Posts Tagged ‘Beier opinion’

Decision: Philips v. St Paul Marine & Fire

September 1, 2009

August 28th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in Phillips v. St Paul Marine and Fire Insurance Company (No. 97,806), a coverage dispute. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Carol Beier, the Court held that the plain wording of KSA 40-284(c) meant that the Wyandotte County Government’s opt out of certain coverage limits carried over between one policy term and another, even though that new term was non-contiguous.

Douglas Phillips, an employee of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas (Unified Government) was driving a Unified Government vehicle and was involved in an accident with a juvenile in 2003. He pursued a lawsuit for underinsured motorist benefits (UIM) against St Paul which was the insurer used by the Unified Government. In 1999 the Unified Government had taken out a policy with St Paul and opted out of (rejected) the statutorily required UIM benefits of $500,000. This policy was not renewed, but in 2003 the Unified Government again used St Paul for its insurance. This time no explicit opt out was lodged, though the Unified Government and the insurer used the same terms as previously.

Phillips was covered under the 2003 policy and argued that in the absence of the express rejection of the minimum UIM benefits that they reasserted themselves. He prevailed in the District Court which also awarded him attorneys fees. The Court of Appeals reversed, but on a split panel.

In its ruling the Kansas Supreme Court rejected Phillips argument. Noting that the statute in question states that ‘valid UIM rejection forms will remain in force and effect for “any subsequent policy” with the same insurer unless the insured requests a change in writing’. As a result, the statute was clear and unambiguous and therefore the rejection of the higher UIM benefits remained at the time of the accident.

The Court therefore held that Summary Judgment should be issued against Phillips and reversed his award of attorney’s fees.

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Decision: State v. Schultz

August 13, 2009

July 24th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in State v. Schultz (No. 98,727) a state appeal against the suppression of physical evidence following a failure to deliver Miranda warnings to an alleged Topeka drug dealer. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Carol Beier, the Court held that the District Court should not have suppressed physical evidence discovered in a consensual search that followed an un-Mirandized custodial interrogation. Note: Judge Christel Marquardt of the Court of Appeals took part in this decision in place of Justice Rosen.

Ryan Schultz was in his rented apartment with his juvenile girlfriend smoking pot when a pest control worker noticed the marijuana and reported this fact to the apartment manager. She called the Topeka P.D. Two police officers arrived at the scene and knocked on Schultz’ door. Schultz allowed them in, initially to stand by the door. They spotted the marijuana on the table and noticed the smell of it in the air and began to question him. Throughout the interrogation no Miranda warnings were given. The girl asked to leave but the Police told her she could not. After implying that they would easily get a search warrant Schultz agreed to the apartment being searched. Large quantities of pot were discovered and he was arrested, taken downtown and Mirandized. [During these proceedings a written consent to search was taken from him as well].

Schultz was charged with dealing in marijuana. At trial the District Judge ruled that the interrogation in the apartment was a custodial one (i.e. one which while not in the police department was the functional equivalent of such an interview) and since no Miranda warnings were given suppressed the evidence of it. The Judge also suppressed all physical evidence gathered from the scene. The Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s ruling and the State appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.

In its decision, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the suppression of the un-Mirandized statements, finding that the interview in the apartment met all the characteristics necessary to be covered under Miranda. However, the Court reversed the suppression of the physical evidence, citing and quoting extensively from the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Patane. In that case the U.S. Supreme Court held  that physical evidence gathered after a defendant went un-Mirandized was not subject to an exclusionary rule, provided that police coercion was not involved. Rather, the exclusionary rule only applied to the statements which if introduced at trial would violate the right against self-incrimination. Since the search of Schultz’ apartment was a valid and consensual one, the mere fact that it happened after a botched interview process did not mean that the evidence should be excluded.

The District Court’s suppression ruling was therefore vacated as far as the physical evidence was concerned and the case remanded for further proceedings.

Analysis: United States v. Patane was a late Rehnquist era decision, handed down in June 2004. It was a plurality opinion, with Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Thomas joined in the result by Justices  O’Connor and Kennedy and the four liberals in dissent. Justice Thomas wrote the main opinion. With several personnel changes on that Court since then, this case may be a candidate for a further appeal.

