in the Court of Appeals 16 January 2019.
by plaintiff Timothy Stanley from order entered 16 February
2018 by Judge Lisa C. Bell in Superior Court, Mecklenburg
County. No. 12 CVS 1017
Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy and Kennedy, LLP, by Harvey L.
Kennedy and Harold L. Kennedy, III, for plaintiff-appellant.
Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, by Sean F. Perrin, for
background of this case can be found in this Court's
prior opinion of McLaughlin v. Bailey, 240 N.C.App.
159, 771 S.E.2d 570 (2015), aff'd, 368 N.C. 618,
781 S.E.2d 23 (2016). The prior appeal was filed in this same
case and addressed the same claims and issues. See
id. In 2008, plaintiff was a deputy sheriff working in
the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Department. Id.
at 160, 771 S.E.2d at 573. Defendant Daniel Bailey was
elected as sheriff, and defendant then terminated
plaintiff's employment. See id. at 160-61, 771
S.E.2d at 573. Plaintiff Timothy Stanley filed this lawsuit
alleging he had been terminated for unlawful reasons.
See id. at 161, 771 S.E.2d at 573.
Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, and the trial
court granted summary judgment for defendants, dismissing
plaintiff Stanley's claims. Id. at 161-62, 771
S.E.2d 573. Plaintiff Stanley appealed, and this Court
affirmed the trial court's judgment. See id.,
240 N.C.App. 159, 771 S.E.2d 570. Plaintiffs then petitioned
the North Carolina Supreme Court for discretionary review,
and the Supreme Court affirmed this Court's opinion in
January of 2016. See McLaughlin v. Bailey, 368 N.C.
618, 781 S.E.2d 23.
November of 2017, plaintiff Stanley filed a motion with the
trial court under Rule 60(b)(6) for relief from judgment,
arguing he was entitled to resurrect his claim based upon the
United State Supreme Court's opinion in Heffernan v.
City of Patterson, N.J., 136 S.Ct. 1412, 194 L.Ed.2d 508
(2016), which was decided after the North Carolina Supreme
Court had affirmed the dismissal of his claim.
Plaintiff alleged the Heffernan case "is now
controlling." On 16 February 2018, the trial court
entered an order denying plaintiff's motion. Plaintiff
Stanley contends that the summary judgment for defendants
dismissing his claim should be overturned based on
Heffernan. Defendants contend Heffernan is
not applicable to plaintiff Stanley's claims and his
motion was untimely filed. But we need not address the trial
court's substantive rationale for denial of the Rule
60(b)(6) motion or the timing of the motion because the trial
court did not have the discretion to allow the Rule 60(b)(6)
motion. See generally D & W, Inc. v. Charlotte,
268 N.C. 720, 722-23, 152 S.E.2d 199, 202 (1966) ("In
our judicial system the Superior Court is a court subordinate
to the Supreme Court. Upon appeal our mandate is binding upon
it and must be strictly followed without variation or
departure. No judgment other than that directed or permitted
by the appellate court may be entered.").
Court normally reviews a trial court's order denying a
motion under Rule 60(b)(6) for abuse of discretion:
General Statute 1A-1, Rule 60(b)(6) is equitable in nature
and authorizes the trial judge to exercise his discretion in
granting or withholding the relief sought. Our Supreme Court
has indicated that this Court cannot substitute what it
considers to be its own better judgment for a discretionary
ruling of a trial court, and that this Court should not
disturb a discretionary ruling unless it probably amounted to
a substantial miscarriage of justice. Further, a judge is
subject to reversal for abuse of discretion only upon a
showing by a litigant that the challenged actions are
manifestly unsupported by reason.
Huggins v. Hallmark Enterprises, Inc., 84 N.C.App.
15, 25, 351 S.E.2d 779, 785 (1987) (citations, quotation
marks, and brackets omitted).
this instance, the trial court had no discretion to allow
plaintiff's motion, see generally D & W,
Inc., 268 N.C. at 722-23, 152 S.E.2d at 202, even if it
had determined plaintiff's argument that
Heffernan somehow changed the law in a way which
would affect plaintiff's claim, though ultimately that is
not what the trial court determined. The exact same legal
issue, with no factual distinctions, argued by plaintiff in
the Rule 60(b)(6) motion was argued in the first appeal and
the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled on it; that ruling is
the law of the case:
The questions raised in the present appeal must be viewed in
the light of the rule that a decision of this Court on former
appeal constitutes the law of the case in respect to
questions therein presented and decided, both in subsequent
proceedings in the trial court and on subsequent appeal when
the same matters are involved.
Collins v. Simms, 257 N.C. 1, 3, 125 S.E.2d 298, 300
(1962). While plaintiff Stanley claims that the United States
Supreme Court ruling in Heffernan changed the law
applicable to his claim, that contention is misplaced ...