Heard in the Court of Appeals January 7, 2015
Law Office of James C. White, P.C., by James C. White and Michelle M. Walker, for plaintiffs-appellees.
The North Carolina Department of Commerce Division of Employment Security, by Ted Enarson and Jeremy L. Ray, for defendants-appellants.
INMAN, Judge. Judges STEELMAN and DIETZ concur.
Appeal by defendants from order entered 13 March 2014 by Judge Paul C. Ridgeway in Wake County Superior Court, No. 14 CVS 2499.
Defendants appeal the order granting plaintiffs a preliminary injunction compelling the disclosure of unemployment hearings information. Defendants contend that the interlocutory order is immediately appealable because it involves a substantial right. Furthermore, they allege that the trial court erred in entering the preliminary injunction because plaintiffs are unable to show a likelihood of success on the merits because federal law prohibits the disclosure of the unemployment appeals hearing notices. In contrast, plaintiffs argue that the appeal should be dismissed not only because it is moot but also because it is interlocutory and does not affect a substantial right. In the alternative, plaintiffs contend that the order should be affirmed because it was decided correctly under the law in effect at the time of the hearing.
After careful review, we vacate the order and remand for the trial court to enter additional findings and conclusions not inconsistent with this opinion.
Factual and Procedural Background
This appeal involves the North Carolina Division of Employment Security's (" DES's" ) decision to terminate its practice of providing third parties, specifically plaintiffs Monica Wilson (" Ms. Wilson" ) and her law firm Wilson Law Group PLLC (" WLG" ) (collectively, Ms. Wilson and WLG are referred to as " plaintiffs" ), with daily access to appeals hearing notices about unemployment claimants (the " hearing notices" ). The hearing notices listed all scheduled hearings set before DES appeals referees and hearing officers and provided various information about each claimant, including, among other things, the claimant's name, address, phone number, information about her termination, and the last four digits of her social security number. Since 2004, Ms. Wilson and several other attorneys received daily hearing notices from DES in exchange for a monthly fee of $300. Ms. Wilson picked her copy up daily via courier from DES because the notices provided only 14 days notice of the scheduled hearings.
On 26 February 2014, in addition to the day's hearing notices, DES sent Ms. Wilson an undated letter stating:
Due to security concerns, the process of entering [DES] through the back door of our building near the mail room and outside our security guards [sic] knowledge will no longer be allowed after February 28th. I understand the process of allowing attorneys to pick up appeals hearing notices was established by a former DES General Counsel years ago, but for the safety of our employees and constituents, this will end.
The letter went on to say that the hearing notices would be sent to the law offices " at least three times per month" and that the monthly cost would increase from $300 to $600. The letter was signed by defendant Dale R. Folwell (" Mr. Folwell" ), the Assistant Secretary of DES. According to plaintiffs, this change negatively impacted claimants' ...