Decision: State v. Ransom

August 12, 2009

July 24th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in State v. Ransom (No. 99,794), the third case arising from a Wichita Gang Scene murder spree. Previous coverage of the prosecutions which arose from this crime has been covered here and here. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Carol Beier, the Court rejected Karlan Ransom’s attempt to get a new trial based on the exclusion of evidence arising from a search his girlfriend consented to.

After the killings detailed in the previous coverage, police received a tip that they should check the house of Sharondi Washington (Ransom’s girlfriend), where Ransom stayed 6 nights per week. A large number of police officers descended on the house. Initially, Washington would not let them in but after coming out and speaking to them in a police car, Washington consented to the search. It should be noted that Washington subsequently claimed that she did not agree to the search (which was one of Ransom’s claims on appeal). The Court rejected this argument based on the District Judge’s determination after weighing the evidence that the police account was more convincing.

Once the police gained entry they encountered Ransom and others in the house, searched it and located evidence which was subsequently presented at trial. Ransom contends that since he had not given permission for the search it should have been suppressed. The Court rejected this argument, noting that in the United States Supreme Court’s 2006 Georgia v. Randolph ruling on this topic the defendant had objected to a search and the police had then gone to the man’s wife for permission. The Court held that while that sort of action (seeking out an occupant willing to consent to a search), was not permissible if someone had already objected to a search, it did not impose a duty on police to ascertain the permission of all members of a household who might object.

Ransom also lost on two other claims he brought – that certain evidence that was not connected to the ultimate charge was prejudicial and that a certain member of the Jury should have been stricken by the Judge and not by use of Ransom’s peremptory challenge. The former of these represented a change of argument by Ransom who at trial had argued that the evidence stemmed from the search he had unsuccessfully argued was illegal. The Court held that he procedurally defaulted on this point, but nonetheless rejected his argument on the merits finding the evidence was not unduly prejudicial. On the matter of the juror, there were some statements during voir dire about the juror’s difficulty in presuming Ransom’s innocence. The Judge was satisfied by the statements that when presented with Jury Instructions the juror would behave appropriately. Ransom used a peremptory strike but on appeal argued that the fact the Judge did not remove the juror may have passed misinformation to the other members of the jury about the way they should determine their verdict. The Kansas Supreme Court rejected this argument, noting that a District Judge is in a better position to decide which jurors ought to be removed and also noting that two other jurors were struck for similar (but more clear-cut) statements. This would have dispelled any misunderstanding on the part of the other jury members about the way to perform their job.

Decision: In re Colt

July 17, 2009

July 10th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in the case of In re the Treatment and Care of Colt (No. 98,105), a sexually violent predator indefinite commitment case. In a 5-2 decision, written by Justice Carol Beier, the Court held that evidence of prior bad acts admitted at Colt’s hearing was not prohibited under the Court’s State v. Gunby decision, and that the admission of non-sex related crimes was not problematic either.Justice Eric Rosen, joined by a temporarily appointed member of the Court, dissented and would have applied Gunby to these proceedings. Note: Judge Melissa Standridge of the Court of Appeals served on the Court in place of former Chief Justice Kay McFarland.

John Colt had a long criminal history, and a history of psychiatric problems. In 2001 he was convicted of aggravated sexual battery and aggravated burglary after breaking into a neighbor’s apartment and attempting to rape them. The Shawnee County District Attorney moved to have Colt detained indefinitely as a sexually violent predator. A jury found that he was one and the judge ordered his detention.

Colt appealed his detention. He argued that the introduction of evidence concerning his past crimes should have been prohibited under the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Gunby which restricted the ways in which the State could refer to prior crimes by a defendant in proving its case. He also argued that most of his criminal history related to non-sex crimes and therefore should not have been admitted.

