EDWARDS v. MORROW
725 S.E.2d 366 (2012)
Benjamin EDWARDS and Lynn Owens, Owners of "Live"; George Beaman, Owner of "Club 519", "5th Street Distillery" and "Mac Billiards", Petitioners,
Pitt County Health Director, John H. MORROW, Respondent.
Court of Appeals of North Carolina.
March 20, 2012.
Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham & Sumter, PA, Chapel Hill, by Adam Stein, for Respondent.
Wyrick Robbins Yates & Ponton LLP, Raleigh, by K. Edward Greene and Tobias S. Hampson, for Amici American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Action Network, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
In early 2010, the director of the Pitt County Health Department, Respondent John H. Morrow, sent notices of violation to Petitioners George Beaman, Benjamin Edwards, and Lynn Owens ("Petitioners"), the owners of Club 519, 5th Street Distillery, Mac Billiards, and Live (the "establishments"), citing the establishments' violation of North Carolina's smoking ban, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-491 et seq., and advising the owners that they would be subject to "an ongoing administrative penalty of $200 per day" if the violations continued beyond their third notice of violation. Petitioners appealed the citations and administrative penalties to the Pitt County Board of Health (the "Board of Health"), which upheld the penalties after hearing each appeal. Thereafter,
Petitioners petitioned Pitt County District Court for judicial review of the decision of the Board of Health, contending, inter alia, that the Board of Health's enforcement of the North Carolina smoking ban—specifically enforcement of sections 130A-492(11) and 130A-496(b)(3), which Petitioners allege exempt all country clubs from the ban, but do not exempt the "similarly situated" establishments—violates Petitioners' constitutional rights to equal protection of the laws. Following a hearing in Pitt County District Court, the Honorable G. Galen Braddy presiding, the trial court entered an order in which it concluded that sections 130A-492(11) and 130A-496(b)(3), as applied to the Petitioners, "are in violation of the Equal Protection Clauses of both the United States and the North Carolina Constitutions and are therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable against Petitioners only." From this order, Respondent appeals, arguing that the trial court erroneously concluded that the challenged portions of the North Carolina smoking ban irrationally distinguish the establishments from country clubs and unconstitutionally subject the former to restrictions while exempting the latter. For the following reasons, we agree with Respondent.
While generally prohibiting smoking "in all enclosed areas of restaurants and bars," section 130A-496 of the smoking ban provides that "[s]moking may be permitted in ... [a] private club." N.C. Gen.Stat. § 130A-496 (2011). Section 130A-492(11) defines a "private club" as follows:
A country club or an organization that [(1)] maintains selective members, [(2)] is operated by the membership, [(3)] does not provide food or lodging for pay to anyone who is not a member or a member's guest, and [(4)] is either [(a)] incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in accordance with Chapter 55A of the General Statutes or [(b)] is exempt from federal income tax under the Internal Revenue Code as defined in [section] 105-130.2(1). For the purposes of this Article, private club includes country club.
N.C. Gen.Stat. § 130A-492(11) (2011). Petitioners contend, and we agree, that the above statutory definition, read as a whole and interpreted to avoid superfluity,1 creates two distinct types of private clubs that are exempt from the smoking ban: (1) country clubs, and (2) non-country club organizations meeting the four listed qualifications. The second sentence of the statutory definition, which specifically states that "private club includes country club," belies the argument advanced by Respondent that the four listed qualifications must be met by a country club before that country club can be considered a private club exempted from the smoking ban. Rather, the second sentence's unequivocal inclusion of country clubs in the private club exemption dictates the conclusion that, while a non-country club organization seeking exemption as a private club must meet the four listed qualifications, a country club need only be a country club in order to be exempted as a private club. The question raised by Petitioners before the trial court, and the issue before this Court on appeal, is whether exempting country clubs from the smoking ban, but not the establishments, is unconstitutional.2 Petitioners contend that this distinction is irrational, and thus, unconstitutional. See Heritage Vill. Church & Missionary Fellowship, Inc. v. State, 40 N.C. App. 429, 447-48, 253 S.E.2d 473, 484 (1979) (holding that statutory exemptions that make "an arbitrary and irrational distinction unrelated to the purposes of the statute" are "violative of the Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution and of the North Carolina Constitution"), aff'd, 299 N.C. 399, 263 S.E.2d 726 (1980). They support this contention by
highlighting the fact that, because section 130A-492(11) exempts all country clubs, for-profit country clubs are exempt while for-profit non-country club organizations are not. To address Petitioners' constitutional claim, we must first determine whether a for-profit country club is, in fact, exempt from the smoking ban. Or, "When is a country club not a country club?"
Where statutory language is clear and unambiguous, our Courts do not "engage in judicial construction but must apply the statute to give effect to the plain and definite meaning of the language." Fowler v. Valencourt, 334 N.C. 345, 348, 435 S.E.2d 530, 532 (1993). "The plain meaning of words may be construed by reference to standard, nonlegal dictionaries." State v. Webb, 358 N.C. 92, 97, 591 S.E.2d 505, 511 (2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). In this case, however, dictionaries offer no clear, unambiguous definition of the term "country club." See Webster's Third New International Dictionary 521 (2002) (defining "country club" as "an upper-class suburban or outlying club or clubhouse for social life, golf, and other recreation"); The Random House Dictionary of the English Language 463 (2d ed. 1987) ("[A] club, usually in a suburban district, with a clubhouse and grounds, offering various social activities and generally having facilities for tennis, golf, swimming, etc."); The American Heritage Dictionary 463 (4th ed. 2000) ("A suburban club for social and sports activities, usually featuring a golf course"). Indeed, the dictionary entries seem to agree only that country clubs usually are suburban and feature social and recreational activities; any other characteristics are not universally applicable. We further note that (1) our General Statutes contain no definition of the term, and (2) the statutory codes of other jurisdictions, like the dictionary entries, are not in agreement as to what precisely constitutes a country club. See, e.g., Fla. Stat. § 501.013(5) (2011) (for exemption from certain consumer protection requirements, a country club (1) must "ha[ve] as its primary function the provision of a social life and recreational amenities to its members, and for which a program of physical exercise is merely incidental to membership"; and (2) is defined as "a facility that offers its members a variety of services that may include, but need not be limited to, social activities; dining, banquet, catering, and lounge facilities; swimming; yachting; golf; tennis; card games such as bridge and canasta; and special programs for members' children"); Md. Code Ann., Alcoholic Beverages § 6-301(6)(iii) (2011) (for purpose of issuance of alcohol licenses, a "golf and country club" must have "200 or more bona fide members paying dues of not less than $75 per annum per member" and must "maintain ... two or more tennis courts, a swimming pool at least 30 feet by 80 feet in size, and a regular or championship golf course of nine holes or more"). We conclude, therefore, that the undefined term "country club," as used in the statute, is ambiguous and unclear. As such, we must interpret that ambiguous statutory language "to give effect to the legislative intent" and avoid "[a] construction of [the] statute which operates to defeat or impair the object of the statute." N.C. Baptist Hosps., Inc. v. Mitchell, 323 N.C. 528, 532, 374 S.E.2d 844, 846 (1988) (citation omitted).