Clark, 261 N.C. 130, 134-35, 134 S.E.2d 97, 100-01
(1964) (no reasonable basis to exempt certain counties from Sunday closing
statute than other counties); McIntyre v. Clarkson, 254 N.C. at 524-25, 119
S.E.2d at 898 (no reasonable and distinctive feature to allow certain
counties to have different laws regarding the appointment of justices of the
Based on all the considerations set out above, we hold that the
employment provisions of the enabling legislation and the Ordinance are local
Counterclaim defendants contend that the creation and
implementation of the Ordinance was the fruit of countless hours of thorough
research regarding discrimination in Orange County.
We do not doubt the
difficult and well-intentioned labor that has been expended in the planning
and implementation of this employment rights program, nor do we question the
commendable motives behind Orange County’s effort to expunge as many vestiges
of discrimination as is humanly possible.
Our role, however, is to determine
whether the method employed by Orange County comports with the Constitution
of North Carolina.
Any local, private, or special act or resolution enacted
in violation of the provisions of Article II, Section 24 shall be void, “no
matter how praiseworthy or wise [its provisions] may be.”
Idol v. Street,
233 N.C. at 733, 65 S.E.2d at 315.
Therefore, if the General Assembly should undertake to address
employment discrimination by means of a state statute, Article II, Section 24
requires that it enact either a statewide law applicable to employers and
their employees regardless of where they reside within the state or a general
law that makes reasonable classifications based upon rational differences of
That process was not followed here.
particularized laws in this case could lead to a balkanization of the state’s
employment discrimination laws, creating a patchwork of standards varying
from county to county.
The end result would be the “conglomeration of
innumerable discordant communities” that Article II, Section 24 was enacted
Id. at 732, 65 S.E.2d at 315.
 Having determined that the enabling legislation and the
Ordinance are local laws, we next must consider whether they regulate labor
Previously, this Court has adopted the definition of to “regulate”
-23as “‘to govern or direct according to rule; . . . to bring under the control
of law or constituted authority.’”
State v. Gulledge, 208 N.C. 204, 208, 179
S.E. 883, 886 (1935) (quoting Webster’s New International Dictionary 2099 (2d
ed. 1935)), quoted in Cheape v. Town of Chapel Hill, 320 N.C. 549, 559, 359
S.E.2d 792, 798 (1987).
“Labor” has been defined as “compensated
employment,” State v. Chestnutt, 241 N.C. 401, 403, 85 S.E.2d 297, 299
(1955), and “trade” has been defined as “a business venture for profit and
includes any employment or business embarked in for gain or profit,” High
Point Surplus Co. v. Pleasants, 264 N.C. at 655-56, 142 S.E.2d at 702.
reviewing the record, we believe the enabling legislation and the Ordinance
regulate labor in Orange County.
As noted above, counterclaim defendants contend that the acts seek
only to regulate discrimination, not labor or trade.
However, the record
demonstrates that while the intent of the enabling legislation and the
Ordinance is to prohibit discrimination in the workplace, the effect of these
enactments is to govern the labor practices of “person[s] engaged in an
industry affecting commerce who has 15 or more employees” in Orange County.
Numerous aspects of the employer/employee relationship fall within the ambit
of the Ordinance, from hiring through resignation, retirement, or
The Ordinance requires covered employers to conduct their
internal practices pursuant to the requirements of the Ordinance or face the
possibility of civil suit by either an employee or the HRC.
By seeking to
curb unlawful discrimination by regulating covered employers, the enabling
legislation and the Ordinance have the practical effect of regulating labor,
as forbidden by Article II, Section 24.
In their briefs and at oral argument, the parties discussed the
enabling legislation and the Ordinance in terms of trade.
conclusion that the acts regulate labor is dispositive as to this issue, we
believe that they regulate trade as well.
Most of the employers affected by
-24the Ordinance are businesses operated for gain or profit.
these employers has the practical effect of regulating trade.
See Smith v.
County of Mecklenburg, 280 N.C. at 509, 187 S.E.2d at 75 (statute authorizing
an election in Mecklenburg County to determine whether liquor by the drink
could be sold under rules and regulations created by the local county board
was determined to be a regulation of trade); High Point Surplus Co. v.