The Kansas Supreme Court disagreed. Citing In re Miller, decided on the same day and which covered the same issues, the Court held that K.S.A. 60-455 (the prior bad acts statute) and State v. Gunby did not apply to civil commitment proceedings. Furthermore the Court held that the non-sex crimes raised in evidence were relevant and probative. In finding this, the Court pointed out that at issue in sexually violent predator commitment proceedings is not the detail of the criminal history, but what the fact of it says about the defendant’s mental state. In this case the long criminal record, contributed to the psychological diagnosis that allowed Colt’s commitment.

Justice Eric Rosen, joined by Judge Standrige dissented with a single line referring to his dissent in In re Miller.

Decision: In re Miller

July 17, 2009

July 10th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in the case of In re Care and Treatment of Miller (No. 97,273), an appeal against indefinite detention as a sexually violent predator. In a 5-2 decision, written by Justice Carole Beier, the Court held that Richard Miller was properly committed despite the use of evidence of his committing other crimes being introduced at his commitment hearing. In doing so the Court held that its State v. Gunby holding limiting the use of prior bad acts did not apply to persistent sex-offender commitment proceedings. Justice Eric Rosen, joined by a temporarily appointed member of the Court, dissented and would have applied Gunby to these proceedings. Note: Judge Melissa Standridge of the Court of Appeals served on the Court in place of former Chief Justice Kay McFarland.

Richard Miller committed aggravated criminal sodomy on a 15 year old girl in 1980. He was convicted of burglary in 1992. He has a long criminal history, rich with other crimes and court appearances. The Johnson County DA sought to commit him as a sexually violent predator. Kansas law provides that someone who has been convicted or charged with a sex-offense and who has a mental abnormality that makes them likely to commit further acts in the future may be indefinitely committed, provided a Jury finds that they are a sexually violent predator.

At trial, evidence was introduced by various means about past offenses that Miller had been charged with where the charges were dropped. These included an attempted rape charge that stemmed from a burglary he committed on a duplex where a minor was in the bath. Evidence of non-sexual crimes was also introduced (including the 1992 burglary).

On appeal, Miller argued that this evidence amounted to evidence of prior bad acts being used in contravention of K.S.A. 60-455, which limits the use of this evidence to ensure a fair trial in the case at hand. The Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Gunby has further restricted the use of this evidence through its construction of this statute.

The Court determined that neither K.S.A. 60-455 nor Gunby apply to proceedings such as this. It cited a case which preceded Gunby (State v. Hay) which held that K.S.A. 60-455 did not apply to such cases since it exists to prevent a criminal’s propensity to have committed one particular crime being used to prove that they have in fact committed another particular crime. In contrast, in these proceedings the determination is forward facing – determining whether the criminal is likely to commit another crime in the future.

Miller’s appeal was thus dismissed, along with a number of other objections he had raised (e.g. that the State should not have been allowed to introduce witnesses to prove the 1980 crime since Miller had been willing to stipulate to it). All of Miller’s claims were rejected, but the holding regarding K.S.A. 60-455 is doubtlessly the most significant.

Justice Eric Rosen dissented, expressing frustration that the Court’s Gunby decision was being curtailed. He would have held that K.S.A. 60-455 did apply to these cases and that the sort of evidence the majority opinion would allow to be admitted would jeopardize defendants rights to a fair trial. He noted that the Legislature had crafted these type of commitment proceedings after criminal law, by introducing a jury. Judge Standridge joined Justice Rosen’s dissent.

Decision: State v. Henning

July 9, 2009

June 26th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in State v. Henning (No. 98,118) a Fourth Amendment unreasonable search case. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Carol Beier, the Court held that the Kansas Law which allowed police to search vehicles of arrestees for evidence related to ‘a’ crime is unconstitutional. In doing so it applied the recent United States Supreme Court decision of Arizona v. Gant.

Randy Henning had a warrant out for his arrest. Lyon County Deputy Sheriff Patrick Stevenson noticed him and arrested him when he went to his car. After the arrest, Stevenson searched the car and found drug paraphernalia. Henning and Kelly Zabriskie (who had been in the driving seat of the car) were arrested for possession. Defence Counsel moved to suppress the drug evidence, but its presence was upheld.

