NC Supreme Court Approves Industrial Commission's Transition Process

On Friday, in Baxter v. Danny Nicholson, Inc., the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld an Industrial Commission decision that defendants had attacked on the grounds that one of the Commissioners was not authorized to exercise his powers on the day of the decision. The case arose out of the transition when one of the Commissioners was replaced in 2007. On February 2, 2007, the three-member panel of the Commission signed the opinion and award in this case.

That same day, then-Governor Easley notified then-Commissioner Bolch (whose term had formally expired, but who was holding over pending a replacement) that he was appointing Commissioner McDonald to replace him. The panel's decision was filed on February 5, and McDonald took his oath of office on February 9. The Governor's office explained that there is a delay in taking the oath just so that the old Commissioner can finish and issue any pending cases that he worked on.

Reversing the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court unanimously concluded that the authority of an appointed officer continues until the date on which his successor takes the oath of the office in question and thereby becomes duly qualified to begin performing the duties of that office. The Court found that the laws on replacing state officers did not violate Article VI of the North Carolina Constitution. As Commissioner Bolch could validly issue the decision, the Court remanded the case so that it could be considered on its merits.