Victory in NC Court of Appeals brings Willie Grimes’ total recovery to $5.4 million

Patterson Harkavy has obtained an additional $2.16 settlement on behalf of Willie Grimes, who spent 24 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Combined with Mr. Grimes’ 2016 settlement with the City of Hickory, Mr. Grimes’ total recovery exceeds $5.4 million.

Patterson Harkavy attorneys Burton Craige, Narendra Ghosh, Paul Smith, and Brad Bannon represented Mr. Grimes in his original federal suit for damages arising from his wrongful incarceration, originally filed in 2014. The complaint alleged that Grimes was wrongfully convicted because the Hickory Police Department unlawfully suppressed evidence, failed to conduct a constitutionally adequate criminal investigation, and, beginning in 2003, gave inaccurate information about the evidence it possessed that ultimately led to Mr. Grimes’ exoneration. In 2016, Mr. Grimes resolved his federal suit, obtaining a $3.25 million settlement from the City of Hickory.

After settling his federal claims in 2016, Mr. Grimes joined the City of Hickory in a lawsuit against the Argonaut Great Central Insurance Company in state court. Mr. Grimes and the City asserted that Argonaut breached its duty to defend the City of Hickory against Mr. Grimes’ allegations of misconduct beginning in 2003. Argonaut argued that under the terms of its insurance policy with the City, it was not obligated to provide a defense for Mr. Grimes’ 2003 claims because the alleged misconduct involving evidence mismanagement in 2003 was “related” to the misconduct that led to Mr. Grimes’ original wrongful conviction in the 1980s. Patterson Harkavy litigated the issue in North Carolina Superior Court and before the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In 2018, the Court of Appeals issued a ruling in Mr. Grimes’ favor, concluding that the two phases of municipal misconduct were not “related” under the terms of the applicable insurance policies, and that Argonaut therefore breached its duty to the defend the City.

Earlier this year, the North Carolina Supreme Court denied Argonaut’s petition to review the Court of Appeals decision. Argonaut subsequently agreed to a settlement resulting in Mr. Grimes’ receiving an additional $2.16 million.

Mr. Grimes was exonerated thanks to the dedicated advocacy of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence. Click here for more information about his wrongful conviction and exoneration.