Case Details


Attorney General's Common Law Powers Do Not Permit Challenge Of Attorneys' Fees In Settled Case

Filing State



North Carolina Supreme Court




Bailey v. North Carolina, 353 N.C. 142; 540 S.E.2d 313 (N.C. 2000)


Attorney General could not challenge award of attorneys fees to plaintiffs attorneys as excessive after settlement of claims against the state.

Case Description

Class of taxpayers filed suit against the state, challenging the constitutionality of the state’s tax exemption cap on retirement benefits. After the court determined that the tax was unconstitutional, the parties settled. The court awarded fees to class counsel. The Attorney General appealed the award. The Supreme Court of North Carolina held that the Attorney General had no standing to challenge the award. The court first noted that the Attorney General had represented the state throughout the litigation, directly opposing plaintiffs’ interests, and that the state had signed a settlement agreement which waived the state’s right to be heard on attorneys fees. The Attorney General argued that the fees were excessive and that it was his obligation to act in the public interest. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the Attorney General has broad common law powers, but found they were inapplicable in this case. The court held that no provision of the state statutes defining the Attorney General’s powers refers to the public interest, except the section applicable to appearances before the Public Utility Commission. Although past decisions have recognized a duty to prosecute all actions necessary to defend “the property and revenue” of the people, there was no distinction between the people and the State or their respective interests. And there is no implication that “the Attorney General may act to defend the “people’s” interest at the expense of the State’s interest.”