Yesterday the General Assembly, after years of delay and hand-wringing, finally adopted Senate Bill 44, an act that codifies the laws on quasi-judicial proceedings.
Quasi-judicial proceedings are the legal processes by which elected and appointed boards make findings of fact based upon evidence before them, and applies those facts to previously adopted standards or laws.
Previously, quasi-judicial proceedings were governed entirely by an occasionally inconsistent body of case law, and legal challenges were not covered by the NC Rules of Civil Procedure.
This act clarifies mechanical issues, such as how a writ of certiorari is obtained, what must be included in the Record of Proceedings, and which party has which duties during litigation. It also clarifies a party’s right to obtain evidence outside the record to prove or disprove standing and to prove or disprove bias by decision-makers, two key issues often raised on appeal but on which the hearing was not focused.
The act also affirms the principles established in case law that certain standards must be proved by expert testimony, including a proposed use’s impact on the value of adjoining or nearby properties and the impact of traffic on public safety.
Commentary: In 2001 I organized a day-long seminar devoted exclusively to quasi-judicial proceedings. In 24 years at the Bar it was the only CLE I’ve attended that was standing room only, with attendees literally sitting in the aisles and standing at the rear. The last presenter was Mike Brough, one of North Carolina’s pre-eminent land use attorneys. Mike presented for the first time a draft of what ultimately became this law. It took eight years to get here. Mike also lobbied hard for its passage, and all of us who practice land use law in North Carolina are grateful.