Class Certified in Magistrate’s Pay Case

On March 3, 2015, Judge Michael O’Foghludha, a Rule 2.1 judge appointed to hear the controversy, granted a motion to certify a class of state magistrates serving between 2009 and 2014. Adams v. State, No. 14-CVS-15027 (Wake Cnty. N.C. Super. Ct. Mar. 3, 2015). The principal common issues appear to be whether a statutory “step increase” in pay became a part of the individual employment contracts of the magistrates and whether the State could suspend these step increases without incurring liability. The certification order affects approximately 650 magistrates.

In its decision, the trial court does not wrestle with what can often lead to denial of class certification in oral contract disputes. If “oral statements” provide the foundation for contractual relief (rather than, say, a statutory change), inquiry into those individual circumstances can often dwarf the issues otherwise common to the class. (In this regard, see our previous post regarding CEVA Logistics.)

Of note is Judge O’Foghludha’s citation in his ruling to English v. Holden Beach Realty Corp., 41 N.C. App. 1, 254 S.E.2d 223 (1979). Although the “community of interest” standard in English was later disapproved by the North Carolina Supreme Court, see Crow v. Citicorp Acceptance Co., 319 N.C. 274, 279-80, 354 S.E.2d 459, 464 (1987), the case remains good law for a general proposition favorable to plaintiffs: “Our Rule 23 should receive a liberal construction, and it should not be loaded down with arbitrary and technical restrictions.”