Kansas Law had previously stated that in a search incident to arrest one of the reasons for searching the area immediately surrounding the arrestee would be ‘Discovering the fruits, instrumentalities, or evidence of the crime’. In a 1996 decision, the Kansas Supreme Court had held in State v. Anderson, that the word ‘the’ in that sentence meant that the State could not introduce evidence that was found that was unrelated to the crime that was the reason for the search. In 2006 the Legislature reworded the law to use the word ‘a’ instead of ‘the’.

The Kansas Supreme Court held that this change had the effect of altering the Statute so that the police would be authorized to search for evidence of any crime. This law had taken effect five days before Stevenson searched the car.

The Court then analyzed the law under the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision Arizona v. Gant. In that case that Court held that police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only if it is reasonable to believe that the arrestee might access the vehicle at the time of the search or that the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. Applying Gant to this case, meant that the Court concluded that the statute was unconstitutional since it authorized searches outside of those narrow limits.

Opinion: While we believe the decision in this case was correct, in ruling this way the Court delved into legislative history to prove what the Legislature intended to do when it replaced ‘the’ with ‘a’. This strikes us as unnecessary as contrary to the Court’s opinion, the Legislature’s intent was apparent from the plain words of the change. We will therefore watch for the circumstances in which this case is cited supporting the use of legislative history.

Decision: State v. Dixon

June 25, 2009

June 19th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in State v. Dixon (No. 97,020). In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Carol Beier, the Court affirmed Wallace Dixon’s felony murder conviction for the deaths of Dana Hudson and her 19-month old son Gabriel in a fire caused by Dixon’s ransacking of an Emporia apartment. Note: Justices Davis (now Chief Justice), Luckert and Nuss did not take part in the case. Their places were taken by Judges Richard Greene, Stephen Hill and Steve Leben.

In 2001, after quarelling with Dixon, Dixon’s girlfriend moved into an apartment. Dixon later (on a day he knew the apartment to be empty) broke in and removed several items of property. He later returned (both times with accomplices) and vandalized the apartment, in the process knocking a gas stove. Subsequently there was an explosion in the building and Dana and Gabriel Hudson who lived in another apartment were killed by fire and smoke inhalation since they could not escape. Dixon was convicted. The Kansas Supreme Court in a 6-1 decision vacated the conviction due to errors at the trial and Dixon was tried again. Again he was convicted, and brought this appeal against his convictions.

Dixon made many arguments, all of which were rejected by the Court, specifically:

  • Dixon wanted a mistrial because a prosecution expert witness changed his testimony since the first trial and the defense was not informed – Rejected, as the changes in testimony were to the details and did not alter the position of the ATF which was that the stove was damaged in the robbery and that this caused the fire.
  • Dixon wanted a mistrial because a juror saw Dixon in shackles in the hallway – Rejected, as he was not in Court in visible shackles (which the United States Supreme Court has held violates Due Process) and the trial judge cautioned the jury against inferring anything from the incident.
  • Dixon wanted instructions on lesser included offenses of manslaughter – Rejected because Kansas Law has different rules for lesser included offenses of Felony Murder and these instructions cannot just be requested by the defense.
  • Dixon argued that the judge should have instructed the jury that they all had to agree upon which predicate felony he had committed in order to support the Felony Murder conviction – Rejected, as this was not required in an alternative means case. The jury needed only to unanimously find that a particular felony was committed leading to the murder conviction, rather they each had to find that he had committed a felony, thus making the deaths felony murder.
  • Dixon argued that the jury instructions misstated the law – Rejected, as they did not.
  • Dixon argued that evidence that his mother had sought to pay off victims of the burglary in order for them not to go to the police should not have been admitted – Rejected as this evidence was well within the discretion of the Trial Judge to allow as probative and that it was not *unduly* (emphasis in the original opinion) prejudicial.
  • Cumulative error – Rejected, as there were no errors, so there was no cumulative error.

Dixon’s convictions for two counts of Felony Murder were therefore affirmed.

