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In re Hughes

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

June 6, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF HUGHES, by and through V. H. INGRAM, Administratrix of the Estate of Hughes, Claim for Compensation Under the North Carolina Eugenics Asexualization and Sterilization Compensation Program, Claimant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF REDMOND, by and through L. NICHOLS, Administratrix of the Estate of Redmond, Claim for Compensation Under the North Carolina Eugenics Asexualization and Sterilization Compensation Program, Claimant-Appellant. IN THE MATTER OF SMITH, Claim for Compensation Under the North Carolina Eugenics Asexualization and Sterilization Compensation Program, Claimant-Appellant.

          Heard originally in the Court of Appeals 16 November 2015.

         Appeal by Claimant-Appellant Hughes, by and through V.H. Ingram, Administratrix of the Estate of Hughes, from amended decision and order entered 28 April 2015 by the North Carolina Industrial Commission N.C. Industrial Commission, I.C. No. U00037.

         Appeal by Claimant-Appellant Redmond, by and through L. Nichols, Administratrix of the Estate of Redmond, from decision and order entered 27 April 2015 by the North Carolina Industrial Commission N.C. Industrial Commission, I.C. No. U00438.

         Appeal by Claimant-Appellant Smith from decision and order entered 7 May 2015 by the North Carolina Industrial Commission N.C. Industrial Commission, No. U00750.

         Reversed and remanded by the Supreme Court of North Carolina to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the merits of Claimants' constitutional challenge to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.50(1).

          Pressly, Thomas & Conley, PA, by Edwin A. Pressly; and UNC Center for Civil Rights, by Elizabeth McLaughlin Haddix, for Claimant-Appellants.

          Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General Marc X. Sneed, for North Carolina Department of Justice, Tort Claims Section.

          McGEE, Chief Judge.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         The General Assembly enacted the Eugenics Asexualization and Sterilization Compensation Program ("the Compensation Program"), N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.50 et seq., in 2013, in order to provide compensation to victims of the North Carolina Eugenics laws. 2013 N.C. Sess. Laws 360, s. 6.18(a). Ms. Hughes ("Hughes"), Ms. Redmond ("Redmond"), and Mr. Smith ("Smith")[1] (Hughes, Redmond, and Smith together, "the Victims") were all "sterilized involuntarily under the authority of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina ['Eugenics Board'] in accordance with Chapter 224 of the Public Laws of 1933 or Chapter 221 of the Public Laws of 1937." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.50(5) (2013).[2] Hughes died in 1996, Redmond died in 2010, and Smith died in 2006.

         Because the North Carolina Industrial Commission ("Industrial Commission") concluded that the Victims were "asexualized involuntarily or sterilized involuntarily under the authority of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina in accordance with Chapter 224 of the Public Laws of 1933 or Chapter 221 of the Public Laws of 1937[, ]" they were all "qualified recipients" pursuant to the Compensation Program. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.50(5) (2013). However, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.50(1) limited which qualified recipients could become successful claimants as follows: "Claimant. - An individual on whose behalf a claim is made for compensation as a qualified recipient under this Part. An individual must be alive on June 30, 2013, in order to be a claimant." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.50(1) (emphasis added). Therefore, pursuant to the plain language of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.50(1), the Victims, all of whom died before 2013, are not considered "claimants" for the purposes of the Compensation Program. The Compensation Program states that only "[a] claimant determined to be a qualified recipient under this Part shall receive compensation[.]" N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.51(a) (2013) (emphasis added).

         The estates of Hughes, Redmond, and Smith ("the Estates") filed claims pursuant to the Compensation Program. However, because the Victims all died before 30 June 2013, they were determined not to meet the definition of "claimant" under the Compensation Program, and the Estates' claims were denied. The Estates appealed the initial denial of their claims, and their claims were heard by deputy commissioners. Following denials by the deputy commissioners, the Estates filed appeals to the Full Commission. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.53 (2013). Following denial of their claims by the Full Commission, the Estates filed notices of appeal with this Court, arguing that N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.50(1) was unconstitutional on its face because it arbitrarily denied compensation to the heirs of some victims while allowing compensation to others. This matter was heard originally in the Court of Appeals 16 November 2015, and this Court filed opinions on 16 February 2016, with one judge dissenting, in which we held that this Court lacked jurisdiction to address the Estates' facial constitutional challenge to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.50(1). In re Hughes, __ N.C. App. __, 785 S.E.2d 111 (2016); In re Redmond, __ N.C. App. __, 785 S.E.2d 111 (2016); In re Smith, __ N.C. App. __, 785 S.E.2d 111 (2016).