Pleasants, 264 N.C. at 656-57, 142 S.E.2d at 702-03 (local ordinance and
statute that excepted forty-eight counties from its operation of establishing
Sunday sales laws was determined to be a regulation of trade); Orange
Speedway, Inc. v. Clayton, 247 N.C. 528, 533, 101 S.E.2d 406, 410 (1958)
(statute that forbade the holding of motorcycle or automobile races on Sunday
in Orange County was determined to be a regulation of trade).
 Counterclaim defendants also argue that the enabling
legislation does not “directly” regulate trade or labor because the
legislation merely gives Orange County the option of adopting an employment
Therefore, counterclaim defendants claim that
“permissive” legislation, such as the enabling legislation, does not violate
Article II, Section 24 in this case.
Even though we have concluded that the
enabling legislation and the Ordinance regulate labor, we address this
argument because its validity is not dependent on the purpose for which the
local law was passed.
In other words, if the legislation as passed is valid
because it is “permissive,” it does not matter that the purpose of the act is
to regulate labor as opposed to trade.
In High Point Surplus Company, this Court determined that
legislation enabling fifty-two counties to prohibit sales on Sunday while
excepting the remaining forty-eight counties was an unconstitutional local
law regulating trade.
High Point Surplus Co. v. Pleasants, 264 N.C. at
656-57, 142 S.E.2d at 702-03.
The legislation did not mandate that the
fifty-two counties prohibit sales, but instead enabled the local board of
-25commissioners of these fifty-two counties to make such determinations
applicable to the incorporated towns and cities within the counties, so long
as each town’s or city’s governing body by resolution agreed to such
Id. at 653-54, 142 S.E.2d at 700.
The defendant-appellees in
High Point Surplus Company sought to distinguish the Sunday sales legislation
from our decision in Treasure City of Fayetteville, Inc. v. Clark, 261 N.C.
130, 134 S.E.2d 97, by pointing out that the statute in Treasure City
involved a mandatory Sunday closing law, “whereas [this statute] is
permissive and takes effect only when invoked by action of the county
commissioners of an included county.”
264 N.C. at 657, 142 S.E.2d at 703.
High Point Surplus Co. v. Pleasants,
We were unpersuaded by this argument
because “[a] statute’s validity must be judged not by what has actually been
done under it but by what is possible under it.”
Id.; see also State v.
Smith, 265 N.C. 173, 143 S.E.2d 293 (1965) (statute authorizing the Forsyth
County Board of Commissioners, after adoption by resolution, to regulate the
operation of dance clubs or pool halls near a church or school held to be
unconstitutional local act regulating trade); McIntyre v. Clarkson, 254 N.C.
510, 119 S.E.2d 888 (permissive statute that enables county commissioners,
upon approval by county resolution, to determine the number of justices of
the peace to be appointed held to be unconstitutional local and special law);
Food Fair, Inc. v. City of Henderson, 17 N.C. App. 335, 194 S.E.2d 213 (1973)
(permissive statute that authorized the governing bodies of three counties to
refuse to issue license for the sale of wine within corporate limits held to
be an unconstitutional local act regulating trade).
counterclaim defendants’ argument that the purportedly permissive nature of
the enabling legislation renders it valid is unpersuasive.
We hold that this
legislation, by giving the power to Orange County to enact the employment
legislation, is invalid, whether or not Orange County had chosen to act on
-26 Counterclaim defendants contend that even if this Court
determines that the enabling legislation constitutes a local law, Orange
County is nevertheless authorized to prohibit discrimination in employment by
passing the Ordinance pursuant to the inherent powers it possesses
independent of any authority specifically conferred by the enabling
They argue that Orange County has the statutory power to enact
ordinances that “define, regulate, prohibit, or abate acts, omissions, or
conditions detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of its citizens and
the peace and dignity of the county,” N.C.G.S. § 153A-121(a), and that “[t]he
fact that a State or federal law, standing alone, makes a given act,
omission, or condition unlawful shall not preclude city ordinances requiring
a higher standard of conduct or condition,” N.C.G.S. § 160A-174 (2001).
addition, counterclaim defendants cite us to N.C.G.S. § 153A-4 (“Broad
construction”), N.C.G.S. § 153A-123 (“Enforcement of ordinances”), N.C.G.S. §
153A-124 (“Enumeration not exclusive”), and N.C.G.S. § 153A-134 (“Regulating
and licensing businesses, trades, etc.”).
However, we do not interpret any
of these provisions as providing Orange County with the authority to pass its
own comprehensive employment rights law.
The ability of the North Carolina General Assembly to delegate
power to the counties is limited.
See N.C. Const. art. II, § 1.
