New River Mental Health lawsuit dismissed in Avery County

By Jesse Campbell -

JEFFERSON-Ashe County taxpayers might have just dodged a multi-million dollar responsibility with the official dismissal of a lawsuit filed by former employees of the now defunct New River Mental Health Care.

Those former employees were suing for lost benefits that they believed were owed to them after the provider ceased to exist in late 2011.

Ashe was one five co-defendants or counties that comprised the inner-local agreement, which provided mental health care services to the High Country and surrounding area.

Attorney John Kilby briefed county commissioners Monday morning about the latest developments in the case.

This uphill legal dispute began nearly five years ago when New River folded after reporting financial losses that date back to 2007.

After the provider was dissolved, former employees of the provider filed a suit for lost benefits.

Kilby explained the basis of the suit by those employees argued the five counties that comprised that inner-local agreement assumed the responsibility of fulfilling those benefits after the provider went “belly up.”

Originally, the case was filed in Catawba County where the plaintiff attorney was located. Two years into the suit, he passed away, said Kilby.

The suit began with 70 former employees seeking lost benefits. Eventually, the number of plaintiffs grew to almost 100.

Over a period of time, the case began to linger and was moved to Alexander County. Ultimately, the case would be moved to Avery County. A total of 30 of the plaintiffs acquired an attorney to represent them and complete the obligations of the original attorney, said Kilby.

“That left 69 of those plaintiffs unrepresented or represented by themselves,” Kilby told the board.

Procedural error led to the unraveling of 60 of those cases due to the fact those defendants failed to process correctly.

In the end, the other cases were dismissed because the potential obligations of the five counties were not pre-audited, said Kilby.

“Failure to pre-audit obligations of the county makes them unenforceable,” said Kilby.

The time for an appeal to the dismissal has also passed, he said.

Reach Jesse Campbell at (336) 846-7164.

By Jesse Campbell

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