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Supreme Court Decisions, April 22, 2022

22 Apr 2022 11:31 AM | Executive Director (Administrator)

Appeal No. 121,094: State of Kansas v. Ivan Rozell

Summary calendar; no oral argument

This case involves a Missouri resident accused of filing a fraudulent insurance claim against a Kansas insurance policy after a car accident in Kansas City, Missouri. The Supreme Court held Kansas courts have jurisdiction over crimes partly committed in Kansas by a criminal actor who commits either an act that constitutes a constituent and material element of the offense or an act that is a substantial and integral part of an overall continuing criminal plan and the act causes an effect or consequence in Kansas close enough in time or cause to be a proximate result. Here, Rozell’s out-of-state actions that led to the investigation in Kansas of an insurance claim on a Kansas insurance policy held by a Kansas resident caused a consequence or effect in Kansas close enough in time or cause to the alleged criminal acts of insurance fraud and making a false information to qualify as a proximate result that allows Kansas to exercise jurisdiction. The Supreme Court reversed the Wyandotte County District Court, which had dismissed the case based on lack of jurisdiction.

Appeal No. 121,768: John Doe H.B., an individual v. M.J., Individually and in His Capacity as a Priest at St. Matthew Parish, and The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas, a Kansas Not for Profit Corporation

Appeal No. 121,768 archived oral argument

H.B. filed a suit alleging a priest sexually abused him in Shawnee County when H.B. was a child. The suit sought damages from the priest and the archdiocese that employed the priest. H.B. asserted the abuse took place from when he was about 9 years old until he was about 12 years old, which is to say, from around 1980 to around 1984. He also asserted he had repressed his memories of the incidents until local media published reports about other abuse involving priests and children.

Before the parties completed discovery or went to trial, the defendants filed motions for judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment, arguing the claims were time-barred. The district court denied the motions, and the Court of Appeals took the case on interlocutory appeal. After the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s judgment, the Supreme Court granted the defendants’ petition for review.

The Supreme Court affirmed both the Court of Appeals and the Wyandotte County District Court and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. Writing for the court majority, Justice Eric Rosen noted that further discovery will be necessary to establish the time frame of the abuse and the time frame for discovery of the abuse. These will ultimately be questions of fact for determination in the district court, and the answers to these questions will govern whether H.B. filed his petition in time to preserve his cause of action.

The statute of repose, K.S.A. 60-515(a), requires a plaintiff to commence an action no more than eight years after the events that caused harm. But the statute creates an exception for injuries resulting from sexual abuse. K.S.A. 2020 Supp. 60-523 allows a plaintiff to bring an action for childhood sexual abuse up to three years after the plaintiff turns 18 or three years after the plaintiff discovers injuries caused by childhood sexual abuse. The combination of the two statutes has the effect of permitting lawsuits when the abuse took place after July 1, 1984. The Supreme Court held that H.B.’s petition was sufficient to include dates after July 1, 1984, and it was a question of fact when the abuse finally stopped and when he discovered the resulting harm.

The Archdiocese argued separately that claims against it were-time barred because the K.S.A. 60-523 child-abuse exception applies only to suits against individuals, not suits against institutions. The Supreme Court rejected this argument, holding that the statutory exception focuses on harm resulting from abuse, not on perpetrator liability.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Caleb Stegall, joined by Chief Justice Marla Luckert, agreed with the outcome but disagreed with the majority’s determination that K.S.A. 60-523 contains no requirement that a defendant must have been the active perpetrator of the abuse. The concurring justices would find the statute ambiguous but would hold the Archdiocese potentially liable under a theory of aiding and abetting.

Appeal No. 122,331: State of Kansas v. Jeremiah J. Tafolla

Appeal No. 122,331 archived oral argument

The Supreme Court affirmed Sedgwick County District Court’s decision to revoke Tafolla’s probation under the dispositional departure exception, K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 22-3716(c)(9)(B), and to impose his original prison sentence. When revoking Tafolla’s probation, the district court did not expressly state that it was relying on the dispositional departure exception. A Court of Appeals panel affirmed by a two-thirds majority and Tafolla petitioned for review. In an opinion written by Justice Melissa Standridge, the Court affirmed the panel, finding that there was no abuse of discretion by the district court. The Court rejected Tafolla’s argument particularized findings were required for the district court to use the dispositional departure exception as the basis for revoking Tafolla’s probation. Justice Eric Rosen dissented.

Appeal No. 123,820: State of Kansas v. Michael A. Fowler

Summary calendar; no oral argument

Following Fowler’s convictions for two counts of premeditated first-degree murder and one count of felony theft, the Barton County District Court denied Fowler’s motion for a downward sentencing departure and sentenced him to two consecutive hard-50 life terms for the murders and a concurrent 21-month term for the theft. On direct appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed Fowler’s sentence. In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Melissa Standridge, the Court rejected Fowler’s claim that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to grant a downward departure sentence, citing the court’s comprehensive analysis that determined the mitigating factors advanced by Fowler did not constitute substantial and compelling reasons to depart from the statutory presumptive sentence.

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