08/28/08 — Supreme Court says it will not hear annexation case

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Supreme Court says it will not hear annexation case

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on August 28, 2008 1:42 PM

After fighting annexation by the city of Goldsboro for four years, residents living along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads appear to be facing the end of their legal battle, but not with the conclusion they were hoping for.

On Tuesday, the North Carolina Supreme Court declined to review the decision made by the state Court of Appeals, and court officials say the case is finished at that level.

The state Court of Appeals found in favor of the city in a brief filed in January, saying that the previous judge -- Judge Ripley Rand -- made the correct decision in June 2007 when he said the city had met all the legal requirements necessary under state law to bring the area into the city limits.

The state Supreme Court does not hear every case brought to it. It also makes no determination of fact. Instead, it considers errors in legal procedures or in judicial interpretation of the law. If the justices do not feel there is a legitimate question of law involved, they will decline the request for review.

Bob Pleasants, president of the Good Neighbors United group, which represents more than 1,000 residents in the Falling Brook, Ashby Hills, Buck Run, Morgan Trace and Perkins Road communities, said the news wasn't surprising.

"Of course the citizen victims of this abuse, plus hundreds of other Wayne Countians who support us, are disappointed, but we are not surprised. The state's annexation statutes do not allow the courts to fully evaluate the appropriateness of an annexation action," he said.

He said the group isn't finished however.

"We are not through contesting the annexation and have made contact with attorneys in Raleigh regarding the possibility of a federal lawsuit, plus it is very likely that we shall seek relief through the state legislature," Pleasants said.

A state House study committee held a series of highly attended public hearings on involuntary annexation during the latter parts of 2007 and early 2008. Then, during this year's legislative session, the full House approved a temporary annexation moratorium that would have halted municipal land grabs from Aug. 31 to May 31, 2009, so the concerns of residents and the needs of towns and cities could all be considered.

Such legislation likely would have included the suspension of Goldsboro's action.

The state Senate, however, declined to take up the bill.

And so, as the situation stands now, said Harrell Everett, Goldsboro's attorney for the case, the city's annexation of the Salem Church and Buck Swamp areas will be effective Sept. 30, and the Good Neighbors United group "has no other legal avenue."

Jim Eldridge, the resident group's attorney, was contacted this morning, but said he had not had a chance to look over the decision.

Still, city officials are moving forward since they have permission to do so, Everett said.

"The city has a great deal of work to comply with -- what they are required to do under the law, and what they've promised they would do for the people out there," he added. "And hopefully they will benefit from being annexed in the long run."

City Manager Joe Huffman said his focus is now off the case and on the residents.

"My focus will be on making sure that we do a good job of serving the area," he said. "I also intend to focus on developing relationships with the people who live in the area. I am thinking that communication with residents will help us to meet needs and expectations and give us the opportunity to address concerns that will arise."

The legal tug-of-war started in 2004 when the City Council approved the annexation of areas on the east and west sides of Salem Church Road and on the north and south sides of Buck Swamp Road.

Residents opposed the plan and sued, saying the plan was flawed. A judge agreed and argued that the city's annexation plan was flawed, forcing the city to redraw its plan. The plan was redrawn and approved by the council.

The residents sued again but lost. That appeal also failed.

The residents appealed that decision in September. The Appeals Court ruling came in January.