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Baxter v. Poe

Filed: July 31, 1979.

F. LEONA BAXTER
v.
WILLIAM E. POE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS CHAIRMAN OF THE CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG BOARD OF EDUCATION, THOMAS B. HARRIS, PHILLIP O. BERRY, C. D. SPANGLER, JR., MARILYN HUFF, JOHN B. MCLAUGHLIN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MEMBERS OF THE CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG BOARD OF EDUCATION, THE CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG BOARD OF EDUCATION, A PUBLIC BODY CORPORATE, DR. ROLLAND W. JONES, SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS FOR CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG, JOHN J. DOYLE, JR., AND KATHLEEN R. CROSBY



Appeal by petitioner from Griffin, Judge. Order dated 27 September 1977 entered in Superior Court, Mecklenburg County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 6 December 1978.

Parker, Judge. Judges Hedrick and Erwin concur.

Parker

The scope of the Superior Court's review of the Board's decision in this case and the power of that court in disposing of the case were governed by former G.S. 143-315 (now G.S. 150A-51), which was in effect at the time of the Board hearings in this matter. That statute provided:

The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings; or it may reverse or modify the decision if the substantial rights of the petitioners may have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions are:

(1) In violation of constitutional provisions; or

(2) In excess of the statutory authority or jurisdiction of the agency; or

(3) Made upon unlawful procedure; or

(4) Affected by other error of law; or

(5) Unsupported by competent, material, and substantial evidence in view of the entire record as submitted; or

(6) Arbitrary or capricious.

Due Process

The petitioner's first group of contentions concerns due process. In addressing these contentions, we rely in large measure on the opinion of this Court by Judge (now Chief Judge) Morris in Thompson v. Board of Education, 31 N.C. App. 401, 230 S.E.2d 164 (1976), rev'd on other grounds, 292 N.C. 406, 233 S.E.2d 538 (1977). The Supreme Court reversed only that part of the decision of this Court in Thompson which held that the evidence of neglect of duty on the part of the teacher-petitioner in that case was substantial, and the Supreme Court's opinion left standing that portion of Judge Morris's opinion in which she dealt with the due process issues raised in Thompson.

Petitioner in the present case, as did the petitioner in Thompson, contends that she has been denied due process. We do not agree. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education scrupulously followed the elaborate dismissal procedures mandated

by G.S. 115-142. After giving petitioner the required notice, the Board held hearings which extended over three evenings in which the petitioner was represented by counsel, was given the opportunity to cross-examine the Superintendent's witnesses, and was permitted to present her own evidence.

Petitioner's contentions regarding due process are largely based on a fundamental misconception of the procedures involved in a case of this nature. The procedures prescribed by G.S. 115-142 for the dismissal of a career teacher are essentially administrative rather than judicial. As was pointed out in this Court's opinion in Thompson, supra, the Board is not bound by the formal rules of evidence which would ordinarily obtain in a proceeding in a trial court. Nor are the Rules of Civil Procedure applicable. G.S. 1A-1. While a Board of Education conducting a hearing under G.S. 115-142 must provide all essential elements of due process, it is permitted to operate under a more relaxed set of rules than is a court of law. Boards of Education, normally composed in large part of non-lawyers, are vested with "general control and supervision of all matters pertaining to the public schools in their respective administrative units," G.S. 115-35(b), a responsibility differing greatly from that of a court. The carrying out of such a responsibility requires a wider latitude in procedure and in the reception of evidence than is allowed a court.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education employed at petitioner's hearing the same rule of evidence promulgated by the State Board of Education and used by the Wake County Board of Education in Thompson. The rule permits boards of education to admit and give probative effect to "evidence that is of a kind commonly relied on by reasonably prudent men in the conduct of serious affairs." Petitioner contends that this rule is constitutionally invalid both per se and as applied at the hearing in this case in that it violated her due process rights. We do not agree. This rule of evidence was approved in Thompson. It is not constitutionally invalid per se. It allows the boards of education to consider a wide range of evidence, as they properly should, in reaching their decisions. Petitioner's protection lies in the provision in G.S. 143-315(5) which gives to the Superior Court power to reverse or modify the Board's decision if petitioner's substantial rights have been prejudiced because the administrative decision

was "[u]nsupported by competent, material, and substantial evidence in view of the entire record."

Petitioner points to the admission at the hearing of hearsay evidence and contends erroneously that this was reversible error. The Board very properly heard such evidence in this case in order to complete its investigation. Evidence of the sort complained of can, and in this case did, provide the necessary background for understanding the matter into which the Board was inquiring.

Petitioner objects to the admission of evidence of events which occurred more than three years before 30 April 1974 and bases her objection on G.S. 115-142(e)(4). We need here only point out that G.S. 115-142(e)(4) prohibits a Board of Education from basing dismissal "on conduct or actions which occurred more than three years before the written notice of the superintendent's intention to recommend dismissal is mailed to the teacher." There is no prohibition against the Board hearing evidence of this nature. Petitioner has made no showing that the Board based her dismissal on conduct of ...


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