Decision: Rural Water District #2, Miami County v. City of Louisburg

June 5, 2009

May 29th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in Rural Water District #2 of Miami County v. City of Louisburg (No.100,332), a property annexation dispute. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Carol Beier, the Court held that the statute governing compensation to Rural Water Districts following annexations by cities requires a de novo review in the District Court should the Water District contest the result of the appraisal process. Note: Judge Edward Bouker served on the Court for this case, due to the vacancy created by the retirement of Chief Justice Kay McFarland.

Rural Water District #2, Miami County (a quasi-municipal corporation) operates water utilities for much of Miami County outside of the city of Louisburg. Louisburg has annexed several pieces of property and as a result utility responsibility passes from the water district to the city, along with ownership of facilities serving the annexed areas. The Water District initiated this action to get compensation as a result of this.

The statutory procedure invoked in this (rare) situation is that when an agreement is not reached between the City and the Water District, a team of appraisers is appointed (one by the City, one by the Water District, and one by the first two appraisers, though in this instance the third was appointed by the District Court). The appraisers identify the value of the property transferred and thus recommend the compensation. If dissatisfied, the Water District can “institute an action” in the District Court. This case turns upon two major issues – whether the valuation should include going concern value, and whether the Water District was entitled to a de novo trial of the valuation in the District Court versus an appeal analogous to a challenge to an administrative agency decision. The District Court had created a procedural framework for the case which did not allow for a de novo valuation at trial, but which comprehensively directed the appraisers’ method for performing it. The District Court ultimately awarded approximately $133,000. The City had argued for $60,000 and the Water District for at least $8m. The Water District appealed.

The Water District prevailed upon both its arguments. After examining the legislative history of the statute in question the Kansas Supreme Court held that going concern value can indeed be considered in these type of appraisals. However, it found that this decision did not benefit the Water District since the Judge had already directed the appraisers to do so. The actual import the appraisers assigned to this component is left to them under the very loose wording of the statute which provides no formula for evaluation.

Turning to the trial process, in some places in the statutes the Legislature has used the wording ‘de novo’, in others it has not, but not all of those where it has not used ‘de novo’ follow a review on appeal procedure. The Court ruled that the statute does require a de novo trial of the facts, which had not happened in this case. The Court was evidently dissatisfied at this result, with Justice Beier casting the decision as one where the legislative intent was hard to ascertain, other statutes using the same terminology were not analogous, and inviting the Legislature to overrule the decision if it wished to do so. She also noted that there was practically no guiding caselaw from other states on this obscure scenario. Caselaw on eminent domain was not much use since the statutory framework is quite different.

The Court therefore reversed the District Court and remanded for a new trial. All sides agree that the onus is upon the Water District to disprove the appraisal’s reasonableness. However, the Court made it clear that the standard the Water District must meet is a preponderance of the evidence standard.

Decision: State v. Ransom

May 17, 2009

May 15th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in State v. Ransom (No. 99,281) a felony-murder appeal. In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Carol Beier, the Court upheld Kendrall Ransom’s conviction for the felony-murder of Spain Bey. Note: As a result of former Chief Justice Kay McFarland’s retirement, Judge Melissa Standridge of the Court of Appeals was appointed to hear the case.

Kendrall Ransom was an 18 year old gang member (though jurors were not told that) in March of 2006 when he and a group of friends and associates took part in a pair of poorly planned drug house robberies in Wichita. They first attempted to rob one Donta McDonald, who Ransom shot and killed. In this case Ransom is not appealing that crime (which was covered here [the felony-murder conviction of one of his accomplices]) but the conviction arising out of that evening’s second robbery. Having come away from the McDonald killing with no drugs or money Ransom and some others raided a house on North Lorraine. Ransom knocked on the door holding a shotgun and said he was there to buy drugs. The occupants saw the gun and slammed the door and everyone involved ran away at some point – except for one Spain Bey who was found in the house shot to death.

Later that night Ransom and the others were pleased by the evening news which they watched at an associate’s house which showed the police were looking for a different type of vehicle to the one they had been driving. They were less pleased a couple of days later when an anonymous tip led police to that house, several guns and ultimately the various participants in the crimes. Ransom was charged with Felony Murder for the death of Bey. [At trial a forensics expert testified that the weapons recovered were not used to kill Bey – who exactly shot Bey remains a mystery, but is of course not necessarily relevant for a Felony Murder conviction]. A jury convicted him.

