A woman carrying large paintings down the steps from an art gallery tripped and fell on an eroded concrete staircase. The building was owned by the local city government, which had leased the property to the art gallery, which sublet to numerous tenants – the plaintiff among them.
The defendant North Carolina city in this premises liability lawsuit sought summary judgment – which was granted – on an assertion of sovereign immunity. Attorneys for the city argued the claim did not fall under circumstances for which the city had granted a waiver of governmental immunity.
The plaintiff appealed, and the North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed. Basically, the fact that the city was making a profit off these tenants meant that it was serving a proprietary function, the plaintiff argued, which meant the city couldn’t assert governmental immunity.