in the Court of Appeals 2 May 2017.
by plaintiff from orders entered 28 June and 3 August 2016 by
Judge James E. Hardin, Jr., in Orange County, No. 13 CVS 699
Office of Barry Nakell, by Barry Nakell, for
Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney
General Kimberly D. Potter, for defendant-appellee.
the plain language of a statute permits the trial court to
exercise its discretion in the award of attorney's fees
and where plaintiff does not establish an abuse of discretion
in the court's denial of plaintiff's motion for
attorney's fees, we affirm.
background of this case is set out in Frampton v. Univ.
of N.C. (Frampton I), 241 N.C.App. 401, 773
S.E.2d 526 (2015). In brief, the case addressed the
termination of Paul Frampton ("plaintiff"), a
tenured professor at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill ("UNC"), who was arrested in an airport
in Buenos Aires, Argentina and ultimately convicted of
smuggling cocaine found in his suitcase. Id.
Following plaintiff's arrest, UNC's chancellor placed
plaintiff on unpaid leave and terminated his salary and
benefits without pursuing the disciplinary procedures
outlined in the university's tenure policies. After
appealing to the UNC Board of Trustees, which upheld the
decision to place plaintiff on leave without pay, plaintiff
filed a petition for judicial review of a State agency
decision in Orange County Superior Court. The superior court
affirmed UNC's actions, and plaintiff appealed to this
Court. On appeal, this Court held that by placing plaintiff
on personal, unpaid leave instead of pursuing formal
disciplinary proceedings pursuant to the tenure policy, UNC
violated its own policies. On this basis, this Court reversed
the trial court's ruling and remanded the matter for the
trial court to determine the appropriate amount of the salary
and benefits withheld that should have been paid to
plaintiff. Id. at 414, 773 S.E.2d at 535.
remand, plaintiff filed a motion requesting compensation for
unpaid salary and benefits as well as attorney's fees.
The trial court awarded plaintiff $231, 475.92 in back salary
and $31, 824.53 for loss of benefits, but denied the motion
for attorney's fees. The trial court found
"UNC-Chapel Hill did not act without substantial
justification as it attempted to manage an unusual set of
circumstances that were not of its own making, and that it
would be unjust to require the State to pay attorney fees
under such special circumstances." Plaintiff now appeals
the trial court's denial of his request for
attorney's fees to this Court.
appeal, plaintiff argues the trial court abused its
discretion by denying his motion for an award of
attorney's fees, made pursuant to our General Statutes,
section 6-19.1, contending the trial court improperly
concluded UNC (I) acted with substantial justification (2)
under special circumstances that would make the award unjust.
standard of review for a trial court's decision whether
to award attorney's fees is abuse of discretion. High
Rock Lake Partners, LLC v. N.C. Dep't of Transp.,
234 N.C.App. 336, 760 S.E.2d 750 (2014). "A ruling
committed to a trial court's discretion is to be accorded
great deference and will be upset only upon a showing that it
was so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a
reasoned decision." Smith v. Beaufort Cty. Hosp.
Ass'n, Inc., 141 N.C.App. 203, 210, 540 S.E.2d 775,
780 (2000) (citation omitted). On appeal, the appellant has
the burden to show the trial court's ruling was
unsupported by reason or could not be the product of a
reasoned decision. High Rock Lake Partners, LLC, 234
N.C.App. at 340, 760 S.E.2d at 753.
appellant, here, plaintiff contends the trial court abused
its discretion by finding "UNC-Chapel Hill did not act
without substantial justification" under special
circumstances and that it would be unjust to require UNC to
pay plaintiff's attorney's fees.
Statutes, section 6-19.1, specifically addresses the awarding
of attorney's fees to parties defending against agency
In any civil action . . . brought by a party who is
contesting State action . . . the court may, in its
discretion, allow the prevailing party to recover reasonable
attorney's fees, including attorney's fees applicable
to the administrative review portion of the case . . . if:
(1) The court finds that the agency acted without substantial
justification in pressing its claim ...