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October 25, 2019 Digests

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 28, 2019

Kansas Supreme Court

 

Civil

DAMAGES—PRODUCTS LIABILITY
CORVIAS MILITARY LIVING, LLC V. VENTAMATIC, LTD. AND JAKEL, INC.
GEARY DISTRICT COURT—COURT OF APPEALS IS AFFIRMED IN PART AND REVERSED IN PART
DISTRICT COURT IS AFFIRMED IN PART AND REVERSED IN PART, REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS
NO. 116,307—OCTOBER 25, 2019

FACTS: Corvias is a construction firm specializing in military housing. Corvias built thousands of units near Fort Riley. In these homes, it installed bathroom ceiling fans manufactured by Ventamatic, Ltd. and Jakel Motors, Inc. After installation, several fans caught fire and damaged homes. Corvias not only incurred damage with fire remediation, it also needed to replace all of the fans in other units, so it filed suit. The district court granted summary judgment to both defendants, finding that the suit was unquestionably a products liability claim governed by the Kansas Product Liability Act. The court ruled that all of Corvias' claims for damages was barred by the economic loss doctrine. The Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment on the issue of fire damage, finding that the fans were not an integral part of the house as a whole. But the panel did not address whether Corvias had an implied warranty claim covering whether the fans were inherently dangerous. Both defendants filed a petition for review, which was granted.

ISSUE:  (1) Recovery under the KPLA

HELD: The KPLA covers all product liability causes of action. That Act included liability for "damage to property", which shows that the Legislature intended to allow recovery for damage to any property, even the product itself. The Kansas economic loss doctrine does not preclude recovery for property damage within a product liability cause of action. Corvias' costs for fan replacement are undisputedly economic losses, and therefore not compensable under the KPLA. But the KPLA does not subsume all other legally viable causes of action for loss recovery. Corvias brought an action for unjust enrichment. The record is insufficient to show whether that claim can succeed, so the case is remanded.

STATUTE: K.S.A. 60-3302(c), -3302(d), -3302(d)(1)

 

Criminal

CRIMINAL THREAT—CONSTITUTION
STATE V. BOETTGER
DOUGLAS DISTRICT COURT—COURT OF APPEALS IS REVERSED, DISTRICT COURT IS REVERSED
NO. 115,387—OCTOBER 25, 2019
 

FACTS: One evening, Boettger was visiting with the employees of a convenience store. He was lamenting the fact that he had found his daughter's dog in a ditch after it had been shot. Boettger was upset that the sheriff's department would not investigate. Boettger told one employee that if he found the perpetrator they "might find themselves dead in a ditch somewhere." The employee who heard the remarks knew Boettger and his speaking style and was not concerned. Another employee, who knew Boettger very well, was closely related to a detective with the sheriff's department. Boettger, who was visibly angry, approached this man and said that he would "end up finding [his] dad in a ditch." The employee was concerned and ultimately called the police to report the incident. Boettger denied any intent to threaten or cause harm, but he was still convicted of one count of reckless criminal threat. Boettger appealed, but the Court of Appeals confirmed his convictions. Boettger's petition for review was granted.

ISSUE: (1) Whether K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 21-5415(a)(1) is unconstitutionally overbroad

HELD: Some tension can arise when the government attempts to criminalize true threats. An important inquiry centers on the speaker's intent to intimidate and cause fear. In order to be constitutional, the statute must require more than a purpose to communicate just threatening words. Instead, it must also require that the speaker wants the recipient to believe that the speaker intends to act violently—an intent to intimidate or convey a threat. K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 21-5415, which allows an individual to be punished for reckless conduct, potentially criminalizes protected speech and is facially overbroad. Boettger's conviction under that statute must be reversed.

