Kansas Supreme Court
CRIMINAL PROCEDURE—EVIDENCE—JURY INSTRUCTIONS
STATE V. MORRIS
SEDGWICK DISTRICT COURT—AFFIRMED
NO. 119,911—MAY 15, 2020
FACTS: Jury convicted Morris of charges including both first-degree premeditated murder and alternative charge of first-degree felony murder, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated battery. On appeal, he claimed district court erred in refusing to give a requested instruction on voluntary intoxication, and in admitting gruesome photographs of victim’s partially decomposed body that had been exposed to damage from animals. Morris also claimed cumulative error denied him a fair trial.
ISSUES: (1) Jury instructions—voluntary intoxication; (2) gruesome photographs; (3) cumulative error
HELD: District court did not err in denying Morris’ request for a voluntary intoxication instruction. While the requested instruction would have been a legally available defense to Morris’ first-degree murder charge and conviction, such an instruction was factually inappropriate because insufficient evidence supported that defense in this case.
District court did not abuse its discretion in admitting photographs of victim’s body. Because Morris’ argument clearly fails on the merits, no need to determine State’s argument that Morris failed to properly preserve this issue by failing to lodge a specific objection to the 12 photographs admitted. A few of the admitted photographs may have been repetitive, and many may have been gruesome, but they were relevant and admissible to show the manner and violent nature of victim’s death and to corroborate testimonies of witnesses having credibility issues.
No error supports Morris’ claim of cumulative error, and evidence against Morris was overwhelming.
STATUTES: K.S.A. 2016 Supp. 21-5205(b), -5408, -5413; K.S.A. 60-401(b), -404, -445
Kansas Court of Appeals
ATTORNEY FEES—JURY TRIAL—REMEDY
HARDER V. ESTATE OF FOSTER
LEAVENWORTH DISTRICT COURT—AFFIRMED AND REMANDED
NO. 118,845—MAY 15, 2020
FACTS: The case arises out of a real estate dispute between Evelyn Harder and Ronald Foster. In 2013, a jury found Foster guilty of negligent misrepresentation, intentional misrepresentation, and breach of contract. The real estate contract included a provision which required a party who breached the contract to pay attorney fees that the nonbreaching party incurred in connection with the default. The district court awarded Harder fees for the initial litigation but denied her motion for fees incurred while attempting to finalize the decision and journal entry. After this trial, Harder filed a second suit against Foster and his children, claiming that Foster fraudulently transferred all proceeds from the property sale to his family members, leaving him unable to pay Harder's judgment. Foster died during this litigation. His estate paid the judgment in full and the district court dismissed the action on summary judgment, finding that the payment extinguished any of Harder's claims. Harder's motion for attorney fees and costs was denied. These decisions were upheld on appeal except the panel determined the district court erred by denying Harder's motions for attorney fees and expenses in the 2013 case. The panel remanded the 2015 case to allow the district court to determine whether Harder could prove an exception to the American rule which requires parties to bear their own litigation costs unless a statute or contract expressly authorizes such an award. The district court's factfinding was limited to Harder's third-party claims. On remand, Harder claimed that she had a right to have a jury decide attorney fees and expenses for both the 2013 and 2015 cases. The district court disagreed, and the Court of Appeals granted Harder's application for an interlocutory appeal.
ISSUES: (1) Jury trial for attorney fees; (2) fees for 2013 case; (3) fees for 2015 case
HELD: The right to a jury trial in a civil action is not absolute. It is only guaranteed if such a right existed at common law at the time the Kansas constitution was adopted in 1859. There was no right to recover attorney fees at common law, and Kansas follows the American rule where fees are not awarded unless there is a statute or contractual provision so requiring. Kansas does recognize the third-party litigation exception to the American rule, but that exception did not exist in 1859. Accordingly, there is no right under the Kansas constitution to have a jury determine attorney fees and expenses. The 2013 judgment has been satisfied in full. Harder voluntarily chose not to present her attorney fees claim to the jury; her attorney expressly asked the trial court to resolve the matter, arguing in a pleading that the question of fees and expenses arising out of the real estate contract was not a jury decision. The error Harder now claims was invited by her counsel before the district court, and she is not entitled to relief. The prior decision on the 2015 case is upheld. Harder is not entitled to have a jury decide whether an exception to the American rule exists which would allow her to recover attorney fees for third-party conduct.