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Adams v. Department of Natural & Economic Resources

ELR Citation: 9 ELR 20064
Nos. No. 28, 249 S.E.2d 402/12 ERC 1468/295 N.C. 683, (N.C., 11/28/1978)

The court upholds the constitutionality of the Coastal Area Management Act of 1974 against several challenges, and dismisses other challenges for lack of standing. Starting with the presumption of the consitutionality of legislative acts, the court first considers plaintiffs' claim that the Act is a local act prohibited by Article II of the state constitution. This prohibition does not bar statutes which apply solely to a particular part of the state unless the classification adopted is shown to be arbitrary. The court finds that the statute at bar is reasonably adapted to the special needs of the coastal region and does not exclude from its coverage areas which clearly should have been included, and therefore does not constitute local legislation prohibited under the constitution. The court next rejects plaintiffs' argument that the Act delegates legislative authority to administrative agencies without providing sufficient guidance governing the exercise of that authority. Given the circumstances surrounding this statutory scheme, in which the agencies charged with implementing the statute are comprised primarily of experts in the field, the standards governing the delegation of legislative power need not be specific. Further, the authority vested in the agencies is subject to procedural safeguards, including the requirement that administrative guidelines be reviewed by the public, the legislature, the Attorney General, and the Administrative Rules Committee. In addition, the actions of the agencies are subject to the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act, and the Act itself expires by virtue of "sunset legislation." Thus, the Act's delegation of legislative authority falls within constitutional limitations. The court declines to consider the merits of plaintiffs' two final arguments—that the operation of the Act upon their land constitutes an unconstitutional taking of property without compensation, and that the Act violates the Fourth Amendment in that it permits warrantless inspections of property within regulated areas. The former claim is dismissed because plaintiffs' land has not finally been designated an area of environmental concern, and thus is burdened with no restriction other than that the state be given notice before any development takes place. The Fourth Amendment claim is equally inchoate; plaintiffs have not alleged that their property has been searched or that they have been fined for refusal to admit an official. One dissenter would find that the Act is a local law within the meaning of the constitutional prohibition and is thus invalid.

Counsel for Plaintiffs-Appellants
C. Allen Foster, Wendell H. Ott, E. Thomas Watson
Turner, Enochs, Foster & Burnley
Drawer D, Greensboro NC 27402
(919) 373-1300

Counsel for Defendants-Appellees
Rufus L. Edmisten, Attorney General; A. C. Dawson, III, Ass't Attorney General; W. A. Raney, Jr., Special Deputy Attorney General
Department of Justice
Justice Bldg., Raleigh NC 27611
(919) 733-3377

Counsel for AmiciCuriae
John S. Curry
P.O. Box 130, Carrboro NC 27510
(919) 967-6914

Copeland, J., dissents in a separate opinion.*