In recent years, North Carolina’s leaders have taken steps to strengthen our state’s legal climate and establish greater protections for businesses in the Old North State. The Property Protection Act is just one example of that effort. The 2015 law put greater protections in place to safeguard business property from unlawful access by establishing appropriate recourse against individuals that engage in unauthorized activities in non-public areas. Prior to this law, North Carolina’s weak property protection laws put businesses, not to mention the privacy of their customers, at serious risk of espionage, organized retail theft and internal data breaches.
This law established a civil, compensatory remedy – similar to civil penalties under the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act – for victims of organized retail theft, corporate espionage and other malicious acts, allowing the property owner to sue a worker for $5,000 in damages for each day the worker engaged in unauthorized activity, as well as other damages and attorneys’ fees. While this law addressed the serious property protection concerns facing North Carolina businesses of all sizes and industries, it was met with opposition from groups claiming it impeded upon their rights to free-speech and equal protection. These groups subsequently filed a suit against the law. However, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder dismissed the lawsuit last Tuesday, ruling that the Court did not have jurisdiction over the claim because the organizations had not suffered consequences under the law. Despite assertions the law would adversely impact whistleblowers, the simple fact is that the Property Protection Act exempts whistleblowers and law enforcement officers engaged in lawful investigations.
The bottom line is that businesses must have a way to protect their property, in order to continue producing and contributing to North Carolina’s competitive economy. If we are to continue improving North Carolina’s legal climate, it cannot be made easy for someone to gain access to that property to cause harm to the owner – whether that is stealing credit card information, health records or merchandise. The dismissal of this lawsuit is good news for our business community, ensuring protections for property – be it patient records, financial information, consumer data, merchandise, patents or intellectual property – are maintained.