The Business Court held that an individual taxpayer did not have standing to sue over alleged misuse of taxes paid by residents of the City of Roanoke Rapids to build a music entertainment theater, rejecting his arguments that he was entitled to bring suit individually because the losses from the theater would be borne by all of the taxpayers of the City, and alternatively that he was entitled to sue derivatively on behalf of the City because the proper authorities had refused to act with regard to such losses.
No Individual Taxpayer Standing
The law of North Carolina is that individual taxpayers don’t have standing to bring a suit in the public interest. Op. ¶41. Garrett argued that he was entitled to an exception to this general rule (under a case called Texfi Industries v. City of Fayetteville, 44 N.C. App. 268, 261 S.E.2d 21 (1979)) because the Theater had levied a tax on him "for an unconstitutional, illegal, or unauthorized purpose."
Judge Jolly rejected Garrett’s individual standing argument, holding:
here, the expenditures used in support of the Theater Project were funded by TIF bonds that were issued only after a feasibility study was conducted for the benefit of the City, and which was lawfully approved by the City and the [Local Government Commission]. . . . Notwithstanding that the Theater Project ultimately failed and may well have been a very bad business decision by the City, the obligations undertaken by the City were neither illegal nor unauthorized.
No Derivative Taxpayer Standing
The Court ruled that Garrett didn’t have derivative standing either. North Carolina recognizes derivative standing for taxpayers if "public authorities wrongfully neglect or refuse to act." A taxpayer must show, however, that "their either (a) has been a demand upon and wrongful refusal by the proper authorities to act, or (b) the particular facts would make such a demand futile." Op. ¶46.
A settlement entered into by the City also doomed Garrett’s derivative standing. Judge Jolly held that "the Settlement Agreement acts to resolve the very claims in behalf of the City that otherwise — given refusal or inaction after timely taxpayer demand — arguably might be available derivatively to a taxpaying citizen. In fact, the City’s action in settling with Parton and Moonlight Bandit on terms with which the Plaintiff disagrees apparently is the very reason Plaintiff seeks to bypass the City." Op. ¶47.