Lawsuits Legal Brief


Rule of Law:

As a public institution, the university is protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity which holds that the state cannot be sued unless the NC General Assembly consents or waives the doctrine.  The General Assembly has waived sovereign immunity as set forth in the NC Tort Claims Act.  Accordingly, the university and its employees or agents in their official capacities can be sued for damages proximately caused by their negligence.  The tort claim limit is $1,000,000 and all claims are heard in the Industrial Commission.  The Office of General Counsel (OGC) is responsible for providing notice to the Attorney General of all potential claims falling under the Defense of State Employees Act and Excess Liability Insurance Policy.  The Attorney General’s Office represents the university and its employees in litigation.

If an employee is sued personally (as opposed in his or her official capacity), the State may defend and indemnify the individual.  The decision to defend the employee is at the Attorney General’s sole discretion.  The Defense of State Employees Act provides many exceptions to coverage including for fraud, corruption, sexual/immoral acts, not deemed to be in the best interests of the state, and malice.  Judgments in excess of the $1,000,000 tort claim limit are covered by the State’s excess liability insurance policy.

Individuals may not hire an outside attorney to represent the university or the university’s interests.  The OGC and the Attorney General’s Office represent the university, unless the Governor’s Office has given permission to the university to hire outside counsel (e.g., patent counsel).  N.C.G.S § 147-17.  All requests for outside counsel must be presented first to the OGC.

Initiation and settlement of lawsuits are governed by UNC Policy 200.5.  Any settlement over $75,000 must be approved by the Attorney General.  Settlements are public records.


If you act outside the course and scope of your duties, you may be personally liable to the plaintiff and may be obligated to provide your own legal defense.

Practice Pointers:

  • Be aware that many people threaten litigation without having any basis for a lawsuit.  Don’t be intimidated.  Refer all attorneys to the OGC.  Do not engage in a substantive conversation with an attorney who represents an adverse interest.
  • If you receive a subpoena, forward the subpoena to the OGC for processing to ensure that it is legally issued and to follow any requirements such as FERPA or USA Patriot Act.