Simeon v. Hardin

Decision Date30 December 1994
Docket NumberNo. 267PA93,267PA93
Citation451 S.E.2d 858,339 N.C. 358
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesDavid SIMEON, Peter Zegler, and others similarly situated v. James E. HARDIN, Jr., District Attorney for the Fourteenth Prosecutorial District.

N.C. Prisoner Legal Services, Inc. by Paul M. Green, Ollie Taylor, and Marvin Sparrow, Raleigh, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Michael F. Easley, Atty. Gen. by David Roy Blackwell, Sp. Deputy Atty. Gen., and Debra C. Graves, Asst. Atty. Gen., for defendant-appellee.

Harry C. Martin, Louis D. Bilionis, and David S. Rudolf, Chapel Hill, on behalf of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers, the North Carolina Ass'n of Public Defenders, and the Nat. Ass'n of Criminal Defense Lawyers, amici curiae.

Charles E. Burgin, President, Raleigh, for amicus curiae North Carolina Bar Ass'n.

Donald M. Jacobs, President, Winston-Salem, for amicus curiae North Carolina Conference of Dist. Attys.

Moore & Van Allen, PLLC by Laura B. Luger and Andrew B. Cohen, Durham, on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, amicus curiae.

FRYE, Justice.

On this appeal, plaintiffs contend that the superior court erred in dismissing their civil action challenging the Durham County District Attorney's 1 statutory authority to set the superior court's criminal trial calendar. Plaintiffs present three issues on this appeal: (1) whether the superior court erred in dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction; (2) whether the superior court erred in concluding that plaintiffs lacked standing to litigate the issues raised in their complaint; and (3) whether the superior court erred in dismissing the case for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. We answer each of these questions in the affirmative and, therefore, reverse the superior court's dismissal of the complaint and remand this case to that court for further proceedings.

On 2 October 1992, plaintiff David Simeon, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, filed a complaint in Superior Court, Durham County, alleging that under the authority of N.C.G.S. §§ 7A-49.3, 7A-61, and 15A-931, the Office of the District Attorney has been given excessive power over administration of the criminal courts in violation of the state and federal constitutions. The complaint named Simeon as the representative of "all persons who are now, or will in the future be prosecuted on criminal charges in Durham County, for purposes of injunctive and declaratory relief." On 15 October 1992, the complaint was amended as of right, adding Peter Zegler as a named plaintiff in the action.

Plaintiffs' amended complaint contains the following allegations: On or about 13 February 1992, plaintiff David Simeon was arrested and charged with several felonies. The district court found probable cause to proceed on or about 28 February 1992; however, as of the filing of the complaint on 2 October 1992, Simeon had not been to court and remained in jail due to practices of the district attorney. Simeon's case was not placed on the trial calendar until it was calendared for arraignment on or about 17 August 1992. Simeon's case was placed on several arraignment calendars after August 17; however, the case was continued by the district attorney on the grounds that his office had not yet provided discovery and the case was not ready for arraignment--this despite the fact that all discovery required by statute had been available to the district attorney for production since probable cause was established in February. The district attorney delayed Simeon's case for the tactical purposes of keeping him in jail, delaying a trial at which he was likely to be acquitted, and pressuring him into entering a guilty plea. The complaint further alleges that the strategy of the district attorney will continue to be one of delay by means of his control over the criminal trial calendar. Plaintiff Simeon has suffered and continues to suffer harm of a constitutional dimension as a proximate result of the district attorney's control of the criminal trial calendar in that he is being deprived of all his freedoms without benefit of a jury trial or other due process of law.

With reference to named plaintiff Peter Zegler, the amended complaint alleges that, on 20 March 1991, Zegler was convicted of misdemeanor simple assault in district court and appealed to the superior court the next day. Zegler's case was calendared several times in the following nineteen months, but had yet to be called for trial by the district attorney. Due to actions of the district attorney, Zegler's attorney was forced to prepare for trial repeatedly. In addition, on at least one occasion, an important defense witness was flown from out of state and accommodated at a hotel at Zegler's expense, yet Zegler's case was not called for trial. Plaintiff Zegler has suffered and continues to suffer harm of a constitutional dimension as a proximate result of the district attorney's control over the criminal trial calendar.

