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Labor & Employment – Public Employees – Statutory Salary Increases – Legislative Suspension – Constitutional

Terry v. State (Lawyers Weekly No. 012-034-17, 19 pp.) (Mark Davis, J.) Appealed from Wake County Superior Court (Michael O’Foghludha, J.) N.C. App. Unpub.

Holding: Although there was a statutory pay scale in place when plaintiffs accepted their jobs as state troopers, since the General Assembly’s suspension of the trooper’s expected raises affected only their future salaries and not pay for work they had already performed, the suspension did not violate the troopers’ constitutional rights.

We affirm the trial court’s grant of defendants’ motions to dismiss.

Adams v. State, 790 S.E.2d 339 (2016), controls our decision in this appeal. Both Adams and the present case involve (1) a statute providing for a schedule of future salary increases for a particular group of state employees; (2) a decision by the General Assembly to suspend those salary increases for several fiscal biennia due to an economic downturn; and (3) a lawsuit brought by a group of the affected employees alleging breach of contract and violations of the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Law of the Land Clause of the North Carolina Constitution as a result of the General Assembly’s actions.

Plaintiffs have failed to show the General Assembly’s actions resulted in a decrease in their salaries for work they had already performed. Therefore, we are bound by Adams and are compelled to hold that plaintiffs did not possess a vested right to the salary increases referenced in G.S. § 20-187.3 at the time of the General Assembly’s enactments suspending those increases.

Because plaintiffs did not possess a contractual right to receive the increases referenced in § 20-187.3, they have no valid claims against the state based upon either a breach of contract theory or as an alleged violation of the Contracts Clause. Similarly, because plaintiffs lacked such a contractual right, they had no recognized property interest that was “taken” by the state in violation of the Law of the Land Clause.

Affirmed.


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