Court has previously observed,
Counties are creatures of the General Assembly and
have no inherent legislative powers. High Point Surplus
Co. v. Pleasants, 264 N.C. [at] 654, 142 S.E.2d [at] 701;
DeLoatch v. Beaman, 252 N.C. 754, 757, 114 S.E.2d 711,
714 (1960). They are instrumentalities of state
government and possess only those powers the General
Assembly has conferred upon them. Harris v. Board of
Comm’rs of Washington Cty., 274 N.C. 343, 346, 163 S.E.2d
387, 390 (1968); High Point Surplus [Co. v. Pleasants],
264 N.C. at 654, 142 S.E.2d at 701.
Craig v. County of Chatham, 356 N.C. 40, 44, 565 S.E.2d 172, 175 (2002)
Power may validly be delegated to counties by the
-27General Assembly for a number of reasons.
One such reason, frequently seen,
is to allow a county to deal with local complexities that would be an
inordinate burden on the state legislature.
Adams v. N.C. Dep’t. of Natural
& Econ. Res., 295 N.C. at 697, 249 S.E.2d at 410.
Although Adams deals with
the delegation of power from the General Assembly to an administrative
agency, we believe that the analysis in that decision applies equally well to
delegations to local governments.
Any such delegation must be accompanied by
“adequate guiding standards to govern the exercise of the delegated powers.”
The actual determination of the adequacy of such standards may be
difficult in practice, id., but such transfers of power cannot allow the
agency or organization to make arbitrary or unreasoned decisions, id. at 697,
249 S.E.2d at 411.
In the case at bar, the guiding authority is the EEPA, which
It is the public policy of this State to protect and
safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to
seek, obtain and hold employment without discrimination
or abridgement on account of race, religion, color,
national origin, age, sex or handicap by employers which
regularly employ 15 or more employees.
It is recognized that the practice of denying
employment opportunity and discriminating in the terms of
employment foments domestic strife and unrest, deprives
the State of the fullest utilization of its capacities
for advancement and development, and substantially and
adversely affects the interests of employees, employers,
and the public in general.
N.C.G.S. § 143-422.2.
This aspirational language contains little detail to guide or
direct those who seek to deal with knotty and complex day-to-day employment
issues through legislation.
In the case at bar, Orange County has drafted an
ordinance that excludes employers that regularly employ less than fifteen
people, a provision expressly included in N.C.G.S. § 143-422.2, but which
also excludes the State of North Carolina and the United States.
-28exclusion means that the Ordinance does not affect the employment practices
of the University of North Carolina, the largest employer in Orange County.
Consequently, many workers in Orange County are covered, while many are not.
The result is a local law that, while not arbitrary in conception, is
inequitable in application.
In addition, a county may not make important policy choices that
might just as easily be made by the elected representatives in the
Adams v. N.C. Dep’t. Natural & Econ. Res., 295 N.C. at 697-98,
249 S.E.2d at 410-11.
“The primary purpose of the constitutional limitation
on legislative enactments of local acts is to allow the General Assembly an
opportunity to devote more time and attention to legislation of state-wide
interest and concern.”
S.E.2d at 762.
Town of Emerald Isle v. State, 320 N.C. at 650, 360
The changes of policy and procedure found in the enabling
legislation and the Ordinance are sufficiently important choices that they
should emanate from the General Assembly, which represents all North
It was the purpose of [Article II, Section 24] to free
the General Assembly from the enormous amount of petty
detail which had been occupying its attention, to enable
it to devote more time and attention to general
legislation of statewide interest and concern, to
strengthen local self-government by providing for the
delegation of local matters by general laws to local
authorities, and to require uniform and coordinated
action under general laws on matters related to the
welfare of the whole State.
High Point Surplus Co. v. Pleasants, 264 N.C. at 656, 142 S.E.2d at 702.
Consequently, we hold that Orange County did not possess the independent
authority to pass the employment ordinance.
These assignments of error are overruled.
Because we hold that the enabling legislation and the Ordinance
violate Article II, Section 24 of the North Carolina Constitution, we need
not address the additional assignments of error as to whether the acts are
-29violative of equal protection under the federal and state Constitutions.
Based upon the foregoing, we hold that the trial court did not err in
concluding that the enabling legislation and the Ordinance pertaining to
employment discrimination are unconstitutional acts.
Justice MARTIN and Justice BRADY did not participate in the
consideration or decision of this case.