Recent Blog Posts

  • Ebola and the Law of Isolation and Quarantine in North Carolina

    Authored by: on Friday, October 31st, 2014

    Just over a month ago, the first case of Ebola virus disease to be diagnosed in the United States occurred in Dallas, Texas. It was considered an “imported” case, meaning that the infected individual, Thomas Eric Duncan, contracted the virus elsewhere (Liberia) before traveling to this country. There have since been three additional cases diagnosed in the U.S. Two of the cases were contracted in Dallas by nurses who provided treatment for Mr. Duncan. While a number of other people had contact with Mr. Duncan during his illness—family members and friends, as well as health care workers—no one else contracted the disease. Sadly, Mr. Duncan did not survive his illness. However, both of the infected nurses have recovered.

    The fourth case diagnosed in the United States was imported by Dr. Craig Spencer, a physician who had treated Ebola patients in Guinea. Dr. Spencer is hospitalized and is reported to be in serious but stable condition at the time of this writing.

    As a result of the four infections, a number of people have been placed under quarantine orders in different parts of the United States. In Dallas, Mr. Duncan’s close contacts were quarantined for 21 days—the incubation period for the Ebola virus. At present, three individuals who had close contact with Dr. Spencer are in quarantine in New York. In a handful of other highly reported cases, other health care workers and travelers from west African countries have been placed under quarantine orders. Some of those quarantines have been questioned or criticized by medical and public health professionals and legal experts, and at least one lawsuit challenging a quarantine order for a non-health care worker has been filed. (The case of Kaci Hickox, a nurse who publicized her intention to violate a quarantine order in Maine and then did so, is changing so rapidly as I write that I’ve abandoned efforts to report the latest and would refer you to your favorite search engine for an update.)

    What is the law of isolation and quarantine in North Carolina? Several years ago I wrote a health law bulletin examining that question in a fair amount of detail. Although the bulletin has aged a bit, the law has not changed and I hope you will read it if you would like a full treatment of the subject. I also have an on-line resource addressing several topics in communicable disease law that is available here. Both the bulletin and the on-line resource were written to address all types of communicable disease outbreaks, so they may have more information than Coates’ Canons readers need or want at this time. This post distills the information a bit, identifying the top 10 things to know about isolation, quarantine, and general communicable disease law, and how it applies to Ebola in particular.

    Before we get into the top ten, I want to note that as of this writing there have been no diagnoses of Ebola in North Carolina. However, public health officials and others have been preparing for the possibility that Ebola could occur in our state for several months. Following my “top ten” list, there are several links to additional resources about Ebola, including the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Ebola website. I hope you will check it out. Read more »

  • Grading North Carolina’s Property Tax System

    Authored by: on Thursday, October 30th, 2014

    Grade inflation may be rampant in higher education (everybody gets an A at Harvard?) but not at the Council on State Taxation.  Known as “COST,” this trade organization/lobbying group represents businesses concerned about state tax issues.  It recently issued a report card on property tax systems across the US, and its grades are pretty harsh.

    North Carolina’s property tax system was awarded a C+, which sounds disappointing until you look at how the rest of the country fared in the eyes of COST. Our state tied for 10th best.  No state earned better than a B+ (and only one of those was issued, to Oregon), while seven states earned a D or D+.  Ouch.

    We need to take the COST report card with more than a few grains of salt, of course. COST represents large businesses and vehemently opposes all property tax breaks that favor residential property over commercial property.  But regardless of the ideology involved, the COST report card offers some interesting observations about North Carolina’s property tax system and how it compares to those in other states.

    Read more »

  • Even More Questions & Answers About the Elimination of Privilege License Taxes

    Authored by: on Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

    Local privilege license taxes will be history as of July 1, 2015.   I’ve blogged about their repeal here and here, but lots of interesting questions continue to fill my email inbox.  Here are more Q&A’s about the disappearance of these taxes and the aftermath. Read more »

  • Same-Sex Marriage And Adoptions of a Minor by a Stepparent

    Authored by: on Friday, October 17th, 2014

    This post was co-authored by Meredith Smith, Assistant Professor of Public Law and Government, UNC-CH School of Government. 

    Over the course of the last two weeks, North Carolina federal district court judges in both the western district and the middle district rendered decisions declaring North Carolina’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage unconstitutional. See General Synod of the United Church of Christ, et. al. v. Drew Resinger, Register of Deeds for Buncombe County, et. al., Case No. 3:14-cv-00213-MOC-DLH; Fisher-Borne, et. al. v. Smith, et. al, Case No. 1:14CV299. These decisions were based on Bostic v. Schaefer, 760 F.3d 352 (4th Cir. 2014), in which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals declared unconstitutional a Virginia law and a Virginia constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages and making same-sex marriages invalid, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari of the same case. As a result of these decisions, any prohibition on same-sex marriage — including North Carolina Const. art. XIV, Section 6, G.S. 51-1, and G.S. 51-1.2 — is invalid statewide. Same-sex marriage is now legal in North Carolina.

    We are still in the process of analyzing the impact of these decisions on other areas of the law outside the marriage context. One immediate area of concern is adoptions. Under current NC law, there are three ways by which an adoption may take place:

    • Direct placement adoption, which contemplates a complete substitution of families where biological parents sever their rights in favor of adoptive parent or parents;
    • Agency placement adoption, in which an agency acquires legal and physical custody of a minor for purposes of adoption by means of relinquishment or termination of parental rights; and
    • Stepparent adoption, whereby an individual who is the spouse of a parent of a child but who is not a legal parent adopts the child.

    See Boseman v. Jarrell, 364 N.C. 537, 543 (2010).

    This summary addresses stepparent adoptions only. Read more »

  • What Effect Do the North Carolina Marriage Case Orders Have on Local Government Employers?

    Authored by: on Thursday, October 16th, 2014

    As a result of rulings by two federal district court judges that North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, North Carolina local government employers may now recognize same-sex marriages performed within North Carolina or outside of North Carolina for employee benefits purposes. Read more »

  • Ethics and the Role of the Local Government Attorney

    Authored by: on Thursday, October 9th, 2014

    Following up on Frayda Bluestein’s excellent post about the appointment of new city and county attorneys, I offer answers to frequently asked questions about the proper role of a local government attorney.

    As always, my advice is guided by the North Carolina Revised Rules of Professional Conduct.  For local government attorneys, the most relevant of those rules is likely Rule 1.13, “Organization as Client.” While not aimed specifically at government attorneys, the rule helps local government attorneys answer the key question about their representations: Who is my client? The answer determines where the attorney’s ethical obligations lie.

    Other rules worth reviewing are Rule 1.6, the basic confidentiality obligation that covers all information obtained by the attorney during a representation, and Rule 1.11, the special conflict of interest provisions for government attorneys.

    We’ll touch on these rules and other ethical considerations as I answer some FAQs about LGAs (local government attorneys). Read more »

  • Permissible Deductions from the Salaries of Exempt Employees

    Authored by: on Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

    The federal Fair Labor Standards Act permits employers to exempt employees from the law’s overtime requirements if their job duties meet one of three duties tests (discussed previously here, here, here, here, and here) and, crucially, if they are paid on a salary basis (discussed previously here). What happens if an employer makes deductions from the salary of an exempt employee? As a general rule, deductions violate the salary basis test and destroy the exemption, making the employee eligible for overtime. This rule does have exceptions. This blog post discusses four circumstances in which the FLSA allows public employers to make deductions from the salary of an exempt employee without destroying the exemption. Read more »