North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
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April 19, 1978 Mental Health; Area Mental Health Authorities; Expenditure of State Funds to Satisfy a Judgment Against an Individual Area Mental Health Board Member

Subject:

 

Requested By: R. J. Bickel Deputy Director for Administration Division of Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services

 

Question: May State funds allocated to an area mental health authority be utilized to satisfy a judgment against a member of an area mental health board in his individual capacity?

 

Conclusion: No.

 

Initially, it might be well to recognize the limitations on the personal liability of a member of an area mental health board. In state court actions, normally a board member is immune from personal liability if his actions which caused the harm to another were within the scope of his duties and were undertaken in a proper manner or in good faith. He is vulnerable to being held personally liable for damages only if his actions exceeded the scope of his duties, or if they were performed with malice, corruption or ill will. Langley v. Taylor, 245 N.C. 59 (1956); Burton v. Reidsville, 243 N.C. 405 (1956); Smith v. Hefner, 235 N.C. 1 (1952). In federal court action, the board member can be held liable for damages only if his actions were not taken in good faith, were malicious, or if he knew or reasonably should have known that his actions would cause a deprivation of constitutional rights to the individual harmed. See Procunier v. Navarette, ___

U.S. ___ (46 U.S.L.W. 4144 (decided February 22, 1978)); Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308 (1975). Thus, it would seem that the assessment of damages against a board member in his individual capacity should occur very rarely.

G.S. 122-35.53 provides for the allocation of State funds to area mental health authorities in accordance with an annual plan and budget and states:

"Unless specified by the Department of Human Resources, State appropriations to area mental health authorities shall be used exclusively for the operating costs of the programs."

The term "operating costs" is statutorily defined as follows:

"Expenditures made by an area mental health authority in the delivery of community mental health services in the areas of general mental health, mental illness, mental retardation, and substance abuse. Such operating costs shall include the employment of legal counsel on a temporary basis to represent the interest of the area mental health authority." G.S. 122-35.36(10).

From the definition of the nature of an area mental health authority and an area mental health board as set forth in G.S. 122-35.36(1) and (2), it is clear that the provision for payments of judgments against State employees as set forth in G.S. 143-300.6 is not applicable. Therefore, due to the lack of statutory authorization, the satisfaction of a judgment against a board member in his individual capacity by utilizing State funds allocated to the area mental health authority would be unauthorized.

Rufus L. Edmisten Attorney General

William F. O'Connell Special Deputy Attorney General