         Upon review, our Supreme Court reversed and remanded to this Court for consideration of the merits of Claimants' constitutional challenge to subsection 143B-426.50(1). In re Hughes, __ N.C. __, 796 S.E.2d 784 (2017); In re Smith, __ N.C. __, 797 S.E.2d 264, (2017); In re Redmond, __ N.C. __, 797 S.E.2d 275 (2017). We now address the merits of the Estates' facial constitutional challenge to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.50(1).

         II. Analysis

         On appeal, the Estates argue that N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B-426.50(1) violates the North Carolina and the United States constitutions by violating their rights to equal protection under the law. We cannot agree.

         A. History of the Compensation Program

         "North Carolina's eugenics program was unlike most in the nation, sterilizing approximately 7, 600 people over 45 years." Rep. Paul Stam and Amy O'Neal, Eugenics in North Carolina, 3 (2016), at http://paulstam.info/wp- content/uploads/2016/10/Eugenics-in-North-Carolina-Updated-Oct.-2016.pdf. In light of the history of eugenics in North Carolina,

North Carolina leaders realized that, through its Eugenics Board, the State invaded the lives and bodies of thousands of its citizens and forcibly took away their ability to choose whether to have children. Commissions and task forces debated whether to compensate the victims. Many in the General Assembly, including Speaker of the House Thom Tillis and House Majority Leader Paul Stam, hoped to accomplish this through the Eugenics Compensation Program (HB 947) during the 2012 Short Session. They wished "to make restitution for injustices suffered and unreasonable hardships endured by the asexualization or sterilizations of individuals at the direction of the State between 1933 and 1974." The bill would have offered $50, 000 in compensation to those who were sterilized under the N.C. Eugenics Board, but not to the families of victims who died before May 16, 2012. While HB 947 passed the House by a vote of 86 to 31 and funds were appropriated in the budgets of the House and Governor, the bill never made it to the Senate floor.

Id. at 4. One of the task forces mentioned above was created by executive order on 8 March 2011: "The Governor's Task Force [Task Force'] to Determine the Method of Compensation for Victims of North Carolina's Eugenics Board[.]" N.C. Executive Order No. 83 (2011). In this executive order, the Governor recognized that the General Assembly had already "established panels to explore and make recommendations for compensating and counseling persons who were sterilized under the . . . Eugenics Board program[, ]" and that "it is now appropriate to identify persons who were sterilized by force or coercion and to explore and determine the possible methods and forms of compensation to those persons." Id. The first duty assigned to the Task Force was to "[r]ecommend possible methods or forms of compensation to those persons forcibly sterilized under the . . . Eugenics Board program." Id. (emphasis added). The Task Force submitted its "Final Report" to the Governor on 27 January 2012. The Governor's Task Force to Determine the Method of Compensation for Victims of North Carolina's Eugenics Board, Final Report to the Governor of the State of North Carolina (2012), at http://www.sterilizationvictims.nc.gov/documents/FinalReport-GovernorsEugenicsCompensationTaskForce.pdf. In its "Letter of Transmittal" of the "Final Report, " the Task Force set forth its reasoning as follows:

Compensation for these survivors serves two purposes. No amount of money can adequately pay for the harm done to these citizens, but financial compensation and other services we recommend will nonetheless provide meaningful assistance. Compensation also serves a larger purpose for all of us who live in North Carolina and rely on a government that respects our rights and leaves us free to live the lives we choose. The compensation package we recommend sends a clear message that we in North Carolina are a people who pay for our mistakes and that we do not tolerate bureaucracies that trample on basic human rights.
. . . .
We also want to clarify our thinking on whether compensation should cover the estates of all victims or be limited to living victims. We know that children of eugenics victims suffer from the hardships their parents endured, but we believe, nonetheless, that financial compensation should go only to living victims. Those who were sterilized suffered direct harm by the state and we would like the state to pay them for that pain.

Id. at 1-2.

         In the conclusion of the Final Report, the Task Force acknowledged certain limitations and injustices that were a necessary byproduct of achieving a workable solution to the compensation issue:

In an effort to balance the need to compensate victims for the pain and hardships that they endured and the need to pass an overdue compensation plan this year, the Task Force made a difficult choice to limit compensation to living victims as defined in our recommendations.....
The Task Force recognizes that some of the descendants of deceased victims have expressed great frustration that the state could exclude them from a final compensation plan. The Task Force members hope that the descendants will recognize the difficult task faced in developing these recommendations. The final recommendation prioritized a need to provide justice before time runs out to the remaining 1, 500 to 2, 000 victims who endured the direct, frontline pain and humiliation of this program.

Id. at 13. The Task Force defined "living victims, " and stated that once living victims had been properly verified, they should receive a vested interest in ...


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