STATUTES: U.S. Const. amend. I; K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 21-5415(a)(1)

 

FIRST-DEGREE MURDER—JURY INSTRUCTIONS
STATE V. DEAN
SEDGWICK DISTRICT COURT—AFFIRMED
NO. 116,568—OCTOBER 25, 2019

FACTS: Dean was accused of firing his weapon while at a crowded party in revenge for the death of his fellow gang member. After the shooting was over, Dean was charged with one count of premeditated murder, four counts of aggravated battery and one count of criminal possession of a firearm. During deliberations, the presiding juror brought in a personal notebook which contained notes that were taken outside of the trial. The district court dismissed this juror and questioned the rest of the panel, all of whom denied taking notes or seeing notes from another juror. As he was leaving, the removed panel member gave a partially completed verdict form to the bailiff. It is unknown what the form said, but after seeing it defense counsel moved for a mistrial, which was denied. Dean was convicted as charged. He appeals.

ISSUES: (1) Necessity of a mistrial, (2) cautionary instruction, (3) motion for new trial, (4) evidence of premeditation, (5) admissibility of evidence of gang affiliation

HELD: Because the partially completed verdict form is not in the record on appeal, there is no way to know its impact on the jury. Dean had the burden to designate a record adequate to show error. In that absence, he is not entitled to relief. A district court is not legally required to instruct the jury to view with caution the testimony of a noninformant witness who is potentially benefitting from the testimony. Defendant's cross-examination showed the witness' potential bias to the jury. The district court did not err by finding that evidence regarding the cooperating witness' arrangement was neither newly discovered nor material. And Dean's failure to provide the new evidence in the record on appeal precludes review. Premeditation involves forming the intent to kill beforehand. In this case, the State presented sufficient evidence of premeditation. The gang affiliation evidence presented at trial was relevant and not unduly prejudicial, especially in light of the mitigating instruction given by the district court.

STATUTES: K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 22-3412(c), -3501(l); K.S.A. 22-3423(1)(c), 60-401(b)

 

CRIMINAL THREAT—CONSTITUTION
STATE V. JOHNSON
MONTGOMERY DISTRICT COURT—COURT OF APPEALS IS REVERSED DISTRICT
COURT IS REVERSED, CASE REMANDED
NO. 116,453—OCTOBER 25, 2019

FACTS: Johnson's mother contacted law enforcement with claims that Johnson was abusing her. A deputy responded to her home and noticed signs of a struggle, but Johnson was not at the residence. A return visit occurred the next day after Johnson's mother claimed that he made statements in which he threatened to either harm or kill her. Johnson was charged with one count of criminal threat—for allegedly tearing a telephone off of the wall and threatening to burn down his mother's home and kill her. At trial, both Johnson's mother and wife testified that within their family it was common to threaten to kill each other, but that they never actually meant it. Johnson was also injured and in pain, causing frequent angry outbursts. A jury convicted Johnson of criminal threat. He appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and Johnson's petition for review was granted.

ISSUES: (1) Sufficiency of the evidence, (2) constitutionality of K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 21-5415(a)(1)

HELD: The State charged Johnson with either intentionally or recklessly making a criminal threat. The jury was instructed on both mental states but was not asked to specify under which state Johnson was convicted. But the State presented sufficient evidence to convict Johnson under either theory. The government can only regulate "true threats." The "reckless disregard" provision of K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 21-5415(a)(1) encompasses more than true threats and thus potentially punishes constitutionally protected speech. It is unconstitutionally overbroad. Even though Johnson was potentially convicted for intentional behavior, the unconstitutionality of the reckless disregard provision is prejudicial enough that Johnson's conviction must be reversed.

DISSENT: (Stegall, J.) The majority is correct that K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 21-5415(a)(1) is unconstitutionally overbroad. But the error is not prejudicial under a modified harmlessness analysis, and his conviction should be affirmed.

STATUTE: K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 21-5202(c), -5415(a)(1)

Tags:  constitution  criminal threat  damages  Douglas District Court  first degree murder  Geary District Court  jury instructions  Montgomery District Court  product liability  Sedgwick District Court 

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