As much as we would like to believe that eugenics – an attempt to control the so-called “genetic quality” of a human population, based on factors such as social class and mental health – is something in which only other nations have engaged, this is simply not true. In fact, thousands of individuals right here in North Carolina were forcibly sterilized over several decades in the last century based on “public policy” as determined by local officials.
The State has since enacted a compensation program for those who were affected by the program. There is one “catch,” however – the claimant must have been alive as of June 30, 2013. The state supreme court was recently asked to consider the constitutionality of this rule – or, actually, to consider whether an intermediate appellate court had jurisdiction to answer the constitutionality question in an appeal by the administratrix of a woman who died prior to the “magic date” set forth by the statute establishing the program.
Facts of the Case
In a case recently under consideration by the North Carolina Supreme Court, the plaintiff was the administratrix of the estate of a woman who was sterilized involuntarily at the age of 14. The sterilization occurred in 1956 upon the order of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina, pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes §§ 35-39 (1950) (repealed in 2003). Three years after the deceased woman passed away, the North Carolina General Assembly established a program to provide lump-sum compensation to claimants determined to be qualified recipients. Part of the criteria for being a “qualified recipient” included being alive as of a certain date in 2013 (which the deceased woman was not).
The administratrix filed a claim on behalf of the deceased woman’s estate, but the claim was denied because the deceased woman passed away in 2010. On appeal to the full North Carolina Industrial Commission, the administratrix raised a constitutional challenge to the statute, arguing that the requirement that a claimant be alive as of a certain date violated the equal protection and due process guarantees of the state and federal constitutions. The full commission denied the claim but certified the constitutional question to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
The court of appeals did not reach the constitutional question, holding that it did not have jurisdiction because a challenge to the constitutionality of an act of the General Assembly first must be submitted to a three-judge panel of the superior court. Both the plaintiff and the State sought a further appeal, insisting that the intermediate court of appeals had jurisdiction to consider the claimant’s constitutional challenge.
Decision of the Supreme Court of North Carolina
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the intermediate appellate court to consider the merits of the plaintiff’s challenge to the constitutionality of the eugenics compensation program. While the court acknowledged that the commission lacked the judicial authority to rule on a constitutionality issue, given its limited judicial authority, it ruled that the court of appeals did have jurisdiction over this important legal question, insofar as it had the authority to consider final decisions of the commission regarding eligibility for the compensation program, pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes § 143B-426.53(f).
Have Questions About Your Rights in a Personal Injury Case?
As this case goes to show, there is a seemingly endless number of ways that individuals, businesses, and even the government can cause immeasurable harm to innocent people. If you or a loved one has been hurt by another party’s negligent or reckless actions, a Raleigh personal injury attorney at Nagle & Associates can answer any questions you may have regarding your right to seek fair compensation. Just call us at 800-411-1583, and we will be happy to schedule a free consultation regarding your case.
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