Plaintiffs' amended complaint further alleges that the statutes in question give the district attorney unbridled discretion to control the progress of criminal cases, including the power to select a particular judge, the power to keep a jailed defendant from being tried for an extended period of time, the power to force criminal defendants released on bail to miss work and come to court repeatedly, and the power to severely inconvenience disfavored defense attorneys. Plaintiffs allege that these powers are used to the advantage of the State on a regular basis, harming criminal defendants like plaintiffs in ways not readily addressable in their criminal actions.

In addition, plaintiffs' amended complaint seeks 1) a declaration that the statutes violate the United States and North Carolina Constitutions both as written and as applied, and 2) a remedial order placing control of the criminal calendar under the supervision of the court. In the alternative, plaintiffs request an order directing the district attorney to exercise his calendaring authority in compliance with N.C.G.S. § 7A-49.3 and under such further direction of the court as necessary to ensure that justice is administered in a fair, impartial and orderly manner. The complaint does not challenge the validity of any final criminal conviction.

On 16 October 1992, the day after the filing of the amended complaint, plaintiff Simeon and the district attorney entered into a plea agreement whereby Simeon pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault on a female and was sentenced to time served (230 days) on one count and a prayer for judgment continued (PJC) on the other. The district attorney dismissed plaintiff Zegler's misdemeanor simple assault charge on 3 December 1992.

On 30 November 1992, the district attorney filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), respectively. On 11 March 1993, a hearing on the district attorney's motion to dismiss was held before Judge Robert L. Farmer in Superior Court, Durham County. In support of his motion, the district attorney offered several exhibits, including certified copies of a transcript of plea in Simeon's case, a notice of dismissal in Zegler's case, and a copy of a letter from the district attorney to Zegler's defense counsel, dated 5 December 1992, memorializing previous agreements regarding the calendaring of Zegler's case for trial. In support of their complaint and in opposition to the district attorney's motion to dismiss, plaintiffs submitted a notebook of thirty-five exhibits, including affidavits from retired judges, former prosecutors, defense attorneys and other defendants in criminal cases in Durham County. These affidavits generally supported the allegations of the complaint and highlighted these individuals' negative experiences with district attorney calendaring in the Fourteenth Prosecutorial District and in other parts of the state. On 15 March 1993, Judge Farmer entered an order in which he made findings of fact and conclusions of law and granted the district attorney's motion to dismiss.

Plaintiffs appealed to the Court of Appeals. Plaintiffs also petitioned this Court for discretionary review prior to determination by the Court of Appeals. This Court denied the petition on 29 July 1993. The case was briefed by the parties and scheduled for oral argument in the Court of Appeals on 12 March 1994. However, on 8 March 1994, this Court, upon reconsideration, granted plaintiffs' petition for discretionary review prior to determination by the Court of Appeals. We now consider plaintiffs' arguments on appeal.

Plaintiffs first contend that the superior court erred in dismissing their complaint and reaching the following conclusion of law: "Criminal defendants must litigate criminal issues in their own criminal action and not by a separate civil action. The Civil Superior Court has no jurisdiction to hear issues raisable within a criminal proceeding." The superior court relied on State ex. rel. Edmisten v. Tucker, 312 N.C. 326, 323 S.E.2d 294 (1984), in reaching this conclusion. Plaintiffs contend that the rationale of Tucker does not apply in this case because Tucker involved a challenge to a substantive criminal statute, while this case involves a challenge to procedural statutes. Plaintiffs further contend that the superior court did have jurisdiction to consider their complaint because the issues raised in the complaint and the declaratory and injunctive relief sought could not be adequately addressed within their individual criminal proceedings. We agree.

In Tucker, the Attorney General filed a civil complaint seeking a declaration that various portions of the Safe Roads Act of 1983, specifically those dealing with drunken driving, were constitutional. The Attorney General's complaint named as defendants several...

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    ...exception to mootness doctrine when issue is "capable of repetition, yet evading review"). North Carolina: Simeon v. Hardin, 339 N.C. 358, 370, 451 S.E.2d 858, 867 (1994) (court has a "duty" to address an otherwise moot case when the "question involved is a matter of public North Dakota: In......
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