Multiple claims in Landis lawsuit dismissed; Hosey’s termination for ‘just cause’ still disputed
Published 12:15 am Thursday, March 25, 2021
By Natalie Anderson
LANDIS — A federal judge on March 15 dismissed some claims in a suit filed by former Town Manager Roger Hosey against town aldermen.
The suit sought monetary damages for a breached contract, accused Mayor Meredith Smith of slander for statements that Hosey was terminated due to “just cause” and that his due process was violated. Hosey’s contention over the “just cause” clause in his contract is still under dispute.
Hosey, who was elevated to the town manager position in the aftermath of a state embezzlement probe, was fired as town manager by aldermen in January 2020 — five months after taking the position. He was named town manager by a board with multiple members who didn’t seek re-election amid the embezzlement investigation and fired by the new majority elected in November 2019. The outgoing board in December 2019 amended Hosey’s contract before he was fired.
Smith, along with board members Katie Sells and Ashley Stewart, cast the deciding votes in the 3-2 decision to fire Hosey and cited “just cause” as reason to fire him.
Hosey’s amended contract stipulated that “just cause” meant a felony conviction or any crime of moral turpitude. A termination not for “just cause,” according to the contract, entitles him to two months of salary and benefits for each year or fraction of service to the town. Hosey said he’s never been charged or convicted of a felony and town board members have not clarified what crime is relevant.
The complaint named the town of Landis as a defendant, along with Smith, Stewart and Sells in their official and individual capacities. The complaint also named aldermen Darrell Overcash and Tony Corriher, who voted against terminating Hosey’s employment, as defendants in their official capacities only. The suit added that neither are responsible for any of the acts asserted in the complaint.
Though filed in the Rowan County Superior Court, the case has since been moved to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.
The order, issued by Judge Loretta C. Biggs, states all claims brought against Smith, Stewart, Sells, Corriher and Overcash in their official capacity in the town are dismissed, along with Hosey’s claim that his due process was violated by Smith, Stewart and Sells personally. The order officially dismissed Stewart, Sells, Corriher and Overcash as parties in the lawsuit.
“Since Hosey and his team didn’t oppose dismissing all claims against the board members in their official capacity, court need only to address procedural due process claim against Sells, Stewart and Smith in individual capacities,” the order states.
The order also states that “the issue here is whether (Hosey) has pleaded sufficient facts to support a claim that the individually named defendants are personally liable” for Hosey’s perceived due process violation.
Landis town attorney Rick Locklear said the lawsuit now focuses on the issue of Hosey’s termination by “just cause,” particularly with which of the two different contracts the court will ultimately rule was acted upon in Hosey’s firing.
Speaking on behalf of the defendants, interim Town Manager Leonard Barefoot told the Post on Wednesday that they were “delighted that the court agreed with us during the preliminary stage and has granted partial motion to dismiss these claims as requested.”
“With regard to the few claims remaining as to which we did not request immediate dismissal, we have denied all liability and plan to continue to vigorously defend these claims,” Barefoot said. “We remain confident that these claims will also ultimately be resolved in our favor.”
Ellis Hankins, who represents Hosey in the case, told the Post that the order “does no significant damage to our lawsuit” and added “the case can now proceed.” Hankins said Hosey still believes significant amounts of money are owed to him.
Hankins is an attorney for the Brough Law Firm in Chapel Hill.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.