This case is Ransom’s direct appeal and as a result he made a series of claims for why his conviction should be reversed. The opinion almost devotes more time to describing the procedural background than to dismissing each of the issues which Ransom raised. None of them appears to have stood much chance of success.

  • The Court held that interruptions in Ransom’s interview schedule and an (unsupported) claim that he had been drinking and taking Ecstasy did not require that he be re-Mirandized. His confession to participating in the crimes was therefore admissible.
  • The Court held that testimony about the way Ransom and the others celebrated the news report about the type of car that was being looked for by police was neither a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to confront, nor inadmissible hearsay.
  • The Court rejected an argument that the jury should have received an instruction which would have required to find some causational link between Ransom’s actions and Bey’s death over and above the death being as a result of the attempted robbery.
  • The Court rejected an argument that Ransom should have received a mistrial because one of the police officers referred to “gang officers” in testimony when the trial judge had barred admission of evidence concerning Ransom’s gang ties.
  • The Court rejected an argument that the State should not have been able to alter the charge after both sides had presented their evidence. [It should be noted that the change in the charge was to include an additional component of the same subsection of the Felony Murder statute, namely to include the flight from the scene as something linked to Bey’s death, and the trial had already covered evidence about the events in the amended charge].
  • The Court rejected an argument that the evidence of Felony Murder was insufficient, since a rational fact-finder could have found Ransom guilty based on the evidence presented.

Therefore, Ransom’s conviction was affirmed.

Decision: Dodge City Implement, Inc v. Board of Barber County Commissioners

April 25, 2009

April 24th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its opinion in Dodge City Implement, Inc v. Board of Barber County Commissioners (No. 96,784) a negligence suit arising out of a truck-train collision in 2003. In a unanimous decision, written by Justice Beier, the court affirmed the Court of Appeals (the opinion of which was quoted extensively) decision which in turn affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the suit as barred under Kansas’ “one-action” rule. Note: this was the only decision issued this week.

In September 2003, a DCI truck was hit by a Burlington Northern and Santa Fe train at a railroad crossing in Barber County. The collision resulted in damage to the truck and the derailment of the train. BNSF sued DCI, who ultimately settled for $3m in damages. DCI then initiated a case against Barber County (and subsequently Moore Township, following discovery findings regarding responsibilities for the crossing). DCI sought the $3m from the BNSF settlement, plus around $90,000 in damages to their truck. The District Court dismissed the case in a summary judgement finding that since Barber County and Moore Township had not been joined to BNSF’s lawsuit, DCI could not bring a separate case against them under Kansas’ “one-action” rule. The District Court also dismissed the separate negligence claim for $90,000, finding that DCI’s notification to the defendants under the Kansas Tort Claims Act did not meet the statutory requirements.

DCI appealed these rulings and lost in the Court of Appeals. DCI appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, where it also lost. The Kansas Supreme Court decision spends the bulk of its time reviewing the “one-action” rule, its origins and its apparent exceptions. It concludes that the rule (which basically requires all liability claims to be handled through a single case in which comparative fault between several parties can be determined) remains valid. The rule has its origins in a 1974 law, but had been confused by a line of cases which did not seem to apply it. The Court’s opinion investigates these and differentiates them from the main rule, which it applies in this case. As indicated above, a sizable portion of the Court’s opinion is actually a direct quote from the Court of Appeals opinion of Judge Nancy Caplinger, which is effusively praised by Justice Beier.

On the second point (the $90,000 claim) the Kansas Supreme Court also rules against DCI. It notes that the Court of Appeals has decided multiple cases regarding the Kansas Tort Claims Act based on a kind of checklist of the notice requirements of that statute. In this opinion the Kansas Supreme Court declines to make an endorsement or otherwise of that approach, but finds that the notices sent by DCI in this case were so deficient that they could not meet the statutory rule.