John M. Kirby
Sovereign Immunity -- County Inspections -- Bullard v. Wake County
The Bullards home was fraught with major structural problems (including e.g. floor framing) that ultimately rendered the home uninhabitable. They sued the builder and won in arbitration, but the builder could not satisfy the judgment. The Bullards then sued Wake County, alleging that the County was negligent in failing to detect and require correction of these defects during construction. The county had approved the construction and found it to be in compliance with the building code. The County moved for summary judgment on the basis of governmental (or sovereign) immunity. The court noted that the county is generally immune from suit. (The issue of whether the function at issue was governmental or proprietary was not at issue in this case.) The county was liable only to the extent it waived its immunity by purchasing insurance. The county had insurance, but the policy expressly stated that it did not cover claims that were barred by sovereign immunity. The county thus argued that it had no insurance coverage for the loss, and that therefore it was immune from suit. The Superior Court and the Court of Appeals ruled for the county. Decided on July 17, 2012, the Court of Appeals in Bullard v. Wake County simply said that the policy did not cover the loss, and thus the county preserved its immunity. The court also rejected arguments by the Bullards that the deposition of a county employee and some discovery responses required a different result. This website contains other recent